Gavin Hirst - Friday 25th September 2020


Title Tag Best Practices for SEO

I recently came across a great article from Cyrus Shepard on the Moz Blog which talked about the way we optimise Title Tags and suggested there may be better ways of doing things, especially if we include a lot of ‘additional’ stuff in them.

This additional ‘stuff’ includes things like your brand name or repeating text that appears across multiple pages such as categories.

If you include this type of copy in your Title Tags, you’re not alone.

There are very few websites that don’t include their brand name in the Title Tag for example. For many of us, it just feels like the right thing to do to make it clear to potential visitors that they are clicking through to a specific brand’s website.

Boilerplate content is also common, especially on large e-commerce sites. Often, it can prove to be too time-consuming to write unique page titles for every product on a site, so boilerplate content is used to ‘pad out’ those title tags and possibly add in some relevant keywords.

Whilst we all do it, are these elements things you should be including in your page titles automatically? And if not, what should you cut out?

Thankfully, Cyrus has done all the leg work for us on this one and conducted some particularly useful research that shows us the value (or lack of) of including brand and boilerplate text in your Title Tags.

Brand names in title tags

So, let’s look at perhaps the most common addition to Title Tags – brand name.

Historically as SEOs, this is what we have always advised clients. A typical formula for Title Tags going back a few years probably looked like this:

Primary Keyword | Secondary Keyword | Brand Name

You can see from the screenshot below; we still carry out this practise on our own website:

Brand Name Title Tag Mobile

One of the biggest considerations with Title Tags currently is the different way they display across mobile and desktop. This is another important consideration when you are working out what you should include and exclude.

Below we can see the same three pages as above in the desktop results with our brand name cut off in all three instances. It’s important to look at where you get most of your traffic and make sure you are tailoring your Title Tags to that device:

Title Tags Desktop

The big question asked by Cyrus was – does having our brand/site name at the end of every title actually help or hurt?

Well, Cyrus worked with the team at SearchPilot to conduct a series of experiments to investigate the impact of removing elements such as the brand/site name and boilerplate content from the Title Tags and then measured the impact on rankings and traffic – the results were very interesting.

Experiment #2 results – removing brand from Title Tag

We’ve covered this back to front as Cyrus started out his experiment by removing the boilerplate content, however, the results are the same.

The experiment was an A/B split test – removing the word ‘Moz’ from 50% of their Title Tags and measuring the results.

Moz Title Tag Brand Removed

You can obviously read all about the results on the Moz blog, but we wanted to add our own thoughts.

The results showed a 4% decline in traffic when the brand name was removed from the Title Tag. Cyrus performed a simple search in Google Search Console (GSC) to show why this might have been the case and this validates our own thoughts at Digital Hothouse.

The strength of your brand should determine whether you could/should remove your brand name from some of your Title Tags.

If you have a brand name that is familiar and one that is searched for independently, it makes sense to keep your brand name in your Title Tags in order to reinforce the strength of the brand and encourage a higher click-through rate.

On the flip side, if you’re a new brand or you have a brand that isn’t well searched, then it may be beneficial to use the characters within your Title Tag to focus on the keywords you want to target or to use copy that encourages a higher click-through rate and features a strong call to action.

Boilerplate copy in Title Tags

As well as the brand name, many title tags also include boilerplate copy. We usually see this on larger websites, especially e-commerce sites that have a lot of product pages sitting in different categories.

We’ve certainly used this tactic ourselves to speed up the process of ‘generating’ unique Title Tags for every page on a site. Our strategy has been to suggest something like the following:

Product Name | Product Category | Brand Name

You can see from the above boilerplate that the ‘Product Name’ is what gives a Title Tag its uniqueness and the rest of the tag is made up of boilerplate content that helps to optimise for a product category and the brand name.

This sort of tactic can certainly help, especially in generating a high volume of Title Tags, however, we usually also supplement this work by identifying the top 50 or 100 products and writing specific Title Tags for those pages.

Robertson Title Tag Boilerplate

Cyrus and his team also carried out an experiment to remove boilerplate content from some of the Title Tags on the Moz site – specifically the ‘Whiteboard Friday’ text that is included in all Whiteboard Friday posts.

Experiment #1 results – removing boilerplate copy from Title Tag

Again, the team used an A/B split test to remove the words ‘Whiteboard Friday’ from 50% of the relevant posts and then tested the impact on rankings and traffic.

Whiteboard Friday Boilerplate Title Tag

The results of this test were quite different. The team found that removing the boilerplate copy from the title tag led to a 20% uplift in traffic – a surprising result for the team which led to them testing the brand removal which didn’t work as well.

So, what can we conclude from this?

Well, in the same way as Cyrus used GSC to analyse branded search queries, they also looked at queries that included ‘whiteboard Friday’ and perhaps unsurprisingly found that there was only a small number of pages that received traffic from queries that included ‘whiteboard Friday’.

Basically, the term doesn’t stand up on its own and it’s not what people are typically searching for, so why use it on all those pages? At 17 characters long, it also takes up a lot of valuable real estate that could potentially be put to better use.

Conclusions

The experiments carried out by Cyrus and his team are not definitive. They were carried out on a sample of pages and do not give us all the answers.

What the results so show us is that it’s worth experimenting with your own Title Tags and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Use GSC to identify the strength of your brand. Identify boilerplate copy that is used across your site and determine whether that text is adding value or not. You may find that both are adding value to your Title Tags so it’s important to take these learnings and apply them specifically to your own site and on your client’s websites.

Some findings that were perhaps more definitive and that should shape your thinking when it comes to Title Tags include:

  • Brand Strength – Popular brand names in titles almost always perform better than unknown brands, even when people aren’t searching for your brand specifically.
  • Relevancy – are your boilerplate/brand keywords relevant to what your users search for? Are you creating pages that are potentially competing with others for specific keywords because they all feature the same copy?
  • Length – how does the inclusion of your brand/boilerplate copy impact on the overall length of your Title Tag? A famous study from the engineers at Etsy found that shorter pages titles performed better than longer ones so should this be a consideration for you?
  • Clickability – boilerplate content can be helpful in making your titles more clickable. Words like ‘sale’, ‘free’, ‘new’, or ‘2020’ for example can all help to increase the CTR. On the flip side, boilerplate content that is irrelevant can turn people off so carry out the research and find out how your boilerplate content impacts your clickability.

We recommend doing your own testing and carefully monitoring the results in order to find out whether removing or adding your brand or boilerplate improves your rankings and traffic.

Let us know how you go!

 

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