Keywords in the title tag: Positive on-page ranking factor

SEO

Keywords in the title tag: Positive on-page ranking factor

Placing your keyword or key phrase in the Title Tag of your page helps establish the relevance of your content for that particular search query.

Placing your keyword or keyphrase in the title tag of your page helps establish the relevance of your content for that particular search query. While the impact as a search engine optimization ranking factor, or SEO ranking factor, is relatively small, there are also several other reasons why including a keyword or at least having a descriptive keyword is a good idea.

Impact: Small
Confidence: Very High

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:

<head>
<title>Title Tag — Learn SEO</title>
</head>

This code may display in Google as follows:

keyword in title tag Google Search

Is it an SEO ranking factor?

Yes, 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.

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:

How important is it?

The key point mentioned by John Mueller in the Hangout above is the following: "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."

Clearly, John Mueller does not rate them as important, but despite that, they are a ranking factor and something you probably should consider.

Other considerations:

There are a few other ranking considerations when using a Title Tag on your page:

  • Keyword at the beginning of your title — In the same way that a keyword at the beginning of the URL is prioritized, we suspect that the keywords at the beginning of the title are as well. In fact, an experiment run by Marie Haynes seems to confirm this.
  • Keyword stuffing — Mueller commented in his Jan. 15 hangout that "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."

Best practices for using keywords in your title tag

Since early 2014, the number of characters you can use in your title tag can vary. Here is a list of some of the factors that can affect title length:

  • Wider letters take up more space — Letters such as "i" take up less space than "w".
  • ALL CAPS take up more space — Words such as "AND" take up more space than "and".
  • Width varies depending on the search query — Because Google now boldens the search query, and bold letters take up more space, a longer search query would also take up more space.
  • Truncation — When a Title is "cut off" it is appended with " ...". This means truncated titles show even fewer characters of the Title.

Dr. Peter Meyers, at Moz, analyzed the title tag lengths after cutoff back in March 2014. The title lengths ranged from 42 to 68 characters. You can see the distribution of title cutoff lengths below:

title tag lengths

Matt Cutts gave some advice in April 2014 about how to craft your title tag. He said that if you want your Title to display as intended, then you should ensure that:

  • It is relatively short.
  • Is a good description of the content, and ideally the website that the page is on.
  • And that it is relevant to the query.

If you don't adhere to this, then Google may use an alternate title. This may be from content on your page, from anchor text pointing to your page, or the Open Directory Project. As this information is approaching two years old, it is unclear as to whether this is still the case.

Other Benefits:

  • 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.
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