Crafting Perfect SEO Meta Title Tags for Your Blog Posts

The right tags for your post titles will bring seriously-yummy traffic.

[This is part of the Developing Great Blog Content Series and The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series.]

One of the most important elements of your blog post is your title. In fact, according to many search engine optimizers (SEOers), it is the most important element that you’ve got.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with that completely since you actually need to write some great blog content so that your readers have something to do with themselves when they get there but I strongly affirm the significant importance of a well-thought out title and title tag.

So what’s the big deal? For starters you might not even think that it’s all that important since you’ve been publishing for a long time now and haven’t considered your titles very much at all and you’re getting good traffic both directly and organically through search engines.

Why start now?

Because you could be getting even more traffic if you spent even a few moments to build some strategy and execute on it – so much so that you might have to come back and thank me (you don’t have to of course!).

But what will it take? What do you need to do differently? It’s actually not that tough and I’ll show you a few things that can make you a SEO Title Tag Pro!

Title Tags are so important, for your users and search engines!

Wait, So… What’s a Title Tag?

Hah! Before you get started you should know what a Title Tag really is. Essentially it’s just the main text that describes the actual web page that a viewer is looking at.  Here’s how it’s generally defined:

  • The <title> tag defines the title of the document.
  • The title element is required in all HTML/XHTML documents.

It appears in these three places:

  1. Browser – In the title at the top of your browser!
  2. Search Results – This is what we’re going to be talking about the most in this article and is one of the most important.
  3. Other Sites – Some other sites will take your title tags and use them for their services, like Digg, Delicious, and StumbleUpon.

Got it? You’ve seen these all over the place and you’ve been using them without even knowing explicitly that they existed as you published all those blog posts.

Now, though, you have the opportunity to be armed with more than just awareness – get some strategy and do it right!

Ready? Here we go.

1. Length Matters

The first thing you should know is that there’s actually a “magic” number when it comes to the length of your title. Did you know that?

The number is 70 characters long and you want to make sure that you make your titles fit within this limit! This is a limit imposed by search engines to keep the title length down in search returns:

Exactly 70 characters long! Perfect!

Now that you know this you’ll want to be cognizant of it and you want to get as close to 70 characters as possible!

2. Include Brand, Blog Name in Title

Blog title in search result.

What you’ll also want to do is include your Blog Name or your blog’s branding in your title as well.

As you can see in the image on the right I have “TentBlogger” in every search result so that it’s reflective in the search returns to further establish my brand and credibility with people who are looking for my posts.

There are some that argue that this doesn’t necessarily add any value and in some cases I believe that to be true:

  • If you have a really long blog name or brand I’d probably opt not to have it showcased in your title.
  • If your blog name is your actual name then I’d probably not have it.
  • If your blog name is somewhat “nonsensical” or not strongly tied to your content focus then I’d probably not have it either.

But otherwise I’d keep it.

Now how does this happen in WordPress? This is all related to your WordPress Theme and how it interprets your title tags. You must do your research when it comes to finding the best WordPress Theme as it relates to SEO and the Standard Theme is the theme that I use and automatically adds this correctly in your title tags for your posts.

What you should look for is a theme that does:

  • Post Title | Blog Name
  • Post Title – Blog Name
  • Blog Name | Post Title
  • Blog Name – Post Title

As you can see I opt for the first two bullets as I want people to read the title first and then see the brand.

Does your WordPress Theme do this for you?

3. Keyword Research for Titles

There is definitely an art and a science to keywords and I’ll provide some very elementary strategies here related to Title Tags that’ll put you so far ahead of other bloggers that it’ll make you smile!

You see, the fact that you’re reading this post puts you in a very small percentage of bloggers (especially since this blog is still relatively small). But, if you actually make it through this post and start doing some of these things you will be leaps and bounds ahead of 99% of other bloggers!

Pretty crazy how simple it is to stay way ahead of your competitors, right? So here are some things you’ll want to know about Keyword Research:

  1. Research keywords that is related to your content so that you can rank high in search engines.
  2. Try to use “exact match” keywords and keyword combinations for which you’re trying to target. For example, a post titled “Blogging Strategy You Need to Know” is a nice title but is not specific enough, especially when related to your content. This is better: “How Blogging Daily Increased My Blog Traffic by 120%!” See how targeted and more specific that is, especially if you’re trying to get a “direct match” for keywords Blogging Daily and Blog Traffic.
  3. “Front Load” your keywords. This means that you’ll put your keywords in the beginning of your post title as opposed to near the end. For example: “Things I Really Like to Do on the Weekend: Rock Climbing” is not as good as “Rock Climbing – One Thing I Like to Do on the Weekend!” See the difference? I put “Rock Climbing” in the front of my title instead of the back!
  4. Use a Keyword Research Tool!

Ready to get started on the last strategy?

4. Use Google Insights

If you’ve never used Google Insights then let me have the privileged opportunity to introduce you to your new best friend! Google Insights lets you do valuable keyword research so that you can get the best titles for your blog posts!

It’s quite simple to use and once you use it you might never publish a blog post before checking it again!

Here’s how it works: Just put in some keywords you’re interested in using in your title and check the results. For example, when researching for this blog title I put in “title tags” and came up with these results:

Looking for 'title tag's

And so this is what came out:

The circled are the ones that I've decided to target.

So that’s what I did! As you can see in the resulting title of this post!

I did a few more searches like “title tag” (not “title tags”) to see some other good combinations. The goal here is to optimize your titles to leverage what people are actually searching for!

Remember that you’re going to want to stay as relevant as possible. Sure, I could have added “HTML” in my title but I’m not really talking about HTML in my blog post so I’m not going to do it even if people are searching for that term a lot. The point here is that I’m not willing to sacrifice the integrity of my blog post and content (and also the trust of my readers) for just a title tag adjustment!

Using even this very basic tool can dramatically improve your organic search returns, your traffic patterns, and overall growth of your blog. And there are definitely “advanced” services and tools that can do even more but for most people this one’s just fine enough.

Who would have thought, right? It doesn’t take too long either! Finally, make sure not to overdo the keywords – I recommend using 2 or up to 2 pairs if you can fit it into the 70 character length requirement!

How does this look practically in your title? One of two ways (as dictated by #2):

  • Primary Keyword(s) – Secondary Keyword(s) – Brand Name
  • Brand Name – Primary Keyword(s) – Secondary Keyword(s)

I’m obviously using the first one.

5. Crafting Attractive Titles (Indirect SEO Strategy)

Finally, all of this is great but you want to make sure your titles are still visually and cognitively functional – in other words, you still have to make it readable!

You don’t want to just have titles that are all keywords and not actually sentences. Effective titles have one of these three key elements:

  1. Personal Goals, Desires, Emotions – There’s something about seeing a title that touches us squarely in the chest, heart, and mind. For example, I’m trying to lose weight so any post that has something related to that personal goal will have me click it nearly instantly. For example, if I saw a trusted tweet with a title like “How I Lost 10 Pounds in 10 Days” I’d probably click it! Great blog titles impact people’s emotions.
  2. Curiosity Killed the Cat – There’s something within us that just makes us curious about things that we hear about, even if we’re not emotionally tied to it or necessarily interested in that particular topic. For example, if I saw a blog post come through my RSS Reader that said “Wow, I Just Lost a Billion Dollars” I’d probably click it because I’m curious.
  3. Boiler Plate, News – Finally, any boilerplate topics or general news within my industry is going to get a click from me. Crafting an effective title isn’t too hard, but make it creative and effective!

And that’s how you create an effective title! Combine some style with your research and you’ve got a killer combination that’s going to get more clicks, get better results via SEO, and make everyone more happy in the long run!

Let me know if you have any questions!

[This is part of the Developing Great Blog Content Series and The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series. Image via Louie.]

  • http://soundcalledmusic.com Patrick Wells

    Thanks for the post! Although I do use SEO, I have always struggled with knowing what keywords to use. This helped me out. Thanks especially for pointing me to Google Insights, I had never heard of it.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      sure thing patrick! make sure you get a gravatar: http://john.do/gravatar/

      • http://soundcalledmusic.com Patrick Wells

        Better? :D

        • http://john.do John Saddington

          yes sir!

  • http://gbrenna.com Graham

    Great suggestions John! I will be bookmarking Google Insights and using it from now on!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      seriously!

  • http://calumhenderson.com/ Calum Henderson

    Will definitely have to check out Google Insights!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      well-worth your time. take a look!

  • http://Getbusylivingblog.com Benny

    I’ve never used Google insights so I’ll have to try it!

    Now I’ve used Google keyword tool to determine competition and global monthly searches before. Would you take the KWs found from Google insights and go look to see if there is much competition? Obviously one with lower competition should be easier to rank.

    Or do you just look at the Insight stats?

    Thanks!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      i look at a bunch of other tools. i might do a follow-up on this one.

  • Mike Elliott

    Love it, thanks. Google insights is now my new best friend thanks

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      haha. love it.

      you know, when i see your hat i think it’s a cub scout hat:

      Cub Scout Hat

  • http://KevinRossen.com Kevin Rossen

    That 70 characters info is good info to know. Now I’m gonna have to fire up Fraise every time just to quickly get a character count for my titles. Thanks for that little bit of gold!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      hah! ;)

  • http://jamesbrooks.me.uk James Brooks

    Very solid advice. Thank you!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      wedding time………

  • http://workingforwonka.com Kathy Ver Eecke

    John: Once again you are writing about EXACTLY what I’ve been working/thinking about. Get out of my head dude!

    Question though, while working on tweaking my title tags yesterday I notice that all of my tags have disappeared! I use the All in One SEO Pack. The only new plugin I’ve added is the Tentblogger SEO Categories. Could this have somehow conflicted with the All in on SEO and dropped my title tags? Even my home page title tag is gone. Every page simply shows the blog title.
    Kathy

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      kathy,

      yikes! i highly doubt it’s related to my plugin… All in one seo is a terrible plugin and i hate it. it has some features which assume the user is an idiot and it can really screw up people’s blogs. i wish more people didn’t use it.

      with that being said, you should probably look into one of their settings. did it update recently?

      • http://workingforwonka.com Kathy Ver Eecke

        OMG John. I was just able to change the code in my Header php file and fix this problem, thanks to you. I can’t believe I can even type the words header php file with any understanding of them what so ever, let alone make changes.

        Turns out that I caused the problem (shocker!) when I added the bing, google etc. codes following your Setting Up Webmaster tools series. But it’s all fixed now.

        Now to go back and edit them based on your tips above. Yay!

        (sorry my other comment is out of order. simply posted my answer to you, vs. using reply button. Hmmm another use error on my part. how unique)

        • http://john.do John Saddington

          you’re a rock star!

    • http://www.diamondcandles.com Justin Winter

      Checkout WordPress SEO by Yoast, way better than the All in One plugin and has some great features and intuitive admin.

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        definitely a good system.

  • http://workingforwonka.com Kathy Ver Eecke

    I’ve upgraded WordPress recently, but really no other changes. Just deleted the All in One plugin, sadly no fix. So frustrating. It’s the little, odd things like this that can suck away half a day from a non-techy blogger. argh!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      glad you got it!

  • http://www.geekforhim.com Matthew Snider

    Great stuff brother, all things I try and recall each time I do a new post.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      lovely. :)

  • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

    Absolutely Yummy Info… Thanks for the heads up. I was using Word Search or something like that and it didn’t give me nearly the kind of information Google Insights does. I really like the way it shows trends from years earlier to today and projected trend.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      cool! enjoy those tools!

  • http://dustinstout.com Dustin W. Stout

    Wow, I thought I had an idea on this before I clicked… turns out I was straight up Alicia Silverstone… CLUELESS.

    Thanks for this John! Amazing.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      i just saw that movie with my wife last week… haha. i just admitted that.

  • Jake Musselman

    John, I’m currently using The Tentblogger Content Theme (until I grow this blog enough to afford Standard Theme), and the title tag for the posts seems to be %sitetitle%>>blog archive>>%posttitle%%. Any way to change that?

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      jake,

      that’s in the header.php file and how the links are structured.

  • http://ichrch.com Rich Langton

    Ok, I’m now convinced I need to start using Google Insights….Adding it to my workflow… thanks for the heads up John.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      sure thing rich! good stuff.

  • James Dibben

    John, this was super helpful for me!

    I’m curious. Would it be helpful or hurtful to go back and change some of my previous stuff.

    I have this one post that seems to be fairly popular but I think there has to be a better way to get more traffic to it. It’s even been picked up by other bloggers and modified to be used on their site (with credit and link love to me).

    http://bluecollarcoaching.net/bid-vs-estimate

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      it could be helpful for your users… with some more keywords in the title…!

  • DMosley

    You mentioned that Standard has the blog title baked into the title tag. I’m using this theme (and now Pro Photo as well) for my properties. Is there a way to customize (or even verify) what’s being used? I’d like to tweak it a bit.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      not currently. we’re looking into giving you the option to customize the meta title for search. ;)

      • http://danielmosley.com DMosley

        Is this not something that I could change manually under the hood?

  • http://ryanwakefield.com/ Ryan Wakefield

    John,
    My meta description in Google search results displays my blog’s tagline and not the intended initial content. My snippet preview in Yoast shows it different than what appears in Google. I’m also running on Standard Theme. Any thoughts?

    • James Dibben

      I’ve thought about asking Michael the same thing in the support license forums. It creates a little extra work when sharing on Facebook because it doesn’t pull post content.

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        ;)

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      if you’re using yoast you can manually adjust the meta tags per post. but if not, it’ll take the first 200 or so chars in your post.

  • http://www.junhax.com Paul

    John . . . just curious about a few things.

    When I Google myself, some links will have Title | Junhax . .. but other links will have Title >> Junhax. Why is that?

    Also I’m kind of confused and I’m sure you can clear this up. I have a self-hosted WP theme. When I do a post on say…. paintballing. Under tags, If I enter a sentence such as, “How to start paintballing” . . . is that separating it into 4 tags? Or just one long tag?
    Been on your site for over 2 hours just studying and I’m having brain farts.

    • http://geekfori.com Graham

      Hey Paul. I’ll leave some of your questions for John. But As far as tags go, apparently we don’t have to bother with them. They don’t create any real value to our blogs –> http://john.do/tags-categories/

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        graham is right here…i just wouldn’t use tags unless you have a serious architecture strategy around them.

        • http://www.junhax.com Paul

          Hmmmm, this is interesting I didn’t know this.

          Also my new theme gave me an option of adding Meta Keywords and Meta Description, before my theme didn’t have this or at least I didn’t know of it.

          Ok so now I’m kind of confused. When I use Google Insight, am I taking those keywords and using it for my META keywords?

          As for Meta Description . . . whatever I’m typing in that box, is that what I want it to say when someone searches for a topic and it so happens that my post is shown?

          Thanks for the help Graham & John.

          • http://john.do John Saddington

            which theme is it?

            • http://www.junhax.com Paul

              Suffusion
              http://aquoid.com/news/themes/suffusion/

              Let me know what you think. So far I really like it, very customizable and it offers a lot of options that my previous theme didn’t.

              Also I think I figured out the whole Keyword thing, and as previously said, I deleted 1900 tags. Yes, anyone reading this don’t ask, LOL. Live and Learn.

              • http://john.do John Saddington

                all good… we’ve been there!

                hmm. interesting theme. first time i’ve seen it.

  • Dory

    John: Thanks for this helpful post! May I ask how I can find out if my WP themes has the Post Title | Blog Name set up? I’m using a DIYTheme. Not sure if you are familiar with it. The WP dashboard of this theme has a bunch of forms/tools for SEO. But honestly, I am at a lost as how to use them. A bit overwhelmed with the options. Thanks!

    • http://John.do/ John Saddington

      DIY themes may have a great tutorial and support forum – i’d start there as you’d get the most accurate info from the source!

      • Dory

        Thank you, John! I’ve been reading through daily your Developing Great Blog Content series since I discovered your blog days ago! It’s so helpful because it’s clear, direct to the point and very informative! I’ve shared your blog with several people also! :) Thanks again.

        • http://John.do/ John Saddington

          awesome! please share with others!