SEO | Page Titles — Do I Need to Include Keywords?

I get a lot of questions on how to format SEO page titles (also called the “meta title”).

There’s really no “correct” way. It’s a balancing act between enticing and explaining, but not really a delicate one. Your page titles are important, as they’re the gateway to your website — but I hear from writers all the time who seem to be carrying this weight into each title they write.

Page titles are important, but they shouldn’t be difficult to write. If you feel so, you’re probably overthinking them. Or you’re new to it. That’s fine too.

What do page titles do?

Page titles do two things that are actually one thing perceived differently:

  • Serve as the title of the page (it’s what appears when you hover over a tab or save a bookmark)
  • Serve as the title of the page in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). It’s what you click on.

That second point is a huge aspect of the less-popular side of SEO. First you have to rank high enough to show up (everyone knows that). But then you have to actually get clicked on (everyone forgets that).

Page titles that are informative and relevant (along with their close buddies, meta descriptions) are one of the few ways you can exert control over this ever-important step in the search engine user’s journey.

So… I should fill them with keywords, right?

Wrong, dummy! Well, actually, maybe. It depends.

Back in the day, Google used to bold keywords in the page titles on their SERPs. They may have even used them as a direct signal (i.e. they picked up on the keywords and gave the page magic SEO points for being more relevant to that term).

They don’t do either of those things any more. There’s nothing that says your page titles need to directly match the query group you’re optimizing for. This is a good thing — you’re free to write something that stands out.

And as far as direct signals are concerned: Google doesn’t even read the page title. Well, it does, but adding keywords there won’t give you a direct boost. Instead, the benefit comes in increased CTR (click-through rate) and eventual conversion.

Just be honest

While “CLICK ME CLICK ME CLICK ME!” has a nice ring to it, the best titles go beyond simply trying to catch the search engine user’s eye — they’re straightforward and don’t overpromise match what they have to offer.

Using accurate page titles will not only lower bounce rate. Relevant titles also instill confidence that your content is honest and eager to solve the user’s problem.

You don’t need to work hard to stand out if you’re offering exactly what is being searched for — it’ll appear like a breath of fresh air in a sea of spam or miscategorized results. You should already be creating content that is as specific as possible, meaning your page titles will naturally speak to the user.

Should you use a standard format?

In my work, I do use a standard format as guidance for my writing team, but that’s because we have to get it as right as possible across thousands of websites. I encourage the confident ones to break the rules whenever possible.

When it comes to custom work, there aren’t any rules to begin with. Write page titles you would click on. To learn, just Google and pay attention to what you see. Don’t just look at the pros — look at what’s working. Check out different types of queries and ask yourself things like “which result for this informational query do I want to click — the one that answers my question in the title, or the one that seems authoritative?”

And remember, what seems ideal for you will be stupid and wrong to someone else. (Isn’t staking your professional and financial future on subjective metrics fun? No right answers — they’re all wrong to somebody! Being a writer rules!!)

In short:

There’s no correct formula. Do what you want. Write something you’d click on. Page titles are powerful, but they shouldn’t be scary.