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Are there any best practices for choosing the title of web pages? There are a lot of resources online oriented toward SEO, but not toward users.

My impression is that most sites have something similar to Product - Page. But there are cases when switching this around is more useful. For example, if mail clients displayed the title like this:

Inbox (3) - Gmail

Instead of:

Gmail - Inbox (3)

You would be able to see the message count, even if the title was cut off. (I'm pretty sure Gmail used to do this).

I assume the title is mostly ignored by users except when:

  • using boorkmarks
  • finding the right tab in the browser

What are the considerations for users when choosing a web page title? Are there different considerations for the home page, pages behind a login, etc?

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Arg, we had this discussion in an HCI course but I can't recall any research. Basically you're deciding between brand (Gmail) and scannability (I can see I'm in my Inbox) –  Ben Brocka Apr 6 '12 at 16:34
Excellent question! Also, is there distinctions between single-page apps vs. traditionally paged sites? There's also the question of all the places the title might be consumed - in bookmark lists, for instance - not just the primary browser-tab experience. –  peteorpeter Apr 6 '12 at 16:35
@BenBrocka Actually, I would argue that you're not necessarily making a design decision between two mutually-exclusive states thanks to the favicon: I never look for "GMail", I look for the red envelope. –  msanford Apr 6 '12 at 20:38
@msanford yeah, the favicon is the ideal way to recognize the site name, which is why I've never been a fan of leaving the brand first –  Ben Brocka Apr 6 '12 at 20:46

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Aside from cases like the Gmail example you mentioned (where the title tag contains topical info) there's less of a gulf between user requirements and SEO requirements than your question suggests, but this presents a potential tradeoff situation.

If we're just talking about webpages (not web apps like Gmail), it's recognized and agreed that title tag (specifically the beginning of the tag) is the most important element for communicating the purpose or meaning of the page to search agents.

So we've ended up with title tags that, when optimized, look like:

Mens Oxford Shirts | Shirts.com

Dentist Portland OR | LocalDentistSite.com

These title tags communicate the page content to human readers just as readily as to search engine crawlers and this is corroborated by the fact that these keyphrases are based on what users are actually searching for most often.

This does have the unfortunate consequence that if you do want leverage the title tag as a granular navigational aid or a method for displaying system info, you run the risk of making your page less relevant to search queries that bring valuable organic traffic.

Of course, when your pages are behind logins (or not indexable) this is much less of a issue, and you have more freedom to play around.

On public facing pages at least, it boils down to a clash of (UX and SEO) goals, and the solution depends on which you deem to be more important for a given page or set of pages.

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I think with the advances in search engines/algorithms, having the site name in every page title is not as relevant as having an accurate page title.

I tend to think of a tabbed view, and what snippet of information will be shown in each tab.

Do I really add anything showing the site name over and over? To the user, probably not...

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Perhaps not in what is shown on the tab itself, but upon hovering it is rather useful. Right now I see "html - How should a w" on my tab bar. Hovering reveals more pertinent information: "html - How should a website's title be structured? - User Experience - Stack Exchange". –  MetalFrog Apr 9 '12 at 19:00

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