Titles Can Kill or Convert – What are Yours Doing?

- How to Write Accessible Web Content Part 4

Title crimes
Are your titles leaving clues or corpses?

Titles, headlines and headings cause more confusion and consternation for online writers, designers and developers than perhaps anything else.

Get them right, and you’ll get more traffic, reader engagement and conversions; get them wrong and you’ll get nothing.

Titles are important for many reasons, which we’ll cover in this post.

But first let’s make one thing clear: Titles are not headlines or headings. They may be the same, but they are two different parts of any online document.

I’ll discuss headings and headlines in the next post, but for now you need to understand that Titles are their own dog.


Title – What it is, What it Was and What it Shall Be

The Title is what you call your document. It is not the headline.

The Title is what appears at the top of your browser, in people’s bookmarks and in the search engine listings.

Title in browser bar


Titles in SEO

Titles are also picked up by screen readers and so has major implications for accessibility and usability.

In most CMS, eCommerce and blog platforms, the Title is the first thing you’re asked for when creating a new document. Also, most CMS will automatically use the Title for the file name and the url, and in some case the headline.

This is good in one way as it saves time, but bad in many others as it denies you flexibility to customise the other settings for optimal search engine and social media performance as well as reader engagement.

However, most good CMS give the option to customise all of those settings if you want to, and you should want to.


The Importance of Custom Titles

As you can see from the above screen shots the Title is what appears in the search results and the top of your browser, it also appears in bookmarks and any shared items on social media.

Titles in Social MediaAs such, you want the Title to be interesting enough to grab people’s attention and make them want to find out more.

The other point to remember is that the Title lives almost on its own outside of your website when seen in these other mediums

That is, it is being seen without the context of your website or the rest of your document. Anyone seeing it needs to make a decision based solely on the title and perhaps a short description.

Therefore, it needs to tell the searcher what the document is about, so don’t get too cute or fancy with your titles.

As both search engines and social media are vital for generating traffic to any site, then having good titles becomes a key part of your online marketing strategy.

A really good CMS will allow you to create extra custom titles so that you can display different variations for each medium and application.

The best length for Titles is around 70 characters, as this is what the search engines will show before truncating the Title. Again, see the screen shot to see where this happens.

That doesn't mean you can’t write longer titles, it just means the last part won’t be seen in searches.


Informative URLS

Similarly the URL should also be descriptive and informative on its own.

The other point is in using the title for the url, often the title may be too long for a good url, so you will want to edit it into a more concise url while still maintaining some of the keywords.

Using my example again from above the Title is: “How Friendly URLS and Custom File Names Affect Conversion Rates - Perth, Western Australia”

But I have edited the url to read “/friendly-urls-file-names”


Intransigent CMS and Shopping Carts

Unfortunately I have seen many CMS, in both large and small organisations that don’t allow its users to customise and edit the information as described above.

This may be because the processes have been automated to allow most staff easy document creation, in which case it should be easy enough to un-automate.

However in many cases it has been hard coded and can’t be undone.

In that case you need to make sure that whatever title you choose, it has the most utility across all the uses listed above.


Summing Up

While Titles may seem like a small thing, they are vitally important for many aspects of your online presence and web marketing.

Like most things on the web, the extra time taken to get them right will keep bringing in results for the life of the site or document.

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