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SEO Titles: 11 Best Practices and Golden Rules to Consider

by | Jan 30, 2024 | SEO

SEO Titles: What They Are and How to Write Them

Remember when you were a kid? Ya know — before you had impulse control and before anyone taught you about manners, and you would just shout really inappropriate things aloud at strangers passing by? (No? Just me?)

“Mommy, look at that weird guy!” (Facepalm)

“Firetruck, mommy! Firetruck!” (Replace truck with the F word.)

And of course, when your relative (or even parents, really), would get you a gift for your birthday or Easter, and you — being 3 or 5 or however old you were — would simply NOT hide your disappointment? 

The frump.

The frown.

The sadness.

All beyond your ability to control.

All while your mother would say, “Wowwwww what a cool gift, right, honey? Can you say thank you?”

Basically, you were Ralphy in the pink bunny costume on Christmas. Adorable, true. But also sad and pathetic. 

Well, I’m not going to spare your feelings today when I say that no one, and I mean no one. Is happy about the “gift” that is your poorly written SEO titles. 

Don’t be Ralphy’s aunt. Don’t buy the pink bunny costume on Christmas and expect that people are going to appreciate your gift. They won’t!

Instead, write great SEO titles. Right the equivalent of a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle (Ralphy’s wish list). 

Write titles that make people feel seen. Write using the same language your audience is using. Write titles that are accurate. 

Let’s get into how to do just that. 

What Are SEO Titles?

SEO titles are the headline text that appears in search results whenever you search for something and are also referred to as the page title.

They’re set at the page level in your CMS, and they’re not always the preferred headline by Google.

In fact, oftentimes, Google overrides your SEO titles in favor of their own titles, which are usually the H1 tags on the page. 

Here’s what they look like:

search results for socialhart - green highlight around the page titles to emphasize what seo titles look like in search results

SEO titles can contain the page name, numbers, symbols, brand name, and value propositions (pretty much anything). 

And they’re usually chosen by the search engine depending on their relevance to the searcher’s “query.” If the query more closely matches the page title, Google may “serve” that title to the searcher. But, if Google “thinks” the H1 title will be more impactful, it might serve that instead. 

Google also constantly tests search results. At any given moment, your search result can be a test for performance analysis and user behavior to help improve the search engine’s overall experience. 

Why Use SEO Titles?

Well, in that case, why use SEO titles? There are a few reasons. 

Firstly, SEO titles provide context about your page to the search engine. 

Second, there is a chance that Google will use the name you’ve provided to them. In which case, great! You’ve controlled your website appearance online (the best position to be in).

Finally, you don’t want to leave the page title up for suggestions by Google. I’ve seen many pages accidentally pull a copy from a pop-up or side banner that’s completely irrelevant to the page name and needs adjustment. 

Don’t leave your search appearance to chance, since you could miss out on an opportunity to grab someone’s attention and make a connection. 

H1 vs SEO Titles: What’s the Difference?

I’ve mentioned that Google will sometimes pull an H1 over a page title. The difference between the two is that the page title (or SEO title) is what appears in your browser window as the page name. Here’s what SEO titles looks like for the About page on my website:

seo title - about page - socialhart

And here’s what the H1 looks like:

about page H1 - highlighted to show the H1 tag

Is all this getting a little boring?

I know, sometimes it can be. But think of it this way: Would you rather have control over the way your page shows up online, or would you rather it be a free-for-all jungle out there? 

I know what I’d choose (and it’s not the reenactment of “Tarzan… Jane… Tarzan… Jane”).

Golden Rules & What to Consider about SEO Titles

Now for one of my favorite things to do. Write page titles! I know that’s weird, but honestly, it’s such an easy SEO win.

You can usually get it done in a few hours if your page isn’t too big or if your website is on the smaller side. And it’s easy to download your page titles either from Google Search Console or Screaming Frog. 

Then, you can get them on a spreadsheet and clean them up all you want! Like this:

seo titles screenshot

Pretty, right? I know. That’s what I mean about fun!

Okay, now for a rundown of the Golden Rules. 

1. Adding Your Target Keyword

When it comes to SEO, you’re usually choosing a “target keyword” per page. That target keyword should go somewhere in your page title. 

Often, you want it at the beginning of the page title, since people scan search results quickly and choose links based on whether or not that page matches “search intent.”

In other words, people are quickly deciding if your page matches what they’re looking for. This happens very quickly, so having the page title at the front or near the front makes a lot of sense. 

However, you don’t want the page title to sound weird or not make sense. So if you need to add the keyword later in the title to make it more interesting, then do that.

Use common sense, essentially. 

2. Matching Intent

This is probably the most important golden rule. That is, the page needs to match search intent. 

Look at your focus keyword, research what results appear, and then create your own version of that solution. 

Now, match the page title to that search intent.

Do all the ranking pages talk about “Best?” Then use the word best (and write about the “best). 

Are all the search results focused on “buy” or “shop?” Then you should mention “buy” or “shop” and include it in your page title. 

3. Accuracy

Your page title should accurately describe the contents of the page. Without this essential piece, your page will never see the Top 10 search results (the most important ones). 

If you set the page title to “Leashes for Medium Dogs – Pink Stars,” then the page needs to have a page with pink dog leashes (with stars), or you’ll be a) lying to people about what they’re going to find when they click your link or b) creating spammy online content. 

To each their own, but you’ll never have a successful SEO strategy when it’s based on lies. 

4. Psychology

I’m not a psychologist, but I know what attracts me to links because I spend all day every day thinking about search results and how I can improve clients’ visibility on them. 

An important aspect of writing great page titles is thinking about the psychology of people. 

Is there a hook you can use to attract people or a number? Can you add something new that no one else is writing about?

Take a look at the competition for this article you’re reading:

seo titles - results example

Out of the four pictured, which one are you most interested in clicking? If I were searching for this keyword, I’d want to know two things. What is an SEO title tag, and how do I write one? 

That said, I want to click the Semrush result or the Hubspot blog. Why? Because both talk about the how. And not only the how, but they promise to show me how to make my titles distinct

Here’s the working page title for this article:

  • SEO Titles: 11 Best Practices and Golden Rules to Consider
  • SEO Titles: What to Include and How to Optimize 
  • Why You Should Optimize Your Page Titles

Which do you like best, and why? (Pst, there’s no wrong answer. I’m genuinely curious. I’d also like to win a bet I had with myself).

Also, consider that I’m competing with many strong brand names for this search term, so to stand out, I need to add something different to the conversation. Remember, you need to make the best decision for your situation and competition. 

5. Incentives

When I worked on hotel websites, I learned a lot about the effectiveness of incentives. 

You’d be amazed at how a simple “15% Off Your 4 Night Stay” or “Romantic Suite Offer – 20% Off” can motivate someone. 

You can try sales, limited time, or even limited availability to see which titles move the needle best for you.

6. Readability

The best SEO titles are easy to read. This means they are under 55 characters (usually between 50-55 or less), and they contain capitalization, symbols, and the target keyword. 

Simple is good. Clean and attractive is best.

7. CTR Factors

Typically, many of the rules we’ve already discussed will impact the clickthrough (CTR) of your page title. Additional factors include adding numbers (like 8, 12, 45, 98), and clear language. 

8. Branding

I recommend using your brand name, where possible. This can help reinforce your brand to people (remember, repetition is great for retention), and can attract your fan base to your search results over a competitor, especially if you have a strong brand that resonates with your customers. 

If using your brand name isn’t an option, consider using brand language. For me, those terms include clarity, sparkle, gleam, brilliance, etc. 

9. Using Questions

What’s A Great Way To Write an SEO Title? Questions! I love questions as page titles because they’re really low-lift and easy to think about. 

Pick the target keyword, make it a question, and make that question your page title. 

Remember, people search for questions multiple times a day, every day. So questions as titles mean you’re promising to answer those questions.

10. Value Propositions

A great way to stand out in a crowded search result is by adding your value propositions. 

What makes you different than everyone else? 

Do you hold space in a niche? 

Do you sell specific product types? 

Have you won awards? 

Those pieces of information within a page title can attract people to your website over another. 

This works especially well on home pages, service pages, and product pages.

11. Creativity

The last golden rule, and sometimes the hardest one to trust. Be creative. 

It’s great to follow rules because they help you hone your skills. But don’t be afraid to break the rules. 

Be creative and approach your page titles from the perspective of, will my target audience want to click this? Is it fun? Is it clever? Does it speak to an inside joke? Is it different than every other result?

Examples of Great SEO Title Tags

Every great SEO title makes you want to click it over another. There are really no other requirements. Does it match what I’m looking for, and do I want to click it?

Here are some examples for you to enjoy so you can develop an SEO eye. 

For the search term toddler height average:

  • Average weight and growth chart for babies, toddlers, and kids
  • Average Height to Weight Chart: Babies to Teenagers

toddler height average: search term seo title example

For the search term women’s health statistics:

  • FastStats – Womens Health
  • Health & Well-being – The Status of Women in the States
  • WOMEN’S HEALTH STATS

seo title search results for womens health statistics

For the search term best books of 2024:

  • The Best Books of 2024 So Far | Vogue
  • 43 Books We Can’t Wait To Read In 2024 – The Today Show
  • The Best Books We’ve Read in 2024 So Far | The New Yorker

seo titles for search terms best books of 2024

Notice that all of these titles follow the golden rules. They don’t follow all the rules at once, but they follow the rules that are relevant to their business, competition, and search results. 

Writing SEO Titles for Search Intent

I’ve mentioned this in this article already, but it’s so important, I want to make sure we address it again. 

Search intent is the most important part of writing page titles. If a person is expecting one search result, but finds another, they will NOT want to click your page title. 

In fact, your article might not show up at all. 

If you’re writing about “The Best Pillows To Brighten Up Your Space,” people will expect a list of bright pillows. They’ll expect links to the pillows so they can buy them, and they’ll expect images. 

What happens when you don’t meet search intent? 

You’ll get a bounce. And not the T-I-Double-Guh-Er type of bounce. I’m referring to the bad type.

This type of bounce means people are clicking on your site, and then going right back to the search results page.

This tells Google that people aren’t finding what they’re looking for when they’re clicking your page. After a while, your page will stop showing search results that don’t match the search intent. 

So, write titles that match search intent and deliver that intent on the page.

SEO Title Tag Frameworks to Start

Frameworks make it easy to write pages at scale and will give you the requirements you need to write great page titles.

Here are some easy frameworks you can start using on your website:

  • “Brand Name” Homepage + Unique Selling Prop
  • [Official Site] Brand Name + POV
  • [Brand Name] + Voted X by Y
  • [Brand Name] + #1 [XYZ] Category
  • Brand + Shop Category Name 
  • Brand + Collection Name 
  • Collection Name + Brand
  • Ingredients + Brand + Product Type
  • Ultimate Guide to [Keyword]
  • Is It Possible to [Target Keyword]?
  • Who Should [Target Keyword]?
  • [Target Keyword Question]?

I’ve created over a hundred templates for you to use, and I’m adding more all the time. Download the SEO Title Templates Spreadsheet. 

Measuring CTR and SEO Title Success

Now for the fun part. There are a lot of ways to measure your CTR success. 

One way to measure CTR and SEO title success is to run SEO tests. Here’s a great guide from SEO Testing that walks you through setting SEO tests for page titles.

Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like in Google Search Console when you’re measuring Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and Average Position. 

Over time and as you improve your overall SEO and page title optimization, your CTR should improve. This is the CTR of a brand-new page, and we should expect to see this improve as it moves up in positioning.

Remember, the lower the average position, the worse the CTR (closer to 100). The better the average position (closer to 1), the better the CTR. 

example of google search console results for a new page

Frequently Asked Questions About Title Tags

There are many questions you might have when you start exploring the world of SEO titles. Here are some common questions.

How Long Should SEO Titles Be?

The recommended length is between 50-55 characters, but you can go slightly above and below that character count. The important requirements for SEO titles is that they’re clickable, accurate, and have the focus keyword.

Should I Use Keywords in SEO Titles?

Absolutely! People search in patterns, which is where keywords come from.

Keywords are the result of all search terms and their patterns. When you use the same language that people are using to search, you’re going to speak to people’s needs and desires. This, in turn, will improve your CTR. 

Additionally, keywords in your SEO titles help Google understand what your page is about. The benefit of Google understanding your page is that it’s more likely to serve your page to people, and, therefore, increase your overall traffic. 

Time to Optimize Your Page Titles In Your SEO Content

Page titles are one of the most underrated, low-lift SEO optimization tactics. By improving your page titles overall, you can improve the semantic understanding of your entire website. And typically, you’ll see a boost in overall traffic. 

Here’s a study called “Can emojis in title tags be beneficial for SEO?“ from Search Pilot. What do you think was the impact? Positive or negative?

Spoiler: Negative. 

Were you surprised? Send me an email and let me know!

I’d love to help you with your SEO content strategy and page title optimization. I offer 1:1 SEO Consulting, Strategy Power Hours, VIP Sprint-style strategies, and monthly support. Contact me today, and let’s get you booked ASAP. 

Written by Crystal Ortiz

Crystal Ortiz is the Founder of Socialhart. She's a Marketing and SEO expert with 8 years of experience in digital marketing. She's worked with local businesses, founders, marketing executives, and global brands across many industries, both in-house and agency-side. She's taught digital marketing programs at several universities, including NC State and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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