Is Your Website Headstrong?

Originally published at “” in June, 2007.

Headstrong often carries a negative meaning, such as someone who is disobedient, determined to get their way. Well, if you want to obtain top rankings and want to drive quality visitor traffic to your site, headstrong might be a good thing.

By headstrong though, I’m not advocating being disobedient, turning to unsavory methods and tactics. To be fair, what I’m really talking about might be better described as head strong.

The head section of a web page may best be described as a behind-the-scenes worker; sort of the administrator of your page. Yet for being behind-the-scenes, it carries a lot of weight and does make some cameo, celebrity appearances.

The head section generally makes up a rather small percentage of the entire page, but the various elements of the head section can easily command whole discussions on their own. Rather than trying to detail each of these, I’d rather touch on some absolute key areas that are, alarmingly, often still missed today.

What’s In a Title

Well, just like books have succeeded or failed almost on their titles alone, so too have web pages. There are a lot of opinions in the SEO world as to the importance and impact various elements play into the success of web pages from a search marketing point of view … but rarely when it comes to the title tag.

If there was one universally accepted fact, it would probably have to be the importance of the title tag. This quiet little tag may well be the most important element when it comes to the ranking of your website.

The text within the title tag appears in the top chrome area of the browser window, which is often an area that many users may not even notice. It also is the default text used when a visitor creates a bookmark or adds to their favorites. So why is the tag so critically important?

The title text is a key element used by search engines to determine the topic of the page, and therefore carries a tremendous, if not the most weight, in determining the ranking of a page in search results. The title is also the main bolded text used as the title of each search result listing, so it not only carries ranking weight, but also has strong user value.

Based on this, here are some basic key points to keep in mind regarding your page titles:

  • Keep them unique (don’t duplicate) and topically relevant to your page.
  • Avoid extraneous text as much as possible. Use your most important keywords toward the beginning.
  • Because there is a general limit of around 65 characters for display in the SERPs, if you exceed this limit, at least aim at getting your most important terms within this limit and if possible, make it a complete message on its own.

Beyond Description

The meta description tag carries a lot of importance, just not necessarily for the reasons that many might think. Unlike the title tag, the information contained within this tag does not show up any place on the page or in the browser. Because of this and the impact it used to have for ranking, this tag was open for abuse through keyword stuffing.

The value of this tag for ranking is debatable, but most would agree that whatever value it does have, is dramatically less than it may have once been. We also must remember that search engines have advanced considerably in their abilities to spider and index page content. They’re much more capable of determining what a page is about all on their own, based on what the page is about, not what we try to tell them it is about.

But the description is still very important and its value goes beyond just being a description. Where the description is often seen is in the search results, as the description or what is often referred to as the snippet. Because of this, the description acts like a little ad of sales copy to reach out, grab and intrigue the searcher to get them to click through to your site.

If the search words don’t appear in the description, the search engines may opt to pull text out of the body of the page near where the search words appear. Also, if your site is listed in the DMOZ directory, then the search engines may use that description, and if you are listed in the Yahoo! directory, Yahoo! specifically may use that description.

Here are a few key points about descriptions:

  • Gently incorporate your keywords sparingly, not for dramatic ranking influence but because these words will get bolded for searches and may draw the searcher’s attention.
  • As hinted at above, don’t keyword stuff, cram, load, or otherwise.
  • Length here is similar to the title in that about 165 or so characters will generally be displayed but you can extend past this to 256 or so. Make sure your most important, ideal text is covered within the first 165 characters though. Whatever value in ranking the description does have, this extra text may carry through for that, or if the search engine pulls text from the description midway through.

As mentioned, in specific cases based on listings in DMOZ or Yahoo! directories, those descriptions may be used instead of the description you have chosen, which also means that the same description may be used on every page. This of course is probably not ideal, so there are meta tags that you can include to instruct that these descriptions not be used.

To do this, just add this meta tag:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noodp, noydir”>

Final Words

The meta keywords tag serves very little value today. Because the content of this tag doesn’t show up in the page, the browser or even in search results, it was highly abused, even more than the description tag. Yahoo! and Ask are the only major search engines that even appear to give any attention at all to this tag, and there is very little evidence that this tag plays any role at all in ranking. Based on the ease of abuse, this of course makes sense.

So some include this tag today just in case it plays any value, and others use it as a simple means to help keep track of what keywords are being targeted on the page. There is probably no real harm in this approach, although as some competitors may use this tag to determine what words you are targeting (of course this can often be determined anyway), you may be giving away more information than the value you receive.

One word of caution is that there may be some negative impact by using keywords that do not show up within the page. More than likely though, this tag is probably completely ignored by most engines and won᾿t have much impact, positive or negative.

This was really just a brief overview, highlighting some of the most important aspects of these elements and the head section of your web pages. Far greater detail and strategies can be discussed, but seeing how often these are still implemented poorly, incorrectly, or not at all (at the time of this writing, Google shows 14.9 million pages with “Untitled Document,” the default page title used by most website creation software tools), sometimes it is good to keep it simple.

This may all seem a bit basic, but if you haven’t given much attention to these elements, you may be amazed at how much impact they may have on your search rankings and in delivering more visitors to you site. The last point to keep in mind is that all of these page elements, just like the page content itself, should be made for your visitors first and foremost.