How do search engines use page titles?
A page title or simply, title, is the <title> HTML tag in the <head> of a webpage.
For visitors to your website it isn't very visible: it isn't shown on the page itself, just in a web browser tab like this:
...and yet it is one of the most important elements on a page for SEO. Search engines use it both as the link text for a search result:
(the 'Home | Scotland's Dunnottar Castle - where legends come to life.') and for deciding what to rank the page for. Keywords in here are crucial to ranking well.
Page titles may also appear when your content is shared on social media.
Above all else it's most important that every page on your site has a unique page title. If pages with different content share a page title they may be viewed as the same (duplicate content) and only one of them may be listed (indexed) by search engines.
Describes the page
When a user presses a search result link, search engines want them to be taken to a page containing what the link text has promised. The page title should describe what the user is going to get when they visit, as specifically as possible.
This means for a product page the name of the product or a variation of it is best. You can't simply stuff keywords in here to rank for them- the page content needs to match the page title.
Containing good keywords
Your page title should contain keyword phrases that people are searching for. Avoid strap lines, very broad keywords or just your shop name if they aren't things people would search for to buy your product.
Good keywords are also searched-for a decent number of times a month and aren't ridiculously competitive for you to rank for. The Google Keyword Tool can help you find these.
Even though the ideal page title length is nuanced, if you're starting out with SEO keeping the length of your page titles under 70 characters gets you a long way. 70 characters is roughly what search engines will display and you'll mostly avoid them being cut off with ellipses (...).
The actual 'ideal' length though is indeed a bit more nuanced. With a wide variety of screen widths and search result formats search engines will display more or less than 70 characters frequently. You've also noticed that different characters are different widths- an 'i' is narrower than a 'w', so the search engine display width is actually pixels rather than a character count.
Something else to add to the mix is that search engines will consider for ranking purposes much more than 70 characters. There is no hard stop at 70 where everything else is thrown away. Many users have success with being flexible with page title lengths and erring on the side of long page titles rather than too short.
Don't fret! Plug in SEO Plus lets you configure however you want to target the length of your page titles and comes out-of-the-box with the settings we've found to work best.
There should only be one page title in the head of your web page. Include two or more and you risk them being ignored by search engines or one being arbitrarily selected.
It isn't showing up in search results
If search engines are showing an old page title or the page doesn't appear in search results give these a shot:
- Make a tangible change to the page to prompt it to be re-indexed. For a product page this could be making the product description longer or changing images. Search engines may not re-index a page if the page title is the only thing that has changed on it.
- Wait at least a couple of weeks. Search engines don't instantly pick up changes to your shop.
- Check for any issues in Plug in SEO, Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools and fix them
Unfortunately sometimes search engines stubbornly just won't re-index a page! That gets more rare if you have made substantial changes to the page.