Correctly setting of metadata is crucial from an SEO perspective. While many SEO parameters are 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. When we talk about metadata for SEO, we mainly talk about the Page Title (this article) and Meta-descriptions. Some may say there's also Meta-keywords, but these are not used by search engines anymore. You may leave this field emprty, though it is still a part of Joomla. There are also some more advanced metadata, but these will be discussed in later chapters.
I will first discuss the main purposes and requirements of proper page titles and then discuss how to set it up in Joomla.
Page Title: Requirements
The title (often referred to as the page-title) is one of the most important items for SEO, some even say the most important one. To be on the same page: 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 it 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. The page title is a heavy ranking-parameter for Google, so make sure you use your keywords wisely here.
But also, you can 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).
One thing that you definitely need to avoid is making your page titles too long, otherwise you end up like this:
You see it gets broken off with .... Sometimes it's not that bad, but sometimes your keyword is hidden for users in Google. making sure the page title is below 60 characters usually keeps you safe. Note that on mobile, you may even have to go a bit shorter (50 or so). Note that this is no fixed requirement. Actually Google uses pixel-widths for this, and the character-count is just an avarage benchmark.
Page Title setup in Joomla
Without any further 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 an 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 just Home for the home page of your site. Imagine how that looks in Google...... Happily there are lots of ways to configure the page title. We will discuss these methods.
Use the Site name
You can configure the site name to be part of every page title, either appended or prepended (or not at all):
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. The downside of using this option is that it is a global option for all pages. That is why in most cases, I leave it to No and fully manually build my page titles.
Articles: 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 locate it, it is easy enough to use:
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:
Menu's: Use Page Display Option
It is possible to override the default page 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 many 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. They offer features like dashboard-overviews of metadata, counters in the fields for page titles (and metadescriptions), etcetera.
OSmeta: If you are looking for a nice dashboard overview, one of my favourites is OSmeta. In a full list, you can easily focus on your metadata and make bulk changes:
PWT SEO: If you need an extension that takes you by the hand and helps you to optimize your page titles (and the rest of the content / metadata), I can recommend PWT SEO. It tells you if the length of the page title is fine, whether it contains your keywords and generates a preview of how Google sees your site:
EFSEO: Finally, a really easy extension that works from the frontend of the site is Easy Frontend SEO. Nothing to explain, as it works so easy!
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 Ryte.com for this. It's free for one website (read my review of this service). For more sites, I personally also use Website Auditor by SEO Powersuite (desktop, free if you don not need to save projects).