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Why Page Titles Are So Important For SEO

In my Pro Web Design Course and my SEO from Scratch video training, I teach that a web page’s title tag and main heading are critical for SEO.

In brief, if you’re targeting a specific search phrase, you should certainly make your title tag as close to that phrase as possible.

(Ideally, the title of your content should be the same exact phrase. So if you’re going for “Salmon fishing tips”, your title tag should be “Salmon fishing tips”.)

In my keyword research, I have seen numerous examples of relatively weak pages getting top-10 placements in the search results because their title tags begin with – or contain – the target search phrase.

Clearly, title tag contents have a big impact on relevance and ranking.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why?

Why Do Titles Matter?

Obviously, on one level, the title tag tells search engines what the page is about. But we know that on-page factors are only a small part of the picture.

It’s the off-page factors – what we call your “inbound link profile” – that have the biggest impact, particularly in competitive sectors.

Well, your content title has a big influence on your inbound link profile.

Analysis of Inbound Link Text

I looked at several of my most highly-linked pages using OpenSiteExplorer.

I thought it would be interesting to see what the link text of those inbound links was.

Because my site has never had any deliberate link building work done on it, this should show me a natural pattern.

My hypothesis is that many of those links will use either the <title> tag text, or the page’s main heading text, as the link text.

And link text is INCREDIBLY important for relevance.

When you get new links, the link text will always be one of..

  1. The title tag
  2. The main heading (H1)
  3. The full URL of the page
  4. The title or domain name of the website
  5. Some other sensible description (which contains some or all keywords)
  6. Some other random text

So I think it is more a case of correlation than causation. Things like the domain name, path, and <title> tag may not be direct ranking factors, but do contribute indirectly to getting inbound links that contain the right keywords.

Highly Unscientific But Useful Results

I analysed 190 links that point to five of my top pages. Although it is not a big sample, this gives us a rough idea of a natural inbound link profile.

Type of linkNumber foundRough percentage
Title tag5428%
Main heading (H1)116%
Full URL168%
Site URL or name3619%
Other (with keywords)5127%
Other (useless)2212%

 What This Means to You

39% of the links I looked at used their own link text. Most of that was relevant and useful. This is good, because it’s natural to have a spread of link text.

Good content will always generate a more natural profile that follows this kind of head/long-tail pattern.

I would draw the following lessons from this quick experiment…

  1. Choose your domain name carefully. It is likely to pick up link text from most of your content that gets linked to. Keywords in domain names count.
    • That’s why exact-match domains have still been so strong for years… although Google’s Penguin update may be changing that. It is currently still too early to tell.
  2. Choose your titles carefully. Get them as close as possible to your target search phrases.
  3. Getting keywords into the path is also helpful (but not as important as title tags).
  4. Main heading text is not used as often as I thought. It is better to focus on making your headings compelling than stuffing keywords into them.
About the author

Ben Hunt

Ben is the creator of Web Design From Scratch. He started writing articles about web design to kill time on a long train commute, and is now one of the most influential figures on the subject of effective web design. He has written three books and spoken at multiple conferences internationally.

Vinny - a couple of years ago

Very informative blog. Thanks! Helps a lot with learning SEO

Gerwin van der Feijst - a couple of years ago

It is the same thing we say to customers. Most of them heard about keywords, description but are simply screwing up the titles. Just name your pages in a way people might search for your information.

A good example is a job opening on one of our websites. The title is simply “magento lead developer” and in Google.nl it is ranked 3th directly placed below magentocommerce.com.

Hardest part is to think of page titles in a way they are logical and appealing AND great for search.

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