Much has been written about the importance of the title element for search engine visibility. But I’m going to revisit the topic, because there’s one point I don’t feel has been given sufficient coverage.
That point is the value of keyword-rich titles on older websites. More specifically, I’ll talk about aligning your title elements with your key search phrases for maximum visibility. But first, let’s start with a definition of a title element, just so we’re on the same page.
What is a Title Element?
Search engines give a lot of consideration to HTML title elements. The title element is within the HTML code that makes up each of your web pages. To see the title element, just right-click on any web page and select “View Source.” This will show you the HTML code that makes up the web page. The title element will be near the top, between two tags labeled as “title.”
The HTML title also shows up in the blue bar at the top of your web browser, up above the navigation buttons and the address bar. When your website shows up on a search engine results page, the title will be prominent above the listing.
Your HTML titles should be (A) based on your key search phrases, (B) designed to pull in readers like a headline, and (C) relevant to the actual content of the page. Use a different title element for each page of your website; this gives you more search coverage and less redundancy.
Keywords + Titles + Older Website = SEO Wonderland
Whenever I encounter an older website with poor use of titles — or not titles at all — I start to get excited. (In Internet years, an “older” website is five years or older.) I get excited because I realize the potential gains that can be made with very little effort.
Search engines often favor older websites when determining rank. This is especially true of Google. The big ‘G’ loves older websites, and if those websites are properly built — with descriptive, keyword-rich title elements and plenty of relevant content — Google will usually reward them with excellent ranking and visibility.
That’s why I get excited when I see client websites with weak or absent titles … I know it’s an opportunity for big gains with minimal effort.
Case Study: Keywords and Titles on an Older Website
I once worked on a website that was nearly ten years old, with an abundance of quality backlinks coming in. The website’s owner complained that people weren’t finding his site through search engines for certain phrases. He sold mountain cabins and rented them out as well, so there was both a real estate and a rental side to his business. He was doing well in the search engines for the real estate phrases, but we was off the radar for the rental phrases.
Without even investigating the website, I had an immediate hunch this was yet another keywords-in-title scenario.
First, I validated the regional “cabin rental” phrases he had in mind. Yep, they were getting plenty of search volume. And the competition level was reasonable, considering his was an older website with plenty of relevant backlinks.
Next, I moved on to the site itself. It only took about five minutes to find the problem. His rental-related title tags were too generic. They mostly consisted of non-specific phrases like “Availability” … “Rentals” … “Seasonal Calendar” and the like.
The first thing I did was modify those title elements to help people and search engines alike. “Rentals” became “Blue Ridge Mountain Cabin Rentals” and so on. In fact, this was the only change I made at first, because I wanted to judge its effectiveness in the absence of other modifications.
Long story short, after adjusting all 125 of his titles, his rankings rose considerably and within a relatively short time. Where he was on Page 7 for a rental phrase before, we was now on Page 1. Predictably, his search-driven traffic for these phrases more than doubled.
The “How did you hear about us?” form field told the story: Google. Internet Search. Yahoo Search. Google. Internet Search. Etc.
I know it’s all technical and algorithmic and what not, but I swear it was almost as if the search engines were waiting to reward this website with maximum visibility … if it would only do something with those titles!
Now you can see why I’m such an advocate of proper keyword usage within the title element, especially on older websites. An older website without keyword-optimized page titles is like a Ferrari running on half its cylinders. There’s a lot of potential there, but it won’t be realized without all the parts in place.