After a great Friday Dojo chat led by
someone in the ensuing convo asked
about the meta keywords tag. Specifically why should they include it since the
Search Engines don't use it. I wanted to provide an
opposite view to their belief that pages should be coded and built for Search Engines.
I decided that I should share another point of view.
Build Pages for Search Engines not Users
I have many reasons for why I believe this is not a good "best Practice" for SEO's, especially, those who are at
the beginning of their journey to being an SEO warrior. But here are 3 good reasons why
building pages with Search Engines as first concern is not a good idea:
- The obvious: People buy the products or are taking the action that meets
the site's goal. Search Engines are only your audience if you make all your
money from advertising.
- Algorithms change: Ranking factors change constantly and you have
hitched your wagon to the horse called "Algo Chaser"
- What you do now specifically for Search Engines
may remove options you may need in the future eg: many on site
search programs use meta tags
Number 3 is always a big concern when you believe "Future Proofing" your SEO
is essential to long term success! Since most of the sites I work on are dynamic
data driven sites the meta keyword and description elements are always very
difficult to implement. I have left the keyword tag and description tag out of
sites at different times. Currently I'm of the opinion that the removal or an
empty value in these elements may
be a "red flag" for Search Engines and invoke some sort of SEO filter.
My take on this is simple. I build sites with people as my primary concern
and Search Engines second. In the 15 years I've been dong this "thing of ours"
the one thing I've learned is that many SEO decisions come down to the lesser of
two evils. We are constantly accessing the impact on SEO and user experience
from our web development decisions.
So, when you put Search Engines first you've essentially
made this too simple a
decision that results in
painting yourself into a corner.
For instance, "why have meta tags Search Engines don't use them". Consider including because an onsite search might
use them or
another search engine could come along that uses them. So long as you add a just
a few slang, misspellings and such and definitely don't bother with the target
keywords terms there is no harm done and more importantly no added risk to
rankings. Lastly for SEO I think... SEOs sometimes don't include those elements
(having done that myself)
so it could be a red flag for professional
optimization. Sort of in the vain of PageRank sculpting being an
SEO flag that too is unproven... but...
Google Indexes 70 chars in Titles
In this example the entire blame does not rest with the site that first
floated this idea as best practice. What is more interesting is that according
to a poll David Harry took in
the Dojo the Warriors, for the most part, were using the 60-65 number for truncation. SEO misunderstandings about the Title displayed in SERPs
and indexing of title is concerning for someone who believes training is the key
to the future of the trade.
I looked at lots of pages on the site that floated 70 chars trying to figure out why I keep seeing
"Google only indexes 70 chars". Since, the 70 chars is synonymous with a
certain blog as
they are the only place I've seen this number used as a "best practice".
Looking through the site I could not see anything beyond that in the "tutorial"
70chars is talked as display, but, indexation was not addressed from what I
First off, lets clear up exactly what we're talking about. Google displays up
to 70 chars in the SERP. Google indexes
much more than that. I searched that site and concluded that they seem to
discuss weighting vaguely and nothing about how much of the title is indexed. So
seemingly some SEO's have
What I think is happening is that some SEOs mistake
the displayed title in the SERP as being all that is indexed. Quite simply that is not
The real facts are that Google likely indexes all the title!
What Google weights from the title for ranking is a different
matter. This is based on a test that a SEO buddy did a few years back. I know ya'
skeptics are thinking it has changed. It has AFAIK but it is a very small
refinement that wouldn't affect the original consensus! Title best practices haven't
changed as long as I have been optimizing pages for Google. I went
to the old test and wouldn't ya' know it "grasshopper" is still
It is showing 70 chars to be too simplistic to base "best practices" on.
There are IMO, many misconceptions about titles starting with indexing and
ending with how length of title displayed in the SERP and words weighted as
title (words given more importance) ie: full
optimization are arrived at. The consensus among some SEOs currently seems to be
that 70 chars is the length for best practices. That is cookie cutting the most
important optimization target in the arsenal. Absolutely you'd be hard pressed
to find a Title in a Google SERP that exceeds 70 chars but that is basing all
title decisions on what Google displays as Title.
The real deal is that:
- It's not likely a char measurement deciding where the position of
- The function to truncate likely has at least two steps (indicated by
always being a word)
- Seemingly truncates before stop words if they are the last word (indicated by
my inability to find a stopword as last word in a SERP and the test)
- All title is indexed (indicated by being returned in
- All words beyond the tenth word receive no weight as Title,
within the 70 chars displayed
- All words beyond the tenth word or the length function are indexed as
part of document
Above are basis for my Title "best practices" based on a discussion in SearchReturn and writing what was likely the first SEO Title tutorial... ever.
It has been my method for a very long time! I get extremely annoyed whenever
I hear this 70 char misleader. I came to adopt these as "best practices" by
observing the SERPs, by thinking like a programmer/engineer to realize it was
two step function and lastly a good friend has been running a test for many
years in which I use to track title weighting and indexation.
I shared the post from SearchReturn in the Dojo. Most ignored it. The smart
ones saw it for what it was, though old, still very much true. The test is not
exhaustive but, to that end even if it were you wouldn't come out with a
different outcome. The intitle search operator is the closest we'll ever come
to knowing what is weighted as title.
First lets look at how Google may return the display portion of the Title.
That's the part displayed in the SERP. Its obvious that 70 chars is indeed the
maximum but if it was just grabbing 70 chars there would be fragmented words in
the SERPs so we know that there must be another eval of the 70 chars to ellipse
within that limit as a whole word. I also found that if the last word
was a stop word the eval looked backward not forward. This is an indication
that there is indeed some sort of word eval involved.
"Below is based upon using the Google intitle search syntax as the test for
what is indexed and what is weighted as title. So the accuracy of this is only as
accurate as the intitle search returning what is indexed and
weighted as title."
So, while we're at it let's discuss the Head, Body and Tail of the
Weighted Title and possible weighting of the Title signal along them. IMO, it's not consistent and is
inconsistent in a manner that favors front end loading primary keyword terms.
Just so you know... I believe front end loading is not just for titles, but any
HTML element or Object in a document. One of the best practices I took from the SearchReturn discussion was the use of 60 chars for what I refer to as the head
or as referred to in the post "place important terms within". The sixty
char length may not be as true now for truncation.
IMO, the Head of the Title contains the words between the 1st char and 60ish char
or last word containing the 60th char OR the entire tenth word or last word
preceding the 70th char if greater than 10 words. The Body of the title is between the end of the
Head (60-70 char ) up to and including tenth word or all words in the first 70
chars minus stop words. The Tail is not weighted as part of title or returned in an intitle
search but is returned in a normal search using no search syntax. Indicating it
isn't weighted as title but is indexed.
All of the title is indexed it may not be weighted as
title and keyword matches may not be counted as matches!
This indicates 70 chars or up to 10 words may well be the cutoff for what is
weighted and indexed as title. The fact that words beyond the tenth or all words
contained within 70 chars are returned in InTitle is pretty
telling. Words outside of that are returned for a normal search (so are indexed)
but are not returned using the intitle search indicating they may not be weighted
There is one more technique that I will add to my best practices, though, I
think a lot of people will disagree but I only put Brands anywhere in
the title if they have an offline retail storefront, offline signage or
traditional Media campaigns. Basically I think only about 1 in likely 1000's can build an
online brand worth taking 30% of the displayed and weighted title. There I said
Simply, I don't think if you Have a real brand that someone
is searching for you have to optimize your title to get your brand in
the #1 position, Google and any search engine worth it's salt will find a
business/brand name with very little optimization. It's why there is seemingly
favoritism shown to brands in the rankings. Besides, you can build a better Brand
message/presence in the description.
Headings Have No or Little SEO Value
Sorry there is no way to know this definitively. I don't care how many sites
etc. you test this across. It's just too complicated to measure that to a point
where all factors are considered. Again as a "Best Practice" it is not cut and
dried. Headings are known to stand out on the page for users scanning a page so
the gains again in usability should be a chief concern because the user takes
the actions that fulfill site goals.
Also even if
that weren't true I'd argue there are reasons to believe it may affect other
ranking signals around it. For instance a link in close proximity.
Conclusions for These 3 SEO "Best Practices"
The Title is a pretty important part of the SEO puzzle. I have put forth a
few of my personal observations. The other two are basically trying to provide
another point of view and how I came to those conclusions. The thought process
is as important as the info. The point I'm making is don't set things in stone
or don't be a cookie cutter SEO. With every decision you make you will learn
something... even if it is a mistake... you will learn.
What say you on these SEO best practices? Sound off in the
About the author; Terry is an old school SEO geek that works out of International Website Builders and the founder of SEOPros.org - You can also hook up with him on Twitter.
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