Senin, 28 April 2008

All About Title Tags

What Is a Title Tag?

The title tag has been — and probably will always be — one of the most important factors in achieving high search engine rankings.

In fact, fixing just the title tags of your pages can often generate quick and appreciable differences to your rankings. And because the words in the title tag are what appear in the clickable link on the search engine results page (SERP), changing them may result in more clickthroughs.

Search Engines and Title Tags

Title tags are definitely one of the “big three” as far as the algorithmic weight given to them by search engines; they are equally as important as your visible text copy and the links pointing to your pages — perhaps even more so.

Do Company Names Belong in the Title Tag?

This is one of the most common questions asked about titles. The answer is a resounding YES! I’ve found that it’s fine to place your company name in the title, and *gasp*, even to place it at the beginning of the tag! In fact, if your company is already a well-known brand, I’d say that it’s essential. Even if you’re not a well-known brand yet, chances are you’d like to eventually be one. The title tag gives you a great opportunity to further this cause.

This doesn’t mean that you should put *just* your company name in the title tag. Even the most well-known brands will benefit from a good descriptive phrase or two added, as it will serve to enhance your brand as well as your search engine rankings. The people who already know your company and seek it out by name will be able to find you in the engines, and so will those who have never heard of you but seek the products or services you sell.

Title Tags Should Contain Specific Keyword Phrases

For example, if your company is "Johnson and Smith Inc.," a tax accounting firm in Texas, you shouldn’t place only the words "Johnson and Smith Inc." in your title tag, but instead use something like "Johnson and Smith Inc. Tax Accountants in Texas."

As a Texas tax accountant, you would want your company’s site to appear in the search engine results for searches on phrases such as "Texas tax accountants" and "CPAs in Texas." (Be sure to do your keyword research to find the best phrases!) You would need to be even more specific if you prefer to work with people only in the Dallas area. In that case, use keywords such as "Dallas tax accountants" in your site’s title tags.

Using our Dallas accountant’s example, you might create a title tag as follows:

Johnson and Smith Tax Accountants in Dallas

or you might try something like this:

Johnson and Smith Dallas CPAs

However, there’s more than enough space in the title tag to include both of these important keyword phrases. (I like to use about 10-12 words in my title tags.)

One way to do it would be like this:

Johnson and Smith - Dallas Tax Accountants - CPAs in Dallas, TX

I’ve always liked the method of separating phrases with a hyphen; however, in today’s competitive marketplace, how your listing appears in the SERPs is a critical aspect of your SEO campaign. After all, if you have high search engine rankings but your targeted buyers aren’t clicking through, it won’t do you much good.

These days I try to write compelling titles as opposed to simply factual ones, if I can. But it also depends on the page, the type of business, the targeted keyword phrases, and many other factors. There’s nothing wrong with the title tag in my above example. If you were looking for a tax accountant in Dallas and saw that listing at Google, you’d probably click on it.

Still, you could make it a readable sentence like this:

Johnson and Smith are Tax Accountants and CPAs in Dallas, TX

I’m not as thrilled with that one because I had to remove the exact phrase "Dallas Tax Accountants," as it wouldn’t read as well if it said:

Johnson and Smith are Dallas Tax Accountants and CPAs in Dallas, TX

It sounds redundant that way, as if it were written only for the search engines.

In the end, it’s really a personal preference. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to create the perfect title tag, as there’s just no such thing. Most likely, either of my examples would work fine. The best thing to do would be to test different ones and see which rank higher and which convert better. It may very well be that the second version doesn’t rank as well, but gets clicked on more, effectively making up the difference.

Use Your Visible Text Copy As Your Guide

I prefer not to create my title tags until the copy on the page has been written and optimized. I need to see how the copywriter integrated the keyword phrases into the text to know where to begin. If you’ve done a good job with your writing (or better yet, hired a professional SEO copywriter), you should find all the information you need right there on your page. Simply choose the most relevant keyword phrases that the copy was based on, and write a compelling title tag accordingly. If you’re having trouble with this and can’t seem to get a handle on what the most important phrases are for any given page, you probably need to rewrite the copy.

I recommend that you *don’t* use an exact sentence pulled from your copy as your title tag. It’s much better to have a unique sentence or a compelling string of words in this tag. This is why you have to watch out for certain development tools. Some content management systems (CMS) and blog software such as WordPress automatically generate the title tag from information you provide elsewhere. In WordPress, for example, the default is to use your blog name, plus whatever you named the page. The problem is that this same info is also used as the headline, plus in the navigational link to the page. Depending on your setup, it could also be the URL for that page. Very rarely would you want all those to be the same.

The good news is that most of today’s CMS and blog software have workarounds so that you can customize your title tags. For WordPress, I recommend installing the "SEO Title Tag" plug-in developed by Stephan Spencer. It works like a charm on all my WordPress sites.

The Art of SEO

As much as Google *pretends* to like SEOs by inviting us to parties at the Googleplex and posting on SEO forums, the bottom line is that they don’t like us — or rather, they don’t like what we do. Google wants to find the best, most relevant sites for the search query at hand all by themselves. Perhaps someday they will actually be able to do that, but for now, they still need our help, whether they like it or not.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous SEOs have given Google good reasons not to like us. Because of search engine spammers, Google is constantly changing their ranking criteria and is always on the lookout for the telltale signs of SEO on any given site. It’s not a huge stretch to say that they may even downgrade the sites that they believe have been SEO’d.

If you think that having your keyword phrases “in all the right places for SEO” is a good thing, think again! You’re essentially telling Google, “Hey look…my site has been SEO’d!” To which they reply, “Thanks so much for letting us know… ZAP … see ya later!” Doesn’t matter if your site is the most relevant (in your mind) to the search query. Doesn’t matter that you’ve placed your keyword phrases strategically throughout the site.

Stuff that worked like a charm for many people in the early years of SEO may actually hurt rather than help now. As to what might trigger an SEO “red flag,” my guess is that it’s a combination of things. Like, if you have a certain number of traditional SEO factors on any given page, those may set off some Google warning bells (otherwise known as a spam filter).

Some of the traditional SEO formulaic elements that you may have been taught to use include putting the keyword phrase:

* in the domain name
* in the file name
* in the Title tag
* in the Meta description tag
* in the Meta keyword tag o in the image alt attributes
* in an H1 (or any H) tag
* as the first words on the page
* in bold and/or italics or a different color
* multiple times in the first paragraph or twice on the page
* in the copy in every single spot on the page where it might possibly make sense to use it, and
* in all the hyperlinks pointing to a page.

If you put the same keyword phrase in many of those spots, you might very well trigger a spam filter. Since it’s difficult to determine how many and which combinations of those things might trigger the filter, the best advice I can give you is to do your SEO without any particular formula in mind.

That’s how I’ve always done it and it’s always worked because every site is unique and has different SEO needs.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to describe this type of SEO to others, as people are always looking for the magic formula. For as long as I’ve been doing SEO (over 12 years now), I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t want to tip off the engines that my sites were SEO’d. This is one of the reasons I’ve never used keyword-rich domain names or file names. That’s probably the most obvious SEO thing you can do.

The most important aspect to being a good SEO is creativity. You shouldn’t worry too much about the specifics of putting keyword phrases here and there, and again over there. Not every page needs an H1 heading with keyword phrases in it. If your page isn’t designed to use H1 headings, you don’t need to change it to use one just for SEO purposes. And many images don’t really and truly make sense with a keyword phrase in their alt attribute (alt tag). Don’t force one to be there just for the search engines.

Most importantly for Google (and for your users), when it comes to your page copy and how you use your visible keyword phrases, less is definitely more. Please don’t read my Nitty-gritty report and then put the same keyword phrase in every single available spot on your page that you can find. My report is supposed to help you think about a few places you may have missed because you weren’t thinking about being descriptive when you originally wrote the copy. You can definitely have too much of a good thing.

A first paragraph on a page that has, say, 4 sentences, should not have 10 instances of your keyword phrase. It will look and sound dumb. I know that I have stressed this in my conference presentations and in our High Rankings seminars, but no matter how many times I say this, people don’t quite grasp the importance of working this way. If your copy reads poorly to a human, and does not come across as natural professional copywriting, the search engines won’t like it either.

When you do SEO, you don’t follow a guidebook. Think like a search engineer and consider all the possible things they might have to combat both now and in the future. Always optimize for 3 or 4 or even up to 5 phrases, and spread them out throughout the entire page. Never, ever, ever think that it’s the first paragraph that matters and stuff ‘em all in there. There should be an equal distribution throughout the entire page, and you should never use the phrases so much that you hear them constantly when you read it.

If you’ve done it right, an everyday user should not have any idea that a page has been SEO’d. A trained SEO should be able to spot what your keyword phrases are, but it shouldn’t be glaringly obvious. Last, but not least, hire a professional copywriter to work on the important pages of your site. This is the best investment you can make for your site and your business. Even if you don’t want to hire an SEO, you absolutely MUST

hire a professional copywriter. You need someone who really and truly understands target audiences and how to speak to them about the benefits of what you offer. You can easily teach someone like that the SEO writing part.

Hope this helps to give you some ideas on how you might get out of formula-SEO mode and start doing more creative SEO. More than ever, SEO is much more of an art than a science. The science is only a small portion of it.