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We began Lancer Media many years ago, primarily focused on providing search engine optimization services out of our Los Angeles office. SEO is still one of the primary marketing strategies for our website clients in Los Angeles, across the United States and abroad. SEO was the only game in town even just a few years ago. SEO now shares the top mantle with other push and pull marketing strategies (blogging, social media marketing, local search, direct email, etc.). SEO hasn’t lost its luster or importance. It just has to make room for other strategies because we must be WHERE our target market IS – and it’s not always performing searches on Google to find information. Therefore, Lancer Media has morphed into an internet marketing company as the landscape and our skillsets have changed and evolved.

But, as mentioned, SEO is still vitally important and by this, I mean that ranking high in Google organic SERPs (search engine result pages) is vitally important. We are asked the question many times a week by clients and prospective clients: What are SEO best practices? That is, what are the most important SEO strategies/techniques to incorporate into my site? How important is the title tag? How important are the description and keyword metatags? Heck, what is a metatag? And, how does content factor into the equation – or should I say algorithm? Do I need links? How do I get links?

SEO Consulting 101: Let’s begin with the title tag as a SEO Best Practice.

Think of Your Website as a Monet Impressionist Painting

Lancer Media began as a research company years ago, not accepting payment from clients until we were able to prove we understood the Google algorithm and all SEO techniques. Empirically, we have proven over the years that title tags define the theme of the page and on the home page, the title tag can define the theme of the site, in general. We describe it this way: Imagine that your website is a Monet impressionist painting. Looking at the painting up close yields a different view than when standing 10 feet away. Up close, you see the intricate strokes and sections of the painting. It’s difficult, really, to visually grasp the theme of the painting up close because it’s those sections/strokes, when merged, that define the painting. So, step back from the painting and it all comes into focus – it all makes sense now. The different sections and varied strokes merge, mesh and become one. Think of your website as an impressionist painting. Each page is a section or a separate set of strokes on the site (canvas). However, taken together, the website should offer a cohesive understanding of its theme. Thus, we sometimes will use the home page title tag as the definitive explanation (in keyword form of course) of the site as a whole. When optimizing a site for a client, we will typically optimize all sub-pages first then save the home page title tag for last. Optimizing all of the Services pages or Product pages leaves us with a clearer understanding of keyword mix as well as true content theme.

SEO Best Practice: How To Write a Title Tag

So, how do you write a title tag? How long should it be? How many keywords should you use? And how do you separate the keywords – can you use dashes, greater-than signs, commas, pipes, underscores? All great questions.

Through research and empirical evidence derived from SEO techniques applied to our own websites and those websites of our clients, here are our SEO best practice techniques for writing title tags:

Title Tag Length

Researching other SEO best practice blogs and sites suggests that a title tag should contain no more than 70-72 characters (including spaces). However, our empirical evidence suggests that you shorten your title tags to a length of 52-62 characters (including spaces) – any longer and Google will truncate the title tag with an ellipses (…). Prove it for yourself. Copy/paste a title tag – with ellipses) from a SERP into an HTML editor or Word and perform a character count.

The title tag is the first search engine result line that a searcher sees/reads. It is highlighted in blue because it hyperlinks to one of your website pages. So, not only does the title tag appear at the top of your web page near the top of your browser window, it is also utilized by SERPs as the intro marketing line. So, be descriptive and enticing even if you are emphasizing keywords.

Example:

Google result for Nextag for keyword “cell phone wallets” shows a title tag length of 62 characters which includes the ellipses (…)

NexTag Google SERP result for cell phone wallets

Google result for WalletBe, designers of Men’s, Women’s and Travel Wallets for keyword “cell phone wallets” shows a title tag length of 29 characters. We lead with the term “Cell Phone Wallets” because that is the focus of the wallet category to which we are directing visitors. We then follow the keyword with “WalletBe”, the name of the company, because we want to brand the company and, in many circles, the WalletBe brand is recognizable. So, by incorporating this term into the title tag, we are not seeking to rank for “WalletBe”; we are seeking to improve the click-through rate.

WalletBe Google SERP result for cell phone wallets - with a dash

How Many Keywords To Use in The Title Tag

Technically, there is no limit to the number of keywords to use in a title tag. The law of diminshing returns does apply, however. Google has always said that we should think of a website’s content and all of its design components from the point of view of those reading it. Thus, if we lead the title tag with “cell phone wallets” then follow that with “leather cell phone wallets”, the assumption by Google and your visitor is that the former is more important than the latter. In addition, you’re only effective up to 52-62 characters so while you could develop a title tag that contains 200 characters (which we’ve seen unassuming website publishers and even SEO companies do), anything longer than 62 characters will not be viewable in SERPs (yes, longer portions of it will be viewable in some browsers) and the longer it is keywords further along the string will NOT be assigned the weight you’d like.

Research Your Keywords

Keyword research is probably the first step in SEO Best Practices. It is the foundation upon which the entire SEO strategy is built. You might think that you know your primary keywords but the market will confirm or deny it. Why think you know what your keywords are? Take a few minutes to verify. With good keyword suggestion tools, you might find (we often do) other short- or long-tail keywords that are more directly related to the pages’ theme. At the least, you will find complementary keywords to employ as secondary content keywords or as primary keywords on other pages.

Which Separators Are Allowed In A Title Tag?

Matt Cutts has stated that the types of title tag separators to use should be ones that basically would be enjoyed and approved by searchers viewing the title tag (which is, as we’ve mentioned, the lead marketing line in each website’s SERP listing).

However, the types of title tag separators to use has spawned debate. Is a comma better than a dash? Can you use a greater-than-sign (>)? So, we put it to the test.
Our empirical evidence suggests that dashes (-) work as well as commas (,) and greater-than signs (>).

Example:

WalletBe ranks on the first page of Google for “front pocket wallets”. We’ve crafted the title tag with greater-than-signs, not just for ranking purposes but for click-through tests. We found that WalletBe not only ranks on Google page 1 but click-through rates remained the same when compared to CTRs with title tags with dashes (-). Also, remain aware that Google bolds keywords that match the search term. In case you’re skeptical, we provided yet another example of WalletBe ranking on Google Page 1 for “Accordion Wallets” with greater-than-signs in its title tag.

WalletBe Google SERP result for front pocket wallets - with greater than sign as title tag separator

WalletBe Google SERP result for accordion wallets - with greater than sign as title tag separator

The only separator of note to not use: the underscore. The underscore, when used in a title tag, is used as a concatenator, meaning it connects the terms and makes them one word, not two.