Optimizing your title tags is one of the most basic and yet most important actions you can take in an SEO plan. When you’re starting a WordPress blog, or you’re optimizing an established blog, you have a few steps to take to optimize.
Before you know how to optimize your title tags, you need to learn why they need optimization in the first place. Your title tag is the string of text that appears at the top of the browser when you’re on a page. More importantly, it’s the blue text link that shows up in Google search results. To customize that link, you need to customize your title tag.
With WordPress, the default format is Blog Title > Archive > Post Title for archived blog posts on your site. This is decent for user experience, but it’s not great for search engines. The reason is the length limits on a title in search results. You don’t want your search link to look like this:
The Title of The Blog > Archive > A Post Abou…
Instead, you want a post title that looks more like this:
A Post About Important Things – The Title of The Blog
See the difference? The first option portrays your blog and/or brand name prominently, but it doesn’t do much to differentiate one post from another in the search results. The second option is much more relevant for search. Users can see the title of the post front and center.
Every webmaster has their own method of creating the ideal post title, and the same techniques extend to the title tags. The title of the post doesn’t need to match the title tags, but if it does, it becomes much easier to automate. In this case, assume that you’ll be automating a large part of your title tag generation, and format your blog post titles accordingly.
A good title will be short and punchy. It hooks the reader right off the bat and gives them a question, problem or guideline for the content to follow. It will also include a relevant search keyword; after all, it has to appear in search for the relevant queries.
There are half a dozen different perfectly functional WordPress plugins to customize your meta title. You might even have one installed already. If you don’t, the best option to pick for a new installation is the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin.
The following instructions assume you set up Yoast. If you’re using a different plugin, all you need to do is poke around to find the relevant title customization section and adapt the instructions. Some won’t allow as much automation or will make it less convenient; some will work exactly the same.
In Yoast, navigate to the SEO section, and then the Titles & Metas section. This gives you a range of options for customizing the title templates for various parts of your site. You’re going to want to make up several templates. The primary template you’re creating now is the standard Post, though you will likely want to make templates for category pages, search pages and 404 pages, among others.
The basic template will likely be simple: Post Title – Blog Title. In the title template customization box you will want to use the variables %%title%% and %%sitename%% to automatically populate each field when a post is created.
This automation saves you the hassle of manually editing the title tags for every post on your site. When you create a new post, it will automatically create a title according to the template. This should also automatically edit the titles of past posts, unless you customized them with a previous plugin or manual edit. If you have, and they don’t populate correctly, click the “force rewrite” box to overwrite the existing code with the new template.
With any change you make to your site, check to make sure this generates titles correctly and doesn’t create swaths of duplicate titles.
At this point, the majority of the work is done for you. It’s not perfect, however. Occasionally, you will create posts with titles that are too long and poorly optimized to make good meta titles. In these cases, you can go into the individual article through the Yoast plugin and create a new title. You can use the snippet preview tool to see what the post would look like on Google’s live search; customize the appearance of your title and description from here.
Try to follow some basic guidelines:
• Include the primary search keyword you’re targeting with the article; exact matches work better than poor matches in most cases. Try to weight it toward the front of the title.
• Include your brand name at the end of the title. All you need is a simple mention to brand your content. This way users searching for content will recognize content from your site quickly and easily. When they trust you, they’ll seek out your content.
• Everything in between is the bulk of the title and it’s what you use to make the title enticing to new readers. How you customize this is up to you.
At this point, you have a powerful tool in your hands in the form of Yoast’s SEO plugin. You can do much more than just optimize your title tags; you can optimize the rest of your blog as well. Try these optimizations:
• Change the default permalink structure on your installation. WordPress uses a default that is hard for a user to parse and annoying for a search engine to utilize. Switch it to one of the standard formats that include the post name and, if you want, the data of the post as well.
• Scan for and remove duplicate content in the form of copied links or duplicate title tags. Noindex or rel=canonical the duplicates to streamline your site and avoid Penguin penalties.
• Craft optimized meta descriptions – the text snippets below the link in search results – using a mix of automation and manual creation. A descriptive, enticing meta description is beneficial for your site SEO. Include keywords but keep it useful to the reader, don’t just write it for the search engine. Remember it’s how users will judge the content beyond the link; if the don’t like your description, they won’t click.
With these optimizations made, you’re well on your way to a penalty-free, optimized WordPress blog.