Saturday, March 5, 2011

Title Tags Written for SEO instead of for Prospect

While you may argue that if you don't optimize your Title Tag you won't be able to rank at the top, I'd reply, "You're wrong." When is the last time you have actually studied the search results in Google? Often, results #2 - #4 do not have the keyword you searched for in the Title Tag.

It isn't a big secret that you can use incoming anchor text to get the top rankings, but making the Title Tag compelling means that you can get more clickthroughs than your competitors even though they outrank you. And that is the key: clickthroughs.

Due to "Off Page Factors" Google doesn't require the keyword phrase to be in the Title Tag to rank well. If you've been in SEO for the last few years, you're already aware of this. Let me share two examples: "job search" and "search engine".

Notice that Career Builder has the search term in the Title Tag while Monster does not. However, which is more compelling? Read both out loud. Hands-down, is more compelling. "Find Jobs. Build a Better Career. Find Your Calling." That's powerful, especially in this economy where jobs are a premium.

The next example shows the top two results for "search engine" and neither have the keyword in the Title Tag. Yahoo! is listed twice in the top ten, and in both occurrences it does NOT use the keyword in the Title Tag. But the main problem is neither of these results are compelling. And Dogpile has created the "ultimate SEO sin" in using "Home Page" as part of their Title Tag.

There are, of course, exceptions, such as the term "used cars" which has the keyword phrase present in all top ten results, but for the most part, about half of the top results do not have the keyword phrase in the Title.

So, does that mean you should no longer use the keyword phrase in the Title? No, of course not. This is to get you to think more "outside the box," as too many SEOs have the false belief that you throw a keyword phrase in the Title Tag and buy a couple of links with the phrase in the anchor text and they're done with SEO.

    Recommendation - Keep your Title Tag to eight (8) words or less (65-character limit) and make it compelling.

    Hint: Write your Title Tags on your web pages the same way you write your Headlines for AdWords. Be direct, to the point, and SELL the click!

Clickthroughs only happen when the searcher is compelled by what they have read, and that begins with the Title Tag. A top position is worthless if it isn't clicked. Master this art and you will always have an advantage over your competition. Always.

    Proof: When you search, do you just click the number one listing? Of course not. You scan the page and click on the result with a Title Tag that matches your needs. That is your key: "Give the user what they want and they will click."

Remember the three-step process to successful SEO: ranking, click-through and conversion. Ranking is worthless without a click-through, and the click-through is wasted without a conversion. Start your conversation with the Title Tag.

    Further Proof: Titles that are either keyword stuffed or boring have poor click-through rates because people scan the results looking for what they want. Another thing that my fellow faculty member David Bullock says is prospects think about what the solution should be and approximately what it should cost before they search.

Therefore, when the prospect starts their search, they scan the search results looking for what matches the internal pre-search conversation in their heads. Titles longer than eight words make scanning more difficult and are often bypassed by searchers, as they are not perceived to continue their conversation. Testing has proved Generic Titles are not what they're looking for.

Here is an example of a "keyword stuffed" Title. Even though this page ranks well for a highly competitive phrase, the click-thru will be low due to the "stuffing" of keywords. The Webmaster was just trying to get as many as they could in there. Read it out loud to gain the full effect.

    Hot Tip: While you know that your solution and price are perfect for the prospect, if your Title Tag does not match their conversation you won't earn the click. It doesn't matter how effective your landing page is; if few prospects see it, your sales will also be few.

What can you do to make your Title Tag stand out? You've heard advice to ensure the Title Tag is "READABLE and COMPELLING", but how? This task is not unique to SEO. A compelling Title tag is fundamental in any marketing campaign. You always need to break down your market into segments.

What I do is open my Business Journal and map out what I think the typical prospect needs. I then look at the Titles for the competing sites and look for possible inspiration.

Here are examples and results for a few tests which I have personally run:

    Plastic Surgery - Don't Trust Your Body to Just Anyone - This achieved a 4-1 clickthrough ratio over a listing above it in the SERPS, mainly due to the word "trust" being added.

    Looking for the Best Mortgage? - This achieved a 3-1 clickthrough ratio over a listing above it and the conversion ratios were very good as the landing page contained a graphic, "See Us for the Best Mortgage Offer for your Home." This is a strong call to action.

    Get Help Finding a New Job - The director reported since changing the Title their overall traffic has decreased, but the number of closes for their resume help service has gone up sevenfold. Visitors are not just more qualified, but they come in with an obviously better outlook and attitude. This can be referred to as "pre-selling" the visitor without them seeing a "pre-sales page".

    Health Insurance: Avoid the Traps, Get Expert Advice - This Title has boosted leads to the highest point in this firm's web history. They have their top keyword phrase "health insurance" but they also tell them why they should click: to avoid traps and also get expert advice. Notice they did not place their company name in the Title, which is often just a waste, because the prospect doesn't care.

Other examples from the SERPs:

Good Example:

Notice how the Title is concise and uses the power word "tips." While the Description is too long, it is also well focused.

Example of What Not to do:

Beyond "Traditional ..." what? This is why you want to limit the characters of your Title Tag. eHarmony should be smarter than this.

Exceptional Examples:

Notice the Venetian uses just four words ("the" isn't counted as it is a "stop word") and it does not mention the phrase "Las Vegas hotel" in the Title, yet it ranks #2 in the SERPs. Note the highly compelling description.

In the above example, Thrifty uses the keyword twice (car rental) in the Title and holds the #6 position.  The fact is, since other car rental places in that industry rank WITHOUT that keyword in the title tag, Thrifty should take a different tack. 

Right now, they are doing little to set themselves apart from their competition.  They could probably safely take "car rental" out of the title tag and should instead use that valuable real estate to help convert the searcher by selling the click (just like you would in a PPC ad headline).

Other Examples:

"Online computer store" gets 110k searches and only one page in the Top Ten contains the target phrase.

"Find a job" and "work from home" have three or fewer results with the keyword found in the Title Tag.

Bonus Examples - Nothing but Pure Comedy

All of these are actual Titles taken from the web. This is stuff you just can't make up ... even if you wanted to:

Untitled document: this is a great example of the "Lazy Webmaster" who hasn't taken the time to change the default text. I love the Meta Description ... "logo."

"The web pages uses frames, but your browser doesn't support them." Okay, if this is your Title, I am sorry, you are just an idiot Webmaster and you really need to outsource the work to someone else who "gets it."

Insert Keywords Here: Another example of being lazy, but also telling the world that you are, well, an idiot. At least the "Untitled Document" is descriptive ... "Insert Keywords Here" does not help your online image. It is the online version of a "Kick Me" sign on your back.

Home Page - That's your Title. "Home Page." Go ahead and cancel your hosting and see if you can get your old job back.
Title Tags Written for SEO instead of for Prospect

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