How to Test and Optimize Your Title Tags

Mackenzie Scott
Mar 16, 2021

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Before new visitors land on your webpage or blog, your title tag will have to convince them that your content satisfies their search intent.

Ranking algorithms like Google RankBrain try to present searchers with content that aligns with their queries. And the higher your content ranks on SERPs, the better positioned you will be to attract new visitors with an optimized title tag.

According to Backlinko, the top three title tags in Google search results get 75.1% of all clicks. And if your content moves up in rank by even one spot — let’s say from from #10 to #9 — your clickthrough rate can increase by 30.8%.

But there’s a caveat.

If your title tag isn’t formatted correctly or optimized for search, your content’s ranking can suffer. When left unchecked, your content can fall behind on SERPs, as new content takes precedence.

While your ranking puts your content in front of searchers, title tags are your first true line of contact with new visitors. Within seconds, searchers will decide to either learn more or continue perusing the SERPs based on the copy in your title tag.

To help you convert more searchers into visitors, this article offers pragmatic strategies for testing and optimizing your title tags.

Let’s Set The Record Straight: Title Tags Vs. H1-Tags

There’s a misconception that title tags are synonymous with H1-tags.

The confusion stems from the fact that the copy tends to be the same, or very similar. However, title tags and H1-tags serve very different on-page SEO purposes.

A title tag is visible on the SERPs and should give searchers an accurate and concise description of the content. An H1-tag, or your webpage’s heading, is only visible when someone clicks the title tag and lands on the page.

It’s important that you create both elements with your target audience in mind. If a title tag doesn’t have a lot of audience engagement, algorithms like RankBrain interpret this to mean that your content doesn’t satisfy search intent.

Not only can this lower your rankings on SERPs, but your title tag could also be automatically rewritten.

To prevent this from happening, it’s necessary to test and optimize your title tags, which begins with knowing the proper format.

Formatting & Optimizing Title Tags

1. Set the Right Title Tag Length for Readability

Brevity is critical when creating a successful title tag.

Technically, a title tag can contain up to 60 characters, but not all characters take up the same amount of space. Consider, for example, the pixel size difference between “i” and “W”.

When a title tag uses more than 600 pixels, Google and other search engines replace the last words with an ellipses. This should be avoided, whenever possible.

If your title tag consists mostly of characters that take up minimal physical space (such as “i”), then it’s less likely that part of your title tag’s copy will be out of view. Characters like “W”, on the other hand, take up much more physical space and can quickly exceed the 600 pixel limit.

To improve engagement and site traffic, it’s important that your entire title tag is in view for searchers.

Searchers will rarely take the time to guess what words follow an ellipses — let alone click on the title tag to find out. Abiding by the character and pixel limits puts you in the best position to seize new opportunities for engagement.

As long as the pixel limit isn’t exceeded, 90% of title tags that are under 60 characters are expected to display properly on SERPs.

Another statistic to keep in mind is that title tags between 15 and 40 characters have a 8.6% higher click-through rate than those with fewer or more characters.

By adhering to a few technical formatting rules, you can ensure that the important details in the title tag are fully displayed on SERPs.

2. Use Optimized Keywords Sparingly

Prospective site visitors aren’t stumbling through the SERPs hoping to land on something relevant. They are straightforward and specific in their search for compatible content.

To successfully convert prospective visitors into new visitors (and ultimately consumers), you have to generate content that is just as straightforward as their searches.

Herein lies the value of SEO-driven strategies.

By using keyword research tools — or working with an SEO agency — you can identify who your target audience is and what exactly they are searching for.

Not only will this insight help guide your content creation process, but it will simplify the process for searchers. The type of content they seek out will become more accessible to them.

Using optimized keywords in your title tags is one way to ensure that your content is more visible on SERPs. But it’s important to use these keywords in moderation.

If a title tag is essentially a string of keywords, prospective site visitors see this as a loaded and inauthentic attempt to grab their attention. This can lead to negative first impressions, even before they land on the page.

When pursuing better rankings, it’s easy to fall into the trap of bundling keywords together.

However, the most effective and sustainable approach is to focus on a single primary keyword or phrase and the quality of the title tag copy.

3. Be Wary of Repetition in Title Tags

Boilerplate information is commonly used and repeated in a website’s title tags. Take, for instance, Moz’s title tag “Keyword-Driven Personas – Whiteboard Friday – Moz” in the image below.

Every Whiteboard Friday blog post that Moz published included the category name “Whiteboard Friday” in the title tag. Moz assumed that this boilerplate information was necessary and effective for SEO, but the team decided to test if this assumption was correct.

In true A/B test fashion, Moz removed the boilerplate information from half of the title tags and used the remaining half as a control.

The results?

By changing the title tag to “Keyword-Driven Personas – Moz,” Moz saw a 20% increase in organic traffic.

Moz’s study calls into question the effectiveness of boilerplate information and repeating the same boilerplates across multiple title tags.

The findings suggest that boilerplates can actually work against your attempts to boost SEO — negatively impacting relevancy, uniqueness, and length of the title tag.

By testing their title tags, Moz identified that the boilerplate information was an underlying issue in their optimization efforts. The team was able to make an informed change to the way they optimize title tags and increase organic traffic.

4. Mention Your Brand

Repetition of boilerplate information is one thing, but what about including the brand name in title tags?

Moz found that removing the brand name from title tags had the opposite effect to their first study. Rather than an increase in organic traffic, they reported a 4% decrease.

Brand authority is a significant factor in a searcher’s decision to follow your title tag to the content on your website.

Searchers are more inclined to click on a title tag of a brand they trust, which is why including your brand’s name in title tags gives you a competitive edge on SERPs.

If your brand isn’t as well-known as some of your competitors, including your brand name in your title tags is still a strategic move. As long as the content matches what the title tag advertises, searchers who come across your optimized title tags will be more enticed to visit and dwell on your website.

How to Test Your Title Tags

Regardless of the type of content a title tag links to, the ultimate goal for every digital marketer is to increase website traffic, rank highly on SERPs, and drive up conversion rates.

While the first half of this guide focuses on formatting and optimizing your title tags, this latter half offers actionable steps for testing them.

Before testing out the effectiveness of your title tags, you have to answer a few key questions:

  1. What goals do you want to achieve through tests?
  2. What specific element of the title tag are you testing?
  3. What is your hypothesis prior to testing the title tags?
  4. Which types of tests are possible and which aren’t?

To reflect back on the Moz study, the team’s goal was to drive up website traffic and test the impact of boilerplate information on their SEO efforts. In this case, an A/B test was used to compare the traffic from one version versus the other.

The age-old saying “trust your gut” isn’t applicable when it comes to SEO strategy, especially when there are methods to collect new data about how searchers interact with your title tags. Testing your title tags is critical when pursuing engagement and conversion goals.

This section outlines how to test pixels, preview the title tag, and run A/B tests.

Test The Pixels

A truncated title tag isn’t a death sentence for your website’s content, but the lack of readability can deter searchers from becoming new site visitors. If ellipses can be avoided in the title tag, by all means avoid them.

Basing your title tag’s length off of the number of characters — say 50 or 60 — doesn’t guarantee that it won’t be truncated. Different letters take up more space and, therefore, more pixels.

Instead of writing 50 or 60 words and calling it a day, base the title tag’s length on pixels to get a more accurate impression of how the title tag will appear on SERPs. Title tags that are 600 pixels or fewer are much less likely to be truncated.

Here are three tools that you can use to test your title tag’s pixels:

  1. Free Pixel Width Checker Tool — by Search Wilderness

With this tool, you can calculate the pixel width of your title tag or meta description on Google or Bing. This allows you to make any necessary edits to the copy and ensure that the entire title tag is visible on SERPs.

  1. Portent’s SERP preview tool

This tool allows you to preview how title tags, meta descriptions, and page URLs will be displayed on Google. The pixel width threshold for this tool is 545px, which safeguards your title tag from being truncated.

  1. SERPsim

SERPsim gives you the option to either fetch an existing title tag and meta description or create a new one. This tool has a title tag threshold of 580px, which again gives you enough room to make an optimized title without limiting readability.

Preview the Title Tag

In addition to using a pixel checker, we recommend using a tool like Moz’s Title Tag Preview Tool to test how the title tag will appear on SERPs.

By using a preview tool, you will be able to verify that the copy won’t be truncated. If the current version of the title tag ends in an ellipses, you can make additional modifications to ensure that the entire title is visible to searchers.

Run a Manual A/B Test

Once your title tag is live on SERPs, you can begin isolating specific elements of the title tag to test and optimize.

However, A/B testing for title tags isn’t always possible. For instance, testing two versions of a single title tag isn’t logistically feasible because both versions can’t be live at the same time.

It would be more practical to publish one version for a set amount of time, change the title tag to the second version, and then compare the engagement results to find the most effective option.

An A/B test is feasible if you test a single element, like a boilerplate, that is included across multiple title tags. You might also take the opportunity to test the placement of your brand’s name in title tags, comparing how positioning the name first or last in the title tag affects the performance.

Get The Engagement You Want With Optimized Title Tags

Regularly testing your website’s title tags gives you the opportunity to better understand how searchers interact with your content. The data you gather from testing title tags will inform your optimization efforts going forward and put your content in the best position for engagement

Hand off the toughest tasks in SEO, PPC, and content without compromising quality

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Written by Mackenzie Scott on March 16, 2021

Mackenzie is a copywriter at Soundstripe, a royalty free music company that provides creators and businesses with vlog music, corporate music, and more.