How Long Should Page Titles Be – The Social Media Factor

Ever since the early days of SEO, the ideal title length has been the subject of much debate. Back then, it was important to use keywords that search engines would use to rank your pages near the top of the SERPS. Then you made the title as click enticing as possible so, when it appeared in the SERPS, people would be more likely to click it before they clicked the other listings. Lastly you had to strive to be concise enough that search engines wouldn’t truncate your titles. However, there’s a new factor to consider when looking at your title length: the social media factor.

Anything you can do to make less work for the person who is sharing your content, decrease their ability to screw it up, and increase its chance of spreading is a good thing… 

When someone reads your page and likes it enough to share on social bookmarking services like Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter, it’s important for those services to be able to parse your code and render your titles properly. The titles also should be enticing or interesting enough to make other people want to click and read them. They shouldn’t be stuffed with keywords or boring branding elements like your company name.

Since Twitter is the most restrictive of all the services as far as length, if it works there, it will work on most other services. There are a couple factors to keep in mind. If you are using your own URL shortener and have coded it properly, your URL will show (see How To Easily Create Your Own URL Shortener With WordPress). However, there isn’t a 100% guarantee that will persist. In some cases, people will be using clients like tweetdeck, hootsuite, bufferapp, zite or another service that will rewrite the URL. While tinyurl used to be the default shortener, it has been replaced by others like bit.ly or goo.gl. If you want to be absolutely sure and play it safe, use tiny URL or or your own shortener, whichever is longer.

You want to leave room for retweets as well so, if possible, leave another 12-20 characters free. I know that sounds like a lot. We’re planning for the worst case scenario. While it may not happen often, it’s not an entirely unlikely possibility. So, at the very least, take it into consideration instead of  discounting it completely.

In the past, there has been a lot of debate about putting the website name in the title. Some favor putting it at the front (I personally recommend against that). Most people favor putting it on the end after the page title, which is what I recommend in most cases. However, if you have a site title that is especially long or a post that was written for social media sharing or is highly likely to be shared, think about leaving the site name off completely. Having the site name auto populate on a site like reddit or in a tweet is a dangerous situation. If the submitter doesn’t edit it out, it can work against you and hinder your success. If it comes up in a tweet and isn’t edited out, it can look pretentious. Anything you can do to make less work for the person who is sharing your content, decrease their ability to screw it up, and increase its chance of spreading is a good thing

Lastly, I’d like to bring up the subject of bad characters in the title that make it not look like English. I mentioned this to them on Twitter months ago and, to be honest, it would only take 5 minutes of programming time to fix, so I don’t feel bad calling them out in public at this point. GotSaga, you have great content that I want to share, bookmark and retweet. But the hyphens and plus characters between words make my tweets look stupid if I don’t edit them out manually. I’m lazy. Stop making it a harder than it has to be to share your stuff

Avoid using strange characters in your page titles

So what are the takeaways from this post:

  • Consider title length. Make sure you are under the length of search truncation.
  • Consider URL shorteners. Find the worst case scenario of shorteners popular with your users.
  • Consider the retweet–give 12-20 characters to be completely safe.
  • Consider omitting the site name on pieces with a high probability of being shared socially.
  • Eliminate special characters or funny characters from your titles.
  • Make it as simple as possible for people to submit an optimal title if they share your piece on any social network. Make it harder for them to screw it up as well.
  • Choosing between click enticing and keyword focus is more art than science. It’s a balancing act. Don’t kill your chances for social success by focusing on keywords, and don’t sacrifice your keywords by being overly sensational or witty.

photo credit: Navin75

 

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