As a web usability professional and copywriter, I must sometimes clash swords with Search Engine Optimization folk. For example, they’ll insist that a page contain at least 300 words of keyword-rich text… even where from the user’s perspective, the text isn’t necessary. Bloody battles ensue. And when the dust has cleared, we’re left with a compromise page that pleases neither of us (but hopefully works for both robotic and human visitors).
In the spirit of the new year and a fresh start, I’d like to touch upon one area in which we can all be friends: the humble yet all-important Title Tag.
Way back in 2007, Jakob Nielsen listed poor title tags as one of the Top 10 Mistakes of Web Design. Yet the problem persists today. And if Jakob were recompiling the list for 2010, I’d lobby for the retention of “poor title tags” as a leading mistake.
A case in point is www.futureshop.ca. Visit if you dare, and note that only the individual product pages carry meaningful title tags. The rest of the site — from the home page through to category and subcategory pages — are all titled simply “Future Shop”.
Interestingly, Future Shop’s sister site, www.bestbuy.ca, does not commit the same error: category and subcategory pages all have distinct and reasonably descriptive title tags. Perhaps this explains why in my test Google searches, Best Buy pages would occasionally show up, but Future Shop was nowhere to be found?
The importance of Title Tags to SEO are well documented. But they also matter for Usability because:
- They are usually the clickable links presented in SERPs
- They are the default text for Favorited pages
- In multi-tabbed browsing, they are the label of each tab
- Visitors look at them to determine their current location
So please, ensure all of your pages contain unique and descriptive title tags. As these tags are often cut short (especially in tabs), ensure each one starts with the most relevant words describing the content of the page. Not only will the search engines thank you, but so will your visitors.
Here’s to a peaceful and prosperous new year.