Poor Title tag optimisation is one of the leading factors of low search rankings for local businesses – and it’s also one of the easiest to fix.
I see this problem all the time:
A business owner will be scratching their head as to why they don’t show up in Google at all for their main keywords.
Little do they know, they’re missing one of the first and most fundamental elements Google looks at when determining where sites will rank for a given search: a keyword-rich Title tag.
First, a quick intro – what IS a Title tag?
When you search on Google, the blue headlines you see at the top of each organic listing are the Title tags for each page.
Every page on your site has its own Title tags, and each one should be different (when you have the same one on multiple pages it’s called duplication – more on that in a second).
You can also see the Title tag for a page in the top of your browser window when you’re on the page itself. This is the only place it actually appears to a website visitor (it’s not the same as the headline in your page content).
If you want to get a little more serious, you can see the Title in the source code of your page by right-clicking anywhere on the page and selecting ‘View Page Source.’
You’ll see the Title tag at the top, in the piece of code that starts with <title> and ends with </title>. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to become a coder to change it – most content management systems will easily let you edit the Title without touching any code).
Why Title Tags Matter
Long story short, the Title is super important for on-page SEO because it’s pretty much the first thing on your website that a searcher sees – they see it on the search results before they even come to your site.
If it’s not relevant to the search term, naturally Google will see little reason to include your page in the search results. If you have relevant keywords on the page itself but not in the Title tag, your rankings will suffer.
This is fairly anecdotal, but based on my experience, I would say at least 50% of local businesses in NZ have not added keywords to their website’s Title tags, which pretty much guarantees they will never get close to the top of search results for their target keywords. Often I see Title tags that look like this:
No keyword use, nothing to tell Google what keywords this page ought to show up for in search. You can identify if you have this sort of problem on your own site fairly quickly by visiting your home page and seeing what comes up in the browser tab for the page.
Optimising Title META Tags The Right Way
A good Title tag – using a commercial real estate company as an example – would look more like this:
Commercial Real Estate Christchurch | Company Name
This Title tag is optimised to rank for all of the following:
‘real estate’ – 90,500 searches/month in NZ
‘real estate christchurch’ – 2,400 searches/month
‘commercial real estate’ – 480 searches/month
‘commercial real estate christchurch’ – 70 searches/month
The above Title is 50 characters long, and we could possibly squeeze in an extra word like ‘Services’ or ‘Property’ which would cover even more phrase variations, causing the page to be found for even more search terms.
The maximum recommended length of a Title tag is 57 characters, and that’s valuable real estate, so you want to make sure you use those characters wisely.
I try to optimise a Title tag for 2-3 tightly related phrases whenever possible. I often see sites where the Title is only one phrase, using only 30-40 of the potential characters. That’s fine to rank for one phrase, but you can improve your traffic results dramatically by targeting multiple related phrases and being found for lots of other long-string search terms.
In the above case, if the business only deals with commercial real estate in Christchurch, they will put most of their attention into trying to rank for the most specific phrase – even though it has far less search volume than the others, all of these searches are guaranteed to be interested in commercial real estate in Christchurch. Over time, they may also rank for the bigger phrases, like “real estate christchurch” (people who are interested in the Christchurch market, but not necessarily commercial real estate)
It’s always best to focus on lower competition, highly specific phrases first as these will tend to drive the lower cost-per-lead results and represent the best ROI early in a campaign (otherwise known as “picking low-hanging fruit”).
The Step by Step Guide to Correct Title Tag Optimisation
1 – It all begins with keyword research – there is no point aiming for keywords that have no search volume or are too competitive to rank well for. Use the Google Keyword Planner to compile a keyword list for each of the pages on your site you’d like to rank in Google. (Keyword selection is an art in itself – ideally you’re looking for a combination of good search volume, buyer intent, and reasonable-to-low competition levels).
2 – Choose 2-3 main keywords to optimise your Title tag for (if you have more main keywords than this, they should be spread across multiple pages). For instance, in the above example, we are targeting very broad, high volume, high competition searches like “real estate” in the same Title tag as more specific, lower volume, lower competition searches like “commercial real estate christchurch.” You want to replicate this combination of high volume and highly targeted keyword selection.
3 – Put together a phrase that covers all your target keywords, trying to get the most important one as close to the beginning of the tag as possible.
4 – Include your brand name at the end of the tag – this will not help boost your rankings immediately for your target keywords, but Google is moving towards favouring branded, authoritative sites, so this is a smart move for the long term.
5 – Implement your Title tag into the code of your website. You may need to get your developer to do this if you’re not comfortable editing your site yourself, but if you have a WordPress site, this can be done easily using a plugin. Many people like Yoast SEO, however I recommend the All in One SEO plugin which is simpler and easier to use. It will allow you to quickly and easily edit the Title and Description META tags for all pages and posts on your site.
Duplicate Title Tags
Google is not a fan of exact duplicates of content across multiple pages of your site, and Title tags are no exception. Duplictae Title tags can actually tank your search results – even if you have them optimised well, if all your pages or multiple pages are optimised the same you still won’t rank.
You can use a free checker like siteliner.com to see if you have duplicate Title tags or other duplicate content on your site which may be affecting your rankings.
You can also see this is you have Google Search Console set up, by visiting the ‘HTML Improvements’ section. If you haven’t set up Search Console, I’d highly recommend it as it provides valuable insights into site health and search performance.
When constructing your Title tags, be careful not to repeat the same keyword phrase multiple times. For example, this is a bad Title tag:
Real Estate Christchurch | Commercial Real Estate Christchurch
The phrases ‘real estate’ and ‘real estate christchurch’ are both repeated twice here. Having ‘Commercial Real Estate Christchurch’ already covers all the target phrases, so there’s no need to have ‘Real Estate Christchurch’ there twice. This kind of phrase repetition can put you in danger of an over-optimisation penalty, which will cause your site to drop significantly for the over-optimised keywords – so remember, only use each phrase once in your Title, and embed bigger general search phrases within longer more specific target phrases wherever possible.
Final Checklist for Title Tag Optimisation
Are all your pages targeting different search phrases?
Are your biggest, most competitive phrases on your home page?
Are you using 2-3 tightly related phrases in each tag to help each page rank for multiple phrases and drive long tail traffic?
Are you making the most of all 57 characters in each tag?
Are you including your brand name in your Title tags?
Tom McSherry is the founder and chief strategist of Premium SEO NZ. Tom has been in the digital marketing industry for 8 years providing digital copywriting and optimisation services to businesses in New Zealand and around the world. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.
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