Are Keywords in the Title Tag a Google Ranking Factor?

Keywords in the title tag is a ranking factor.
Keywords in the title tag is a ranking factor. CREDIT: THE WEBMASTER
Jonathan Griffin
By Jonathan Griffin, Editor, SEO Consultant, & Developer.

Google has confirmed that using keywords in the title tag is an important ranking factor. There was a little bit of confusion when John Mueller said it was not worth restructuring your website to add them but later clarified that they were important.

First, I will quickly highlight what a title tag is. Then I will look at what Google has to say about it being a ranking factor.

What is a title tag?

The title tag, otherwise known as the “title element,” defines the title of the page, and is often used in search engines results to display the preview snippet. It is important both for SEO, click to click-through rate, or CTR, and also to related matters, such as social sharing. The title element should be a concise, accurate description of the page’s content.

An example of the title tag’s code is below:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
  <title>HTML Title Element goes here.</title>
</head>
<body>
  <p>The main content of your page goes here.</p>
</body>
</html>
This code may display in Google as follows:

Keywords in title tag in search results.
Keywords in title tag in search results. CREDIT: SCREENSHOT.

Is it a Google Ranking Factor?

John Mueller, webmaster trends analyst at Google, in an English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout on the Jan. 15, 2016 said the following:

We do use it for ranking, but it’s not the most critical part of a page. So it’s not worthwhile filling it with keywords to kind of hope that it works that way. In general, we try to recognize when a title tag is stuffed with keywords because that’s also a bad user experience for users in the search results.

If they’re looking to understand what these pages are about and they just see a jumble of keywords, then that doesn’t really help.

Clarification

Unfortunately, this statement caused a bit of a stir in the SEO community, with many people taking the statement to mean it wasn’t a ranking factor.

As such, Mueller clarified his statement in a subsequent Hangout on Jan. 26, 2016:

I said, titles aren’t the most critical ranking factors anymore, and suddenly everyone got excited and said, oh my god, titles aren’t […]

Titles are important! They are important for SEO. They are used as a ranking factor. Of course, they are definitely used as a ranking factor, but it is not something where I’d say the time you spend on tweaking the title is really the best use of your time.

So that is something where if you are focusing only on titles in SEO, if your SEO agency work is essentially going to people’s websites and say we will strip out all titles and rewrite them to include all the relevant keywords and you will rank ten places higher, that is not going to happen.

You can view the relevant part of the hangout below:

Title Tag Best practices

A summary of best practices are as follows:

  • Keep your title tag length under 600 pixels, which is around 70 characters
  • Keep it short, descriptive and relevant to the page content
  • Separate Words with either a Hyphen “-” or a Pipe “|”
  • Avoid keyword stuffing
  • Don’t duplicate titles over multiple pages
  • Put important keywords first
  • Maximize Your Click-Through-Rate
  • Leverage branding

For a full detailed discussion of the Title Tag, including best practices, click here.