Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Title Junk

John Gruber recently posted a long-ish item about the "Title Junk" that he finds on many websites.

The gist of the argument is that many sites knowingly or unknowingly use overly complex or just plain confusing page titles (e.g. "'2001' — the Monolith and the Message :: rogerebert.com :: News & Comment") for web pages, which then end up as the name of the link on bookmarking sites, in your browser history, etc. He suggests using much simpler and clearer titles to make life easier for users.

I'd have to agree that page titles are for the most part overly long, and often packed full of SEO keywords. So why do CMS systems and website designers insist on using these kinds of page titles? Because the real audience for these page titles is not the end user, but rather the GoogleBot.

According to Gruber, we webmasters shouldn't worry about this:
So make titles useful. Write them for humans, not search engine spiders. Putting SEO keywords in the page title (a) doesn’t actually help your page’s rank in search engine indexes, and (b) makes things harder for people trying to tweet a link, bookmark your page, or scan it from a list of currently open windows and tabs in their browser. Trust the Googlebot to figure it out.

While I agree with most of Gruber's article, I'm not sure I agree with this part. At Nelso, we try to keep the length of page titles to a minimum, but we do also try to make them useful for search engine crawlers. Some of the page titles are longer than we'd use if there was no such thing as a search crawler.

I have no special knowledge of the algorithm that Bing, Google, Yandex, Seznam, et al use to rank pages in the index, but it really seems to matter what one puts in page titles.

Take a look at a Google search for "Sushi Prague 6". The majority of the pages that appear in the top ten results for that search have all the keywords in the page title. One of the top results for that search, Mashhana Sushi House, has a title on our site of "Mashhana Sushi House - Prague 6, Czech Republic (Sushi, Japanese Cuisine, Korean Cuisine)". Sure, the title could be a lot shorter, but I'm not convinced that we'd rank so well if we shortened the page title to just the name of the business.

So, until we have evidence that page titles really don't matter to search engines, we'll continue to balance both the needs of users and search engines when creating page titles.

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