Are Keywords in the title tag a Google Ranking Factor?

Google has confirmed that using keywords in the title tag is an important ranking factor.
Summary:

Page-level Factor
Important
Ranking Factor

  • Keywords in the Title Tag is a ranking factor.
  • Titles are important for SEO, but solely adding keywords to the title tag will not make you rank 10 places higher.
  • Google tries to recognize when a title tag is stuffed with keywords as it is a bad user experience for users.

Google has confirmed that using keywords in the title tag is an important ranking factor. There was a little bit of confusion when John Mueller said it was not worth restructuring your website to add them, but after some concern raised in the SEO community he later clarified that they were important.

Will adding a keyword to the title tag improve your Google rankings?

We took an in-depth look at what the Googlers \ Experts had to say:

Titles are important! They are important for SEO. They are used as a ranking factor.

  • John Mueller clarified his earlier (Jan 15, 2016) statement in an English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout said that:
    Titles are important! They are important for SEO. They are used as a ranking factor. Of course, they are definitely used as a ranking factor, but it is not something where I’d say the time you spend on tweaking the title is really the best use of your time.

Commentary

Unfortunately, this statement caused a bit of a stir in the SEO community, with many people claiming it wasn’t a ranking factor. As such, Mueller clarified his statement in a subsequent Hangout on Jan. 26, 2016:

I said, titles aren’t the most critical ranking factors anymore, and suddenly everyone got excited and said, oh my god, titles aren’t […]

Titles are important! They are important for SEO. They are used as a ranking factor. Of course, they are definitely used as a ranking factor, but it is not something where I’d say the time you spend on tweaking the title is really the best use of your time.

So that is something where if you are focusing only on titles in SEO, if your SEO agency work is essentially going to people’s websites and say we will strip out all titles and rewrite them to include all the relevant keywords and you will rank ten places higher, that is not going to happen.

You can view the relevant part of the hangout below:

Using a keyword in the Title Tag is a ranking factor, but it is not a major one.

  • John Mueller in an English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout said that:
    We do use it for ranking, but it’s not the most critical part of a page. So it’s not worthwhile filling it with keywords to kind of hope that it works that way. In general, we try to recognize when a title tag is stuffed with keywords because that’s also a bad user experience for users in the search results. If they’re looking to understand what these pages are about and they just see a jumble of keywords, then that doesn’t really help.

Commentary

Using a keyword in the Title Tag is a ranking factor, but it is not a major one.

John Mueller, webmaster trends analyst at Google, in an English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout on the Jan. 15, 2016 said the following:

We do use it for ranking, but it’s not the most critical part of a page. So it’s not worthwhile filling it with keywords to kind of hope that it works that way. In general, we try to recognize when a title tag is stuffed with keywords because that’s also a bad user experience for users in the search results.

If they’re looking to understand what these pages are about and they just see a jumble of keywords, then that doesn’t really help.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you mean by keyword in the title tag?

The title tag, otherwise known as the “title element,” defines the title of the page, and is often used in search engines results to display the preview snippet. It is important both for SEO, click to click-through rate, or CTR, and also to related matters, such as social sharing. The title element should be a concise, accurate description of the page’s content.

An example of the title tag’s code is below:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
  <title>HTML Title Element goes here.</title>
</head>
<body>
  <p>The main content of your page goes here.</p>
</body>
</html>
This code may display in Google as follows:

Keywords in title tag in search results.
Keywords in title tag in search results. © Screenshot.
Can you recommend any best practices for it's implementation?

A brief summary of best practices are as follows:

  • Keep your title tag length under 600 pixels, which is around 70 characters
  • Keep it short, descriptive and relevant to the page content
  • Separate Words with either a Hyphen “-” or a Pipe “|”
  • Avoid keyword stuffing
  • Don’t duplicate titles over multiple pages
  • Put important keywords first
  • Maximize Your Click-Through-Rate
  • Leverage branding

For a full detailed discussion of the Title Tag, including best practices, click here.

Are there any other benefits of using keyword or keywords in your URL?
There are a few other benefits of using keyword or keywords in your URL:

  • Increase click-through rate — Having keywords or a descriptive title can help the user know what kind of content they might find on that page, thus making it more likely they will click on it.
Jonathan Griffin. Editor @ The Webmaster

Editor, SEO Consultant, & Developer.

Jonathan Griffin is The Webmaster's Editor & CEO, managing day-to-day editorial operations across all our publications. Jonathan writes about Development, Hosting, and SEO topics for The Webmaster and The Search Review with more than nine years of experience. Jonathan also manages his own SEO consultancy, offering SEO developer services. He is an expert on site-structure, strategy, Schema, AMP, and technical SEO. You can find Jonathan on Twitter as @thewebmastercom.

Read more about Jonathan Griffin on our About Page.