Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Before we continue our discussion of SEO Factors that improve search engine rankings, culled from the data of our 12 participating independent publishers, I would like to briefly talk to you about your cell phone. Whether you have an iPhone or a Galaxy, you’ve most likely had a cell phone/smartphone since the beginning… and have dropped it more than once. According to a 2012 survey, 30 percent of iPhone users have accidentally damaged their phone over the past 12 months (some more than once). And unless you have phone insurance, you are probably going to seek out one of those new cell phone repair places. But which one?
A Google search for “cell phone repair” brings up more than 59 million results. So how will you choose one? Aside from location and user reviews, you will probably choose a business that has “phone” and “repair” in the webpage title. A good title presents a business’s core competencies, explaining its industry and what it does in an easy to understand (and easy to remember) manner.
Similarly, a great page title, one that will help search engines and customers find your website, meets the following criteria:
• Gets descriptive – tells you what’s on the page
• Shows consistency – page titles for all pages on the website
• Does not repeat – page titles are unique for each page
• Meets the character limit – not too short or too long
We will go further into detail on the characteristics that make up great page titles, but first, here are the rankings for the 12 participants in this assessment. The overall result was a 2.5 (a D grade).
Get Descriptive – What’s on the Page?
In our cell phone repair example, we pointed out that finding the (key)words “cell phone” and “repair” would have a greater impact on a person who had just damaged their iPhone, and would probably result in a higher likelihood of that link being clicked on, than a link that didn’t contain those words. Similarly, when one of your customers is on one of your category, book or author pages, they need to know they are in the right place. And the page title helps.
Before we continue, please note that the page title is not necessarily the header on your webpage. It is the title element located in the page code that appears at the very top of your browser bar when you hover over the tab. For example, the Digital Book World (DBW) Expert Publishing Blog page has a page title “Expert Publishing Blog | Digital Book World.” This page shows you what page you are on in a descriptive manner, telling you that you are not only in the Expert Publishing Blog section/category of the site, but that the page is part of the DBW domain. It’s what is in the little pop-up balloon that happens when you hover over the tab in the browser bar.
A descriptive page title (like the one for DBW) helps your search ranking in two ways:
• It tells your customers where they are – The UK colloquialism “it does what it says on the tin” translates into “the label says exactly what the product/service is.” In this case, a good descriptive page title tells your customer where they are and what content they will find there. Poor page titles, or page titles that do not match the page content, may confuse your customers.
• It tells your customers where to find you – Search engines look for keywords in your page title and highlight those words in bold when displaying Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This will highlight your SERP entry on the results page and is shown to influence the click-through-rate (CTR), the percentage of people who visit a website by using the hyperlinks found in a search result.
Let’s have a look at one of our participant’s websites and see how they manage page titles. Dragon Moon Press, who received a “C” grade for this section, uses descriptive text for each of its web pages. The title for the Science Fiction and Fantasy category web page is “Science Fiction and Fantasy” and it lists all the books that relate to that category.
On the SilkWords website, a visitor has the opportunity to “Browse All Books,” “View All Featured Stories” or “View All Current Reader Vote Stories.” Yet linking to each of these pages brings up a page title of “Browse Our Stories | SilkWords.”
By leaving out the descriptors of “Featured Stories,” “Current Reader Vote Stories,” or other content that describes the book and its genre, SilkWords is a) missing out on site traffic that could be generated from those keywords showing up in search results and b) confusing visitors by showing them the same reshuffled content on the page without explaining what the filters are. There are some great opportunities for improvement here.
When creating great descriptive page titles, ask yourself:
• Does the page title match the content of the page? Keep your page titles relevant to your page content. It lets the user know where they are in your site and where to find their queries in SERPs.
• Does it contain keywords relevant to my books and my customers? If your customers knew all the information necessary to find the exact book they were looking for, including your domain name, it would be great. But they are usually searching by author, title or genre. Make sure these descriptors feature in your page titles to boost page ranking and CTR.
• Is it descriptive or is it just numbers? A set of numbers at the top of a page means nothing to customers who aren’t searching by ISBN. Use the book title, the author’s name and other descriptors.
Getting Consistent – What’s Missing?
It may sound obvious, but it is important to note that each page within a website must have its own unique page title for two important reasons:
• It informs the user what page they are on within your site, improving their navigation to category, subcategory and product pages.
• It informs search engines of the name of the page within your site, improving your search rankings and confirming that pages get added to a site crawl and the subsequent index.
Search engines have placed more and more emphasis on page titles and their placement in the HTML. Search engines are looking for page titles that differentiate your website from other publishers while at the same time matching those commonly used words when searching for products (whether on your site, your partners’ or your competitors’).
That is not to say that you should flood your website titles with keywords (we’ll be looking at the proper number of characters for page titles in the next section). Just be sure that each page has a unique title and that the title is only used once in the HTML.
All the websites analyzed during this evaluation had page titles on almost every page, aside from one: for Oldcastle Books, our analysis showed that 22 percent of the pages within the website were missing titles. It is important to locate and update these pages as soon as possible, as you may be missing out on link juice, or books or content that your customers are unable to locate and purchase.
Apart from simply having a page title, there are other details about it that must meet web standards in order to be viewed favorably by Google and other search engines. One of these is avoiding duplication of pages.
Get Original – What’s Similar?
As mentioned in the previous section, having a page title for each page in your website is necessary for customers and search engines. However, it is equally important that each page has its own unique page title and that it not be duplicated on other pages.
In Pages Crawled vs. Pages Indexed [link], we discussed that duplicate pages prevent search engines from ranking your pages individually and instead omit the pages during SERPs to avoid flooding user queries with multiple results of the same content. Repeated page titles are one of the prime culprits in these instances, and there could be a few reasons why:
• Multiple book editions that do not differentiate between the first and concurrent publications.
• Books that have the same title but do not include the author’s name (or other discerning factors) in the page title.
• Page titles that have not been updated since the website was built and contain similar page titles as structural placeholders.
• Duplicate pages for the same book when different formats (print and ebook versions, for instance) have their own pages within your site with the same or very similar content.
Out of the 12 publishers I evaluated during this analysis, 10 of them had duplicate page titles in one form or another. The number of duplicates ranged from 13 percent (Bold Strokes Books) to more than 90 percent (CNS Productions).
The page title is the title of the page. And with Google’s Panda algorithm changes that started in 2011, websites with multiple pages that display the same page title will no longer carry the same weight as unique pages within your site. So how can you avoid this form of duplication?
• Reevaluate your page titles. It might be time to have a look at your page titles and page content for the following criteria:
• Do your page titles follow a pattern? One reason why your page titles might be duplicated is that they do not follow an organized pattern in their development. Consider naming conventions for your title tags that include the category, subcategory, book title and author, company name and other keywords that may fit.
• Are you repeating the same content on your pages? That might be why you have multiples of the same page title. Consider a) combining/deleting pages that highlight the same content repeatedly, b) using redirects and robots.txt to prevent duplicate pages from being crawled or c) setting canonicals that prevent duplicates by setting your preferred URL for a page.
• Review your code. When was the last time you gave your page code a good scrub? Check to see that you are a) not using the same page title for multiple pages and b) you do not have multiple page titles within the code for a singular page.
• Don’t overuse keywords. You may be tempted to add more keywords to your page title than search engines can handle. Be careful. By using the same or similar keywords in a single page title, or cramming keywords into the title, or using keywords unrelated to the page’s content, your page could be categorized as spam. Also, you should be aware that there is a character/word limit for page titles, which we will be discussing next.
Get Balanced – What’s the Limit?
When businesses discover duplicate pages within their website, they often go above and beyond to make their website page titles unique. But this valiant effort can often lead to a further challenge: going over the limit on the number of characters/words used in the page title and getting penalized by the search engines.
Fortunately for us, there is a kind of “golden rule” for page titles. Industry experts tend to agree on having a page title of 70 characters or less, although this number can fluctuate a few characters up or down, depending on the expert. I personally prefer a 65-character limit just to be safe, as the size and width of individual letters in the title is important. Google actually uses the number of pixels necessary to display the title on the SERPs. Based on Google’s 2014 algorithm updates, the title length display in the SERPs is limited to about 512 pixels. Anything over that amount or over the keyword limit is cut off and represented by an ellipsis “…” in the SERPs. This essentially cuts off your title and prevents search engines and customers from viewing your complete page title that you worked so hard on. But you can also go too short with your page title, making the title in the SERPs less informative. Try to keep your page titles at 30 characters at the very least.
Let’s have a look at some examples from our participants:
• University of Hawaii Press’s Materializing Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 12th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists, Volume 2 title clocks in at more than 160 characters. That’s a lot of text to display (even though it is the exact title of the book). It might be worth shortening the title and adding category/subcategory descriptors instead. It is truncated in the SERPs as:
• For the book, Knowing God (paperback) – InterVarsity Press, the page title is over the minimum but still a bit short. I would consider adding the author’s name to this page title to extend use of keywords and make it more informative.
• The SilkWords page title, “Kill Your Routine,” displays as follows – Kill Your Routine | SilkWords. This is a 29-character page title (including spaces), just under the recommended minimum. I recommend adding further descriptors to this page, possibly the book’s author or the category/subcategory location.
With all these rules, there are quite a few challenges to creating the perfect page title. So when deciding on the length of your page title, try to use the following guidelines:
• The important information comes first. We all read words in order, even Google. The most important words for a page title should be first with additional information behind them. That will keep the keywords from getting cut off in SERPs.
• Each page is uniquely important. While your company name and tagline may be great for your homepage, they may not be the most important part of the title page for a book. Move less important keywords to the end of the page title (or remove them) and move what makes the page unique (the book title, for example) to the first part of the page title.
• Find your keywords. To keep page titles from falling short in descriptive content and character length, add keywords to your titles. But don’t just put them in at random. Use your keywords in descriptive sentences to entice your readers with the information they are looking for.
Get It Together – Moving Forward
Search Google for “untitled” pages and you will find millions and millions of SERPs for these lost pages (You can do this by typing the following into your search bar, including the quotation marks: intitle:”untitled document”). No one wants their websites unsearchable and lost in Google’s index. By the same token, no one wants their informative page title truncated by a search engine, cutting out the important page descriptors, or, even worse, losing link juice from pages that have duplicate page titles.
Page titles are one of the single most important elements for your website. While the user may be dazzled by your page headers and graphics, they will still need a descriptive page title to find you within a search engine. Every participant in this analysis has a number of “opportunities” to fix an aspect of their page titles. I hope that everyone sees this overview as a chance to improve upon the way your customers and search engines see you in the online marketplace.
For our next installment, we will be focusing on one of the key reasons customers visit your site and keep returning on a regular basis: site content.
In the meantime, how do your page titles stack up? Let me know in the comments below.
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