By now, you’ve probably either noticed or read in various SEO blog posts and trade articles that title tags in search engine results appear to be a little shorter as of mid-March. Google increased the font size to 18 pixels without increasing space, resulting in fewer characters displayed before truncating titles.
While title tag best practices long held 70 characters in length to be the threshold before titles were truncated, the larger font size now reduces that count to the 55- to 60-character range. But it’s not quite that simple. Google actually uses pixels, not character count in truncation. In fact, that didn’t change. Google also uses Arial, a font with thin and wide characters. Wider characters, capitalization and bold text will consume more title space than thin characters, thus the range. While you probably don’t bold text in title tags, Google does in results for content keywords and search query exact matches. So now, much of what you’ll read suggests limiting title tag width to fewer than 512 pixels—which translates into 55 to 60 viewable characters including spaces.
I say viewable, because the change does not mean you must limit title tags to 60 characters. Although it displays around 60 characters, Google’s algorithm still considers the entire title tag—and still places greater weight on keywords used at the front of the tags versus those further down. So if you can’t craft an effective, concise title tag in 60 characters, go longer. Just be conscientious of keyword utilization upfront and that your displayed title sufficiently communicates your subject matter within the first 60 characters. I say this with a couple of caveats. Sometimes, and you’ve likely come across them, Google displays text from further down a longer title if it’s a better matter match for a specific search query. They also formulate improved titles on occasion utilizing anchors, on-page text and other content for more relevant results that align to search queries.
Shorter Title Tags Mean Meta Description Matter—Even More
Typically, real estate at the front of a title is dedicated to keywords for SEO purposes. Unless your brand name is likely to be part of an organic search query, the brand name often resides towards the end of the title tag. Now, with fewer characters displayed in title tags, there’s a good chance truncation will occur before your brand name appears.
For us, this just gives further rise to the importance of the mistakenly underrated, sometimes neglected, ignoble meta description. As we know, meta descriptions aren’t important to search engine rankings. That does not mean they are not important. It’s always been our position that a well-written meta description helps drive click-through—when it encapsulates page content with a clear, concise, relevant description and compelling messaging that resonates with the searcher’s interest. Now, with title tags displaying fewer characters, the meta description provides visual space on the search engine results page (SERP) to include important content that is either excluded or lost through title tag truncation—such as keywords, relevant terms and the brand name. On that note, meta descriptions did not change. The font, size and description length are still the same—displaying approximately 920 pixels or 160 characters before truncating and adding ellipsis.
There are several tools available if you want to test title tags for length and truncation results, including this one, the 2014 Title Tag Preview Tool on the MOZ Blog. Enter you full title text and search phrase and it provides an approximate display of your actual Google result. In fact, this MOZ blog post also gives an in-depth run down of title tag changes and their impact as well.
Should You Edit Existing Title Tags?
The industry consensus appears to be “No” to the question of revisiting and editing title tags for existing website pages. The change did not affect page rankings. If you see declines in page traffic, impressions or click data to particular page, it’s likely the result of other SEO issues and a refresh is in order—with title tags and meta description modifications that conform to new best practices.
That’s the long and short of it. Nothing earth shattering, but they’re changes to title tag and meta description SEO best practices to be mindful of going forward.