Correctly setting of metadata is crucial from an SEO perspective. While many SEO parameters are also simply visible for your users (like headings, URL's, links, etcera), metadata are a bit hidden under the hood of your site, only visible in the HTML code view. Metadata are actually meant to pass on information directly to search engines, users do not directly need access to it (indirectly they will though). When we talk about metadata for SEO, we mainly distinguish the following 3:
- Page Title (this article)
- Meta-description, next article
- Meta-keywords: not used by search engines anymore, though filling in a few is no problem if you really prefer
Page Title: unique for every page (max 60 chars)
The title (often referred to as the page-title) is one of the most important items for SEO, maybe even the most important one. It is not the headline as displayed on a page, but it is only visible in code-view as the <title> tag:
<title>Meta title or page title: crucial for SEO and CTR</title>
On your site, you can only 'see' it in the browser-tab when you are on the site:
However, Google and other search engines actively use it to display as the main title in their search results, as you can see in this snippet:
Note that if your set page title is irrelevant, Google will sometimes replace it with something more meaningful. So, besides being a crucial parameter for Google, you can also use it heavily to influence users: attractive page titles make it more appealng for users to click on them. Just check an example with 2 options for a page title, both with correct use of keywords:
- Welcome to Brothers Plumbing of Sequim, Washington
- Have plumbing issues? Call now, immediate assistance
From a pure technical SEO perspective, there is hardly any difference, but if you see these 2 listed as the top 2, which one would you click if your kitchen is flooded? I have often seen Click Through Rates that improved 10-20% by simply rewriting a page title. Spending time on them is crucial, especially since user behaviour is nowadays used as a ranking signal (see this blogpost by MOZ).
Page Title setup in Joomla
Without any configuration, the page title is pulled from the title of the Joomla article for single articles (if shown in a blog) or the menu-title (if the article is attached to a menu-item as a single article: this difference is very important to note). As menu-item-titles are typically very short, this can have unwanted effects: as an example: it could result in a page title of Home for the home page of your site if not changed....... Happily there are lots of ways to configure the title. We will discuss these methods.
Important: Make sure the title does not become too long. After around 60 characters, it may be broken off when viewed in the search results pages for Google, and on mobile even less characters are available.
Use the Site name
As explained in the article about SEF URLs you can configure the site name to be part of every page, either before or after. If the site name contains your keyword, it could be wise to include it, but there are no hard rules which option is best, it really depends on your situation. So, image your Site Name is Some Brand Name and you set it to prepend, the page title for the Home menu-item now becomes Some Brand Name - Home. Still not perfect, but a lot better.
Use the Browser Page Title field
In Joomla 3.7 a new field was added that makes setting page titles a lot easier. It is the Browser Page Title field and you can find it at the bottom of the Options tab inside your articles. It is a bit hidden and I think the Publishing tab would be a better location, but still, once you located it, it is extremely useful:
Note that this field only applies to articles inside views of the type blog, list, featured, etcetera. If an article is directly attached to a menu-item as a single article, the values set in the menu-item override it. No problem, because also in the menu-item, you can set a page title:
Use Page Display Option
It is possible to override the title using the Page Display Options in the advanced options of menu-items:
Using this option, you have full control about your titles. It is a little more work, but the result could be very beneficial. On most sites, this is the best place to set a correct title. Again, taking the example of our homepage, if we change the browser page title to something like Quality SEO services, the page title now becomes Some Brand Name -Quality SEO services. Remember, the Site Name still gets appended. Now we finally have a perfect page title!
Use a Joomla extension
There are Joomla extensions that can help you to set up your titles. A famous SEF extension (SEF = Search Engine Friendly) is SH404SEF. It has a panel where you can easily see all your titles in one overview. Using this extension, you have a very user-friendly overview where you can easily manage your titles without having to go to the hidden away options in the menu manager:
It also tells you how many characters are left for an optimal length of the meta-title and meta-description. Unfortunately, SH404SEF is not really suited for beginners, as it has many options on board that can confuse users. An alternative that is much easier to use and highly recommended is OSmeta.
Pro-tip: It is always wise to perform an SEO audit that also scans whether your page titles are indeed set-up correctly. I can highly recommend Onpage.org for this. It's free for one website (read my review of this service).