Why you should be keeping an eye on your page’s title in the SERP and why your CTR depends on it

A website’s page title is what shows up on a search engine’s results page as a clickable link. It’s what we encounter most of all on Google on a daily basis, and it’s the first thing people read before deciding to visit a webpage. So, this post is about the amazing value behind this little (yet major) element every webpage has and how to easily keep track of it for ANY keyword without having to constantly search the internet for your website.

Pro Rank Tracker’s recent system update allows you to keep track of your webpage’s titles in our SERP tracker for any search query. In your regular PRT ranking data table, you will see the title displayed for desktop AND mobile versions just as they are displayed on search engines to various search queries:

Screenshot from PRT’s SERP tracker.

But why is it so important to keep track of your pages’ titles? Let’s find out:

Source code: The title tag

It all begins with the HTML <title> element, which is a fundamental part of any page’s source code and looks something like this in its markup form:

The title element specifies the page’s title the way it will be read by search engines, browsers and social networks:

The very first impression people will get, and the first decisive factor whether your site gets a visitor or not.

 

When your page is shared on social media, the title will be read and displayed as a preview. Facebook is much more forgiving as far as titles go – it doesn’t limit you to Google’s width and will display the first 200 characters or so.

 

The title is what the browser displays on the tab. Most of us are multi tab users, so keeping a title that will be easily recognizable from a narrow tab will help people to not lose track of your webpage.

 

A severe case of tab overdose. In this unfortunate case, no title phrasing will help

Naturally, it should contain a short, accurate and crisp description of your page’s content. Other than that, there is also the sometimes challenging issue of phrasing this description in an appealing manner and making it a click-worthy title (which we will get to shortly).
There is a limit, of course, to the length of the title that can be displayed, and if you exceed this limit the title will be truncated and end with an unpleasant ellipsis:

Source tag: <title>James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher – Wikipedia</title>

Source tag: <title>These 9 Bizarre Sentences Might Look Wrong, But They&#039;re Actually 100% Accurate</title>

In some cases, if a brand name is included the truncation will precede the brand name, while in other cases when a brand isn’t included, it will show more of the title but at the cost of branding. You will need to decide which one is more valuable for clicks in your case.

The mobile version of  title is displayed in two rows when in full length for most devices, so you need to come up with a title that will take into account this different readability flow:

Fun fact: Mozarella is made of Buffalo milk.

If you have a responsive site, then ideally the title is best kept as short as possible to account for the mobile and desktop SERP. Otherwise, if you have a separate mobile version of the page (i.e. m.example.com), you can define a separate title for the mobile version that might be more appealing if spread across 2 rows, or simply shorter to fit into a single row. The title might also be phrased differently to fit a mobile user better.

Interestingly enough, Google measures this width limit in pixels and not number of characters, so whether your title fits or not actually depends on the width of the individual characters you use, as demonstrated by these brilliant titles:

511 pixels. 128 characters with room to spare. Eat some serifs “i”, you’re way too thin.

 

586 pixels. Only 45 characters long. Impressive, but to be fair, this is one of the fattest letters in any western alphabet.

As for the actual limit, it is constantly being updated and therefore fluctuates. Currently, it seems to be maxing out at 600 pixels. So far, the narrowest width for desktop was about 480 pixels, and for mobile it was about 550 pixels divided into 2 rows. It seems that if you want to keep it 100% safe and not have your title truncated, keep the title below 54 characters, spaces included (roughly speaking), so the title doesn’t get rewritten by Google. Each social network your page is shared to has its own quirks about title widths when displaying it as a link preview. There are even online title-width pixel calculators that you can use to know in advance if your title will be shortened on Google’s SERP or not! Here is one such calculator.

Googles truncating ax will chop your title if it is too long. The same ax can also chop ranks if guidelines are not followed and provides fresh wood that keeps the Google complex warm and cozy in the winter.

The SEO value of high-quality keywords in a title

Many of you know the importance that the title holds as a ranking signal for SEO. It is one of the key factors of keyword placement for site optimization, as the keywords in your title are what give search engines the first insight to what the content is about. The title is very relevant to search queries and can be displayed entirely in the SERP matching the search query:

This holds some serious long-tail ranking power if a long-tail keyword is cleverly used in a descriptive title. For example, here is a search result to the query “best android phones 2017”:

However, a little caveat: Google’s algorithms are designed to filter spam and improve user experience by recognizing quality and relevance, and they keep improving at it. Stuffing your title with keywords was great 15 years ago, but now it will only get you Google’s scorn and a demotion in ranks. The best practice is having one high-quality long-tail keyword in the title phrased in a natural prose, and having different and diverse titles for your pages that will be relevant to the content. This will give you a better chance for ranking higher than keyword-spammed titles with low-quality, irrelevant content.

The CTR value of a well-phrased click-worthy title

You might be an SEO ace and your website may be featured highly on Google’s SERP, but that simply isn’t enough by itself.

The title is the teaser — the first thing a possible visitor to your website sees when he searches Google. The decision whether or not to enter a website rests on this first step – if there were a precursor to a cyber store window, this would be it. Will they stop to take a look in the store window and enter the shop or not? This makes the title phrasing a powerful organic marketing ingredient. More than once I have found myself skipping unappealing titles higher in the SERP for titles that were more relevant to what I was searching for. For example, let’s say you are writing a blog post about the Myth Busters where you discredit some of their methods.

You can call it: “7 myths that need to be busted about the Myth Busters”, which is short enough to be featured fully and not get truncated, relevant to the content, easy to understand what it’s about, and has that list-themed CTR power.

Also consider the fact that today, patience is thinner than ever before, and everybody is searching for instant results. The properly phrased title will help grab the attention of searchers who may not even read page descriptions.

These titles have organic CTR written all over them.

Another point to consider is how it will look when shared on social media, since as we mentioned, the title will be displayed when shared as a preview, and it will serve as the first impression people will have of your page.

Coming up with a title that has a good long-tail keyword and appealing clickable wording is a relatively low-effort task with a high return potential, so don’t neglect your brainstorming session!

In some cases, it might come down to a game of balancing SEO and CTR potential – on one hand, the ideal title would be displayed fully and not abridged; on the other hand, you can gain some major SEO benefits from high-value, long-tail keywords that will be indexed and ranked according to the keyword you’re promoting, even though they would be truncated for length.

The dynamic Google title – is Google rewriting your title?

Google uses dynamic titles that adapt to the search query – that means your titles, even if they are perfectly formulated, in some cases will appear the way Google deems them relevant. The reason behind this is Google’s constant push to provide a better user experience, so if Google finds your content related to a certain search query, it might adapt the title and rewrite it to better suit the term being searched.

Google decides what title to show based on various factors in addition to the <title> metatag, such as the page’s description, the page’s content, and publicly available information. Based on the search query, Google will sometimes find alternative text from that page which better explains (according to their algorithms) why that result is relevant. It’s very search-query dependent, and the methods behind this also evolve and change all the time (like all their other algorithms).

Your page might show up on the SERP for several keywords, which is why it is especially important to keep an eye on your title for every keyword — it might be displayed differently for different searches, especially if you have a long title.

Google offers a few ground rules on how to properly create your titles:

  • Don’t forget to use the <title> tag. It is the first source the SE will check for the title.
  • Titles should be descriptive, yet short and to the point.
  • Don’t spam the title with keywords, or you won’t get ranked and will also have low CTR.
  • Write distinct, informative titles for each page on your site that fit each page’s unique content. Do NOT write repeated or boilerplate titles. For example, a title like “{insert e-commerce brand name} – Discover cheap deals, coupons, Black Friday sales and discounts” contains a lot of general text that doesn’t say anything about the content.

Note that while you can disallow Google (and other search engines) to crawl your page, it will not necessarily stop it from being ranked. The problem with this is if Google can’t access your page’s content, it will rely on external content linked to your page to formulate a title with content you can’t control.

Other search engine titles to note

Yahoo!, Bing and Yandex have their own quirks about title width and display. Although they are less dynamic, they are far less prone to changes to the way the title is displayed than Google, and they are still important search engines to track your titles on.

Yahoo! truncating in action. Completely ignoring the Wikipedia brand in the title.

 

Not a single relevant result was given that day. Makes you wonder why Bing is losing the search engine war.

Both search engines seem to keep the width of the title below 550 pixels, and also truncate when the title is too long to fit.

Non-dynamic titles

Concrete titles exist on YouTube and Amazon, which are the biggest search engines in their fields – video and e-commerce, respectively – and surpass Google in those specific types of searches. While not all SERP trackers rank track these HUGE search engines, the ones that do (like PRT) will need to display the titles of the videos and products so you can easily keep track of their ranks:

Screenshot from PRT’s SERP tracker.

4,500,000,000+ views.

So, as we saw, being ranked highly is not enough, and having a good title can dramatically increase your CTRs. In the end, it might really come down to SEO vs. CTR balancing, but no matter where the scale tips, you must be able to see your titles for any keyword that you are tracking:

  1. You need to know if your title got truncated and how much. Google’s SERP is a dynamic entity that changes title widths, so you need to be aware if any sudden truncating takes place or if more room is granted.
  2. Keep track of how your title is displayed for Yahoo!, Bing and Yandex as well as Google.
  3. Find out if your title was tailored and rewritten by Google to suit a search query. There’s a good chance it was for at least some keywords!
  4. See your YouTube and Amazon titles and easily keep track of your video and product ranks.

Pro Rank Tracker is an SEO-industry-standard SERP tracker that allows you to easily keep track of your page titles and also shows your keyword search volume.

Join PRT today and keep a 100% accurate track of your ranks AND page titles, starting with our awesome free plan that requires no credit card and just a few mouse clicks.

 

Happy New Year from PRT! No matter what new SEO mysteries and revelations Google and search engines hold for us in 2018, we will cover them in our blog so you can stay ahead of the game, so be sure to subscribe. Thank you for being with us and see you on the other side of the calendar!

Sources:
https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35624?hl=en
https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66358?hl=en

 

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