So much has been said about the importance of title tags for SEO; however, little information exists about testing and improving this particular on-page element to increase click-through rates (CTR) and traffic from search.

At the same time, we already know that searchers’ behavior has changed. Instead of focusing only on the top search results in Google or other search engines, users today scroll further down the page to find the information they’re looking for.

What’s more, given what we know about over-optimization, Panda, and the added potential to lower CTR could also negatively affect the ranking. This makes even more sense to think about title tags and modify them, away from old school titles towards a better set that can give us better and positive results.

How? By testing different title tags to make a search listing more enticing to click.

In this post, I’ll show you a couple of tests you could conduct to improve your organic listings’ CTR.

Can You Test a Title Tag? The SERP Testing Myth.

When you think about it, conducting tests in an online marketing setting almost always equals to comparing the performance of two (or more) different versions of the tested element.

But just as it might seem quite simple when you’re testing an actual website element, email subject line, copy, or even the navigation, it proves challenging in an environment that’s beyond your control.

After all, you can’t display two variations of an SEO title tag to identify the one that converts the most searchers.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t test your page title tags. You just have to approach the process slightly differently.

For example, seoClarity allows users to track and compare average ranking position and CTR (with the data coming directly from the Google Search Console). As a result, you can view daily, weekly, and monthly data side by side, and analyze the change in performance after a page title change.

To conduct the test, all you need to do is let each variation run for the same period (say, 2-3 weeks) and then, compare their performance.

Plus, you can view historic data for any URL on the site, and analyze the effect of various changes on its performance.

Instead of making a bulk change,  we instead recommend testing by changing a title tag on groups of pages. This is safe - if something goes wrong you can revert back the changes. It's kind of how you do A/B testing.

In general, the process would include:

  • Identify the set of pages you want to improve
  • Choose the test to run across those pages
  • Randomly group the pages into the control and variant groups
  • Measure the resulting changes and declare a test a success if the variant group outperforms  the control group.

How Could You Test a Page Title Tag?

Here are a couple of suggestions for title tag tests:

#1. Short Title

We tend to cram as much as possible into the title tag. Many theories about so-called best practices convince us that for a title to be effective or considered a good title, a headline must pass certain criteria. It must include emotional words, keywords, unique selling proposition, and many other things.

As a result, we fill the title tag’s character limit - usually more than 60 characters but less than 70 characters - to the brim and beyond to make the SERP listing’s headline intriguing and as a result, enticing to click.

But what if you used a short title instead? Feature just the product name, for example? Or the keyword?

Marketers already use this method to increase engagement on Twitter and other social media platforms because, as it turns out, shorter headlines generate a higher response on the social network - especially if they're followed by an informative (but brief!) meta description.

#2. Change Keyword Placement

I know, I know. Research and best practices tell us that placing keywords at the start of the title tag helps increase rankings and CTR.

But if you apply a bit of common sense to it, moving the keyword further to the right in lieu of information suggesting a person that your listing is for them might achieve even better results.

After all, a search query for a particular keyword most likely assumes that whatever results they’ve got are relevant to their search, at least to some degree. True, they’ll probably use the keyword in the title to verify that that’s the case.

However, you could test if including a more compelling message to the left of the title helps attract more searchers to your listing.

#3. Including or Removing Brand Name

I agree, a brand is a powerful asset. A recognizable brand name will immediately add authority to your listing.

However, featuring an unknown brand might deter people from actually clicking. So, depending on the popularity of your brand, experiment with adding or removing it from the listing to create your unique title. For lesser-known brands, consider utilizing the meta title for your brand name inclusion. 

#4. Use Negative Superlatives

Use this test when testing title tags on a blog or any other non-sales related pages.

In spite of the actual title of the web page, use negative superlatives (i.e. worst, never) in the title tag. According to Outbrain, negative headlines perform much better than their opposites.\

Of course, write a title tag that actually relates to the content, and doesn’t just twist the headline to make it sound negative.

#5. Include Numbers

I admit, this is an old trick in the book. Using numbers in any headlines attracts our attention. As Jakob Nielsen points in his famous eye-tracking study:

“Numbers represent facts, which is something users typically relish. Sometimes people are looking for specific facts, such as a product’s weight or size, so product pages are certainly one place where you should write numbers as numerals. But even when a number doesn’t represent a product attribute, it’s a more compact (and thus attractive) representation of hard information than flowery verbiage.”

But why numbers work? As Nielsen explains:

“The shape of a group of digits is sufficiently different from that of a group of letters to stand out to users' peripheral vision before their foveal vision fixates on them. 2415 looks different than four even though both consist of 4 characters. (As the previous sentence shows, stating the number of characters as a numeral makes it stand out, even without the bold highlighting.)”

When including numbers in titles, if possible, try to make the number as high as possible to make it even more prominent on a SERPs page.

Conclusion

SEOs often focus on the title tag as a ranking factor. However, with changes in how users interact with SERPs pages, meta tags offer an opportunity to increase CTR without having to increase a page’s rankings.