Recently, a respected industry columnist who had just interviewed John Mueller of Google and concluded that the title tag is severely over-rated as a ranking factor. Mueller’s point was that a good page can rank without a title tag, but a perfect title tag will not have an impact if the content on the page is lacking.
Rest assured that the title tag remains an essential elements of on-page optimization. Doing a good job with your title tag is essential to ranking and getting traffic. This blog describes 4 simple rules for creating a title tag and 5 quick steps to implementation for maximum success.
There was a time that Google would just truncate a long and unwieldy title tag. Now, if you do a poor job of creating the title tag or make it too long, you may experience machine learning and artificial intelligence first hand: Google may swap in your URL or other text from the page on its SERPs.
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What is the SEO title tag?
As you remember, the title tag appears in the header section of a page’s source code and is set off by html tags as in the following example:
<title>Content Performance Marketing and SEO Blog | BrightEdge</title>
While this tag is not visible on your HTML page, it appears in the first line of the organic search listing as shown below:
Four simple rules for title tag creation
The search engines rely on the html title tag to understand the content that appears on the page, and it’s important for humans too as we’ll see below. So that leads us to the first of four rules for creating a dynamite title tag:
- Populate your title tag with a keyword or keywords that accurately summarize the content on the accompanying page. In the title tag above there are actually two relevant keywords – “Content Performance Marketing” and “SEO.” The keywords should appear to the left of the title tag if at all possible with the company name to the right if there is room. By the way, that vertical element to the left of the company name is called a “pipe” and is commonly used today to set off your company name. Don’t know which keywords to pick? Use the BrightEdge Data Cube to find dozens, hundreds or even thousands of keywords relevant to your topic. You’ll see search volume for each keyword, and quickly get a sense of how much competition there is around each. Don’t try to stuff keywords into your title tag. Instead create a tag that is easy for the human viewer to read.
- Keep the title tag to 55 characters or less. As you can see in the example above, there is a limited amount of space on the search engine results page to display your title tag. If you have a lot of “M’s” and not many “I’s” in your title tag, that could run out of space, but usually you’ll be fine if you keep your html title tag to about 55 characters. We have been seeing good results on pages with title tags shorter than 30.
- Think of the title tag as an advertising headline. Remember you’re writing the title tag not just for the search engine, but for the human viewer as well. You want a title tag with stopping power — what keyword or short phrase could you put there to get the reader’s eye to stop? Then write a meta description that gives the reader a reason to click through to your content. Something like – “See our great selection of…” or, a common ending for meta descriptions among ecommerce sites today, “Free Shipping.”
Look at the Recommendations module in the BrightEdge platform to see what your page’s Top Ten competitors are doing for the title tag and meta description. Maybe you can borrow a good idea from one of them or come up with something better than any of them. Remember — a click is an instantaneous reaction; you want to give people a reason to click almost instinctively to check out your content.
- Make every title tag unique. Too often websites show the same html title tag for more than one page. The BrightEdge Recommendations Engine considers this a Severe error because duplicate title tags keep the search engines from properly indexing and consistently serving up your organic listing when a search is launched. The best case scenario if you have duplicate title tags is that the search engines may cannibalize your traffic by sending some to one URL with the duplicate title tag while sending other searchers to your other page(s) with the same title tag.As a publisher, you need to take control and direct traffic on one topic to the one URL that best serves your strategy. Today duplicate title tags are frequently seen with smaller sites, perhaps because designers and smaller publishers are still learning how to do SEO (learn what is SEO here). But this mistake can happen to larger sites as well. Check the Recommendation Summary Report in the BrightEdge Recommendations module every week and immediately fix any duplicate title tags that the BrightEdge Recommendations Engine identifies.
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Five quick steps to title tag success
- Before you write any actual content for the page, write the title tag and the meta description. It’s fine to use the same primary keyword in both. Again, the title tag as the stopper and the meta description is the teaser that is going to get the reader to click through to your content.
- Create content for your page that is well-written, high quality, and hopefully different in approach than anything else that’s on the web today. You have to create unique content and execute well to get good organic rank, and, most importantly, click-throughs to your content.
- After the page content is finalized, revisit your title tag and meta description to ensure that there is still a match between the two and the content on your page. Remember, if the html title tag and meta description don’t accurately describe the content on the page, your chances of ranking are slim to none. If there isn’t a match with your finished content, re-write both tags.
- After the page is published, check the SERP to make sure that your organic listing is displaying properly. Amazingly, many publishers forget this step. If your organic listing is not being displayed as you want, change your tags immediately. And check the Recommendation Summary Report every week for anything you missed!
- After a few weeks have passed, check your page’s traffic with BrightEdge Page Reporting and click through rate on Google Search Console. If you’re not happy with the result, adjust the title tag and meta description. It will just take a few minutes of your time to research, write and publish. Go back to the Recommendations section in the BrightEdge platform and check out what your competition is doing if you need more ideas.
Too often we forget that we need to constantly optimize our own tags and content. As Avinash Kaushik, the evangelist of Google Analytics, says, the great thing about the web is that it allows you to fail fast and at low cost. Spend a few more minutes optimizing your tags to make sure you get the highest possible return on the money and time you have invested in creating great content.
Follow these four simple rules and five quick steps for your title tags, and your traffic numbers will rock. And keep optimizing.
In light of recent changes to how Google displays its SERPs, having descriptive keyword-optimized title tags for your content will be more important than ever. Find out why in our research report below.
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Get help writing your college application essays. Find this year's Common App writing prompts and popular essay questions used by individual colleges.
The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).
2018-19 Common App Essays
Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application, which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admission in 2017, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts
Prompt #1: Share your story.
Answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, facet of your personality, or experience that is genuinely meaningful and unique to you. Admissions officers want to feel connected to you and an honest, personal statement about who you are draws them in. Your love of superheroes, baking chops, or family history are all fair game if you can tie it back to who you are or what you believe in. Avoid a rehash of the accomplishments on your high school resume and choose something that the admissions committee will not discover when reading the rest of your application.
Prompt #2: Learning from obstacles.
You're trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.
Prompt #3: Challenging a belief.
Your answer to this question could focus on a time you stood up to others or an experience when your own preconceived view was challenged. Choose this prompt if you have a relevant—and specific!—experience to recount (and reflect on). A vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about YOU.
Prompt #4: Solving a problem.
This essay is designed to get at the heart of how you think and what makes you tick. Present a situation or quandary and show steps toward the solution. Admissions officers want insight into your thought process and the issues you grapple with, so explain how you became aware of the dilemma and how you tackled solving it. Don’t forget to explain why the problem is important to you!
Prompt #5: Personal growth.
Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or ccomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth.
Prompt #6: What captivates you?
This prompt is an invitation to write about something you care about. (So avoid the pitfall of writing about what you think will impress the admission office versus what truly matters to you). Colleges are looking for curious students, who are thoughtful about the world around them. The "what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more” bit isn't an afterthought—it's a key piece of the prompt. Make sure you explain how you pursue your interest, as well.
Prompt #7: Topic of your choice.
This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.
More College Essay Topics
Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays. Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:
Describe a person you admire.
Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you .
Why do you want to attend this school?
Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like "to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills," and use details that show your interests: "I'm an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation." Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.
What is a book you love?
Your answer should not be a book report. Don't just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you. What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you?
Again, be honest in answering this question—don't choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter. Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn't inspire you.
What is an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to you?
Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself.
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