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Ingredient Two: The Meta Page Title

Do not skip this section, even if it sounds boring. I promise I won't hammer you with techie-talk. The meta page title is the second most important factor in all of SEO.

When your website was first created, whoever was programming it had to fill in a section of the coding called the meta page title. If your web designer knows a thing or two about SEO, he or she will have paid special attention to this seemingly random bit of code that is a part of every website.

The reason this primitive bit of information matters so much is because search engines have, for a while now, considered the meta page title to be the one true description of a website. The meta page title is like the headline of a newspaper story or the front cover of a book. It encapsulates a web page in about 15 words or fewer.

Google's decision to make it such a huge factor in ranking websites is pretty arbitrary. They could have made the meta description title, the meta keywords, or any other section of the website code the defining attributes of a website. But because they decided that this area matters so much, we are compelled to pay attention to it, too.

First off, let's get this out of the way. Figure 2.4 shows what the meta page title actually looks like inside your website's Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) code. I use the code from my website as an example.

Figure 2.4

Figure 2.4 An example of how the meta page title appears in a web page's HTML code.

Feel free to forget that image if it seems complicated. What that code turns into on your website is the words at the very top of your Internet browser, above the address bar (see Figure 2.5).

Figure 2.5

Figure 2.5 The meta page text is what appears at the very top of the user's web browser.

The only other place you will encounter meta page titles as a normal Internet user is when you are looking at search engine results. Those blue underlined headings on the first line of every Google result are simply a direct copy of each site's meta page title, as shown in Figure 2.6.

Figure 2.6

Figure 2.6 Google also uses a site's meta page title as the heading for its search results.

It is your job to decide what your page title should be before asking your web designer or tech person to put it into your site's code. But not to fear—when creating a meta page title, you need to know only the following three things:

  1. It needs to summarize what your site is about in a simple way for the sake of visitors but also contain keywords so that Google knows which terms your website should rank for.
  2. Keep it to a maximum of 100 characters, although Google will show only 65 or so.
  3. After you've finished formulating it, send it to your web designer (or anyone who does your web work) and say, "Please make this sentence the meta page title of my site's home page."

Now that you see this meta page title thing is quite doable, let's go into how you can maximize its impact.

Maximizing the Effectiveness of Your Meta Page Titles

The key to a really effective meta page title is including all your most valuable keywords in a human-friendly and Google-friendly way. To demonstrate this idea, I will give an example of a long-time client of mine, a criminal lawyer in Los Angeles. He wants his website to show up at the top of Google whenever someone is looking for a criminal lawyer in Los Angeles. After doing his research, he realized that all his keyword phrases contain the words lawyer, attorney, los angeles, criminal, and defense. In other words, if you combine these words in different ways, you will end up with the various keywords that people type in when they are looking for a criminal lawyer in Los Angeles (for example, criminal defense lawyer los angeles). He also wants his website to rank high for searches related to criminal law representation in three areas outside of Los Angeles: Glendale, Pasadena, and Burbank. Add those three city names to the list of words that a potential client might enter into Google to find him, and he's looking at more than 20 different keywords. That's a lot of keywords to stuff into a 100-character title. How will he do it? Well, back in 2004 or 2005, it would have been common for webmasters to simply list their keywords, in order of importance, in the meta page title tag like this:

  • Los angeles criminal lawyer, los angeles criminal attorney, los angeles criminal defense attorney, los angeles criminal defense lawyer, los angeles criminal defense, los angeles lawyer, lawyer in burbank, glendale, pasadena

That type of meta page title is not only unfriendly to visitors, but would probably get your site labeled as spam and dropped to the bottom of the results. The main thing that this meta page title lacks—other than adherence to the character limit—is the fact that Google can read words in any order as long as they are written one time. So if your three keywords are red delicious apples, delicious apples, and apples, you could simply make your page title "Red Delicious Apples For Sale." That would cover all three keywords just fine. With that rule in mind, here is a perfect meta page title for my client, the Los Angeles criminal lawyer:

  • Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer | Defense Attorney in Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena

This meta page title incorporates all the words that my client wishes to rank for, and because Google doesn't care about word order, my client is getting credit for every permutation of those words. This means that if someone types into Google pasadena defense lawyer, Google will consider my client's website an ideal match. Same with criminal defense attorney los angeles or any other permutation of the words in his site's meta page title. We've covered them all in a short, human-friendly way.

So far I've been focusing on just your home page meta page title. But nowadays, especially with Google's newest algorithm updates, it is important to get many pages of your site, not just your home page, to rank. This means you should be specifically concerned with the meta page titles on all the pages of your website, not just your home page. My client, for instance, did not need to construct a meta page title for his home page that covers every important keyword. He could have a specific page that focuses just on criminal defense in Burbank, and the meta page title of that page could be "Burbank Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney in Burbank, California." Creating separate pages, all with unique meta page titles for every keyword, is a good idea because it gives visitors a page that specifically suits their search, whatever it may be. It also gives Google lots of opportunities to rank your website's pages for niche keywords. Ultimately, it is the sites that have hundreds, or even thousands, of pages on niche topics that receive the most overall traffic from Google. I discuss this strategy further in Chapter 5, "The Nuclear Football."

If you totally understand how to craft the perfect meta page title now, skip ahead to the "Ingredient Three: Links" section of this chapter. For those who really want this idea hammered home, I have included two case studies.

Case Study One: The Baby Store

A client of mine has an online store that sells clothing for babies and toddlers. Using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, she found that her potential customers type in the obvious—baby clothing—but also use the word clothes in place of clothing and add the descriptors girls and boys in their searches. So already she was looking at the following list of keywords:

  • baby clothing
  • baby clothes
  • girls baby clothing
  • girls baby clothes
  • boys baby clothing
  • boys baby clothes

On top of that, potential customers with older kids were also typing in toddler clothing and kids clothing. So there were at least a dozen more permutations of keywords she wanted her site to rank for. After much thought, here is the page title we came up with:

  • The Baby Store | Baby and Toddler Clothing | Kids Clothes for Girls and Boys

As you can see, all the words that make up the keywords she wanted to rank for are represented in this innocent-looking page title. It just took a few minutes to arrange the words in a way that seemed natural but was also rich with keywords. As you can see, I'm a fan of the "spoke," the long vertical line that is above the Enter key on most keywords, because it separates bits of the page title neatly.

Case Study Two: Games

A client of mine who owns a games website wanted to rank for the keywords: free online games, fun games, and best games. Let's say his site name was Floofy.com. (I just made that up because it's fun to say.) A good page title for him would be this:

  • Floofy.com | The best fun, free online games

As with the other two examples I've given, this page title incorporates all the words that make up his three keywords, and therefore would be called forth by Google when someone types in fun games, free online games, or best games. Because this is a relatively short page title, he could include some other keywords as well. Or he might want to keep it that way because people do make the decision of which site to click on in the search results based on that blue underlined heading, which, once again, is a direct copy of the meta page title.

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