Title tags: why size matters (with bonus title tag checker!)

Creating page titles that would show in Google’s search results used to be straightforward. You wrote your title, counted the characters and you had a title that would fit.

But, to paraphrase Avril Lavigne, Google had to go and make things complicated (or rather, pixelated).

Introducing… the DeepCrawl title tag checker

NOTES: The general consensus is that titles that are 512px or less will be displayed in most cases.

However, we’ve set the default safe pixel width to 480px, which is the maximum width of titles that are guaranteed to display in full on desktop searches, and our recommended target length.

THE SMALL PRINT: The above tool is an approximation of how titles will look in Google’s SERP, based on our studies and the research of other SEO experts. Google may change their design at any time.

The changing face of title tags

So, why are we so bothered about pixels now?

In 2012, Google started measuring titles in pixels, not characters. Then in March 2014 they made the title text bigger in the search results, increasing it from 16px Arial to 18px, while keeping the container size the same. This now means that you have to make your title tags shorter for them to show in full: the maximum width of titles shown on desktop searches is now 480px:

Before March 2014:

After March 2014:

Titles on mobile:

Surprisingly, titles on mobile are actually less restrictive, as they are displayed over two lines:

Brand searches on mobile:

Brand searches on mobile seem to be susceptible to an even bigger ‘mega-result’:

What does this mean for SEOs?

The number of characters shown before your title gets cut off can be affected by character width (W being wider than i, for example), capital letters, foreign characters and amount of bold keyword text.

For example…

Same character count, 45px difference in pixel widths:

The first example above is cut off mid-word, which Google may truncate further so that the last word disappears completely:

Same character count, different pixel widths (with mid-word truncation):

To add more salt to your wounds, if your title does get cut off then the ellipsis (…) is added to your pixel count, meaning your poor title tag will be hacked away even further.

You might also have to consider brand post-fixes if your CMS adds these on after your page title tag. Whether you care if your brand name gets cut off is a personal choice, but don’t say we didn’t warn you…

So, do we need to edit all of our titles tags now?

Probably not. Only the ones that really need editing – the core pages and the ones that get cut off at a particularly important word.

And don’t forget that it’s still possible to rank for keywords that are cut off: sometimes a longer title that is cut off will yield better results, because it’s more optimised than a shorter one.

If you do decide to edit, it’s imperative that you work with your content editors/copywriters to do it. Engagement and CTR is just as important as using exact keywords (if not more important, seeing as Google understands synonyms) so make sure you don’t harm the clickability of your titles if they need rewrites. A few characters hacked off at the end of your title tag isn’t a major issue; accidently making your titles less engaging just to get them into the new pixel width might be.

Especially if Google decides to do another redesign…

What to tell your content editors

Now more than ever, best practice is key but if you have lots of people writing unmoderated content then standards might slip. Here are some useful reminders to give your content editors.

Don’t skip your title tags. If you don’t specify one, Google will take something else from the page, which may look messy and your CTR might be reduced.

Put the most important keywords and engaging words at the start of the title. Get to the point quickly.

You don’t have to jam loads of keywords into your titles. If your title reads like a keyword-stuffed mess, no one will click on it.

Google will still crawl the whole of your title, but the engagement rate may be reduced if you don’t get people engaged within the small time you have in your title. There’s a challenge to get people engaged, use your keywords and now in a limited amount of space!

Take control of the title tag beast with DeepCrawl

As mentioned in our 1.9 release notes, DeepCrawl now measures the length of your titles in pixel widths, and alerts you to any that might get cut off in the SERP.

You can do this with hundreds of thousands of pages, and it’s as simple as 1, 2… well, you get the drift:

1. Set your preferred title lengths

 Your max title length should be set to warn you when titles will likely be cut off, and your safe title to a number that is safely below this maximum that should always be displayed in the SERP:

2. Run the report and see your results

Use the Max Title Length and Max Title Warnings reports (under the Content tab) to see every title that needs editing.

3. Edit your titles

Now you have a list of all the titles that need editing, you can edit them in your CMS. Simple!

If you don’t yet have a DeepCrawl account, you can request a live demo here on a site you’re working on, or log in now to get started.