Do shorter or longer titles bring you better rankings and traffic?
Which title do you think is more likely to result in better rankings and traffic –
<title>Keep Your Titles Short</title>
<title>Make Your Titles Long Because Google May Use All The Words For Ranking Purposes. In Fact, Google Will Simply Rewrite Longer Titles, So It Really Doesn’t Matter</title>
The answer isn’t simple. Not only are titles a confirmed Google ranking factor, but they also influence how many people click on your web results in Google search.
In this article, we’ll explore how meta title length plays into your title’s overall effectiveness. Specifically:
- How much of your title will Google display?
- How long of a title will Google index and use for ranking purposes?
- How often will Google rewrite your titles based on length?
- Most importantly, does title length impact rankings and traffic?
Additionally, we’ll cover four best practices for title length to follow, based on your circumstances.
How Much of Your Title Will Google Display?
Much has been written about Google’s display limit of titles. The most common answer you’ll find on the internet is Google’s desktop display limit is 600 pixels, which typically equals about 50-60 characters.
But the 600-pixel guideline can be misleading for many reasons:
- Over 60% of Google search traffic is mobile, not desktop
- Mobile search has longer and more varied title lengths, depending on the user’s device
- Even on desktop, the display limit isn’t always 650 pixels
- Google changes this limit with some frequency
Consider the graphic below, in which we measure 4 different pixel lengths for the same URL using different devices and search queries.
While we don’t know the exact upper limit, we’ve seen Google display titles up to nearly 1000 pixels in length on different devices.
The problem comes when your titles exceed the display limit of the user’s device, Google will only show part of the title in order to make it fit.
So even though the evidence suggests that the 600-pixel limit is somewhat arbitrary, there is one very valid reason to keep your titles beneath this limit: it helps guarantee Google won’t truncate (shorten) your title with ellipses…
Takeaway #1: Keeping your title beneath 600 pixels is the best to ensure Google displays your entire title. In fact, this is the number one way practice to prevent Google from rewriting your title tags.
How Much Of Your Title Will Google Use For Ranking Purposes?
First things first: Google defines no limit as to how long your title can be. In fact, they say they actually have a limit, but it’s really, really large.
Experiments have shown Google indexing titles over 1000 characters.
This is important because we know Google uses keywords found in your title tag for ranking purposes. This means even if Google doesn’t display your exact title in search results, they can still use the words found in your title to rank your website.
Does this mean you should add additional relevant keywords to your title, making it extra long?
Within the strange science of Natural Language Processing (NLP), shorter fragments of text may, in some cases, be easier to understand than longer titles, while extra words can sometimes add ambiguity.
So no magic bullet. We also looked at how title length might impact rankings and traffic (we’ll get to that in a minute) but for now, simply know that Google doesn’t care and will process however long of a title you give it – to a point.
Takeaway #2: There is no penalty for long title tags. In fact, Google will index the keywords in your title even if it’s really long.
How Does Length Impact Google Rewriting?
If your title is too long, we know Google will shorten or rewrite it to fit within its results, often by showing ellipses at the end, like this…
To understand how often this happened and to find out if title length influenced Google rewriting titles in other ways, we recently conducted a study of 81,000 title tags in Google search results.
The data revealed that not only does Google rewrite long titles 100% of the time, but they also rewrite extremely short titles with almost the same frequency.
Google rewrote extremely short titles (those between 1-5 characters long) over 96% of the time. Typically they did this by adding more words to make the title longer.
Medium-length title tags had the smallest chance of being rewritten by Google. Meta titles 51-55 characters in length were rewritten only around 40% of the time.
On the other end of the spectrum, title tags over 70 characters were rewritten nearly 100% of the time, as no title can go over Google’s 650 desktop display limit.
Keep in mind that because Google display limits are longer on mobile, you can expect mobile titles to be rewritten with much less frequency. In fact, it’s entirely possible for Google to display completely different titles on mobile and desktop devices, sometimes with slightly different meanings.
Takeaway #3: If you want to reduce the chance of Google rewriting your title, your best bet is to target 51-55 characters. If your visitors primarily come from mobile, you can typically use longer—but not shorter—titles than this before Google starts rewriting.
Does Title Tag Length Impact Traffic?
All this is good and fine, but what we really want to know is: does title length have any measurable impact on rankings and traffic?
In fact, as SEOs, we have several studies available that do, in fact, show a clear and convincing relationship between title length and overall traffic.
While the evidence is compelling, none of the studies we looked at—including our own—can prove actual cause and effect.
For example, a Backlinko study of 5 million Google search results showed that titles between 15-40 characters earned a much higher click-through rate than longer or shorter titles. The difference was significant too, with titles in the “sweet spot” seeing earning close to 36% more clicks than those outside the range.
But a higher CTR for specific queries doesn’t necessarily mean more traffic overall, as it’s possible, in theory, for longer titles to rank for more queries overall.
Another study by the Etsy Engineering team decided to look at how title length impacted overall traffic instead of CTR. Testing 1000s of pages using a strict scientific protocol, they found that shorter title tag variants performed better by earning more clicks overall than longer titles.
Their theory as to why this happens is that shorter titles using focused keywords tend to be more “tightly relevant” (paraphrasing) to the user’s search query.
Finally, we took a look at our own dataset of a quarter-million URLs to see if we could find any relationship between title length and overall traffic.
The results show a clear trend:
- Traffic was highest for URLs with a title length of around 55-60 characters in length
- Short titles had the lowest traffic overall
- Long titles had more traffic than short titles, but not as much as medium-length titles
Now, several reasons to take this data with a grain of salt:
- The data is quite noisy. We threw out outliers by focusing on URLs in the 75% percentile.
- Even though we examined over a quarter million URLs, Google serves billions of search results per day. We realized quite quickly that we would need a substantially larger dataset to make predictions with any accuracy.
- This study shows no cause and effect. The URLs with the highest traffic also were the most common. It’s quite possible that savvy marketers are optimizing titles to these lengths on purpose.
Takeaway #4: Every known SEO study to date shows a relationship between short-to-medium titles and higher traffic. While cause and effect aren’t clearly understood and the optimal length isn’t 100% clear, the evidence suggests keeping your titles between 50-60 characters max.
How to check your meta title length?
Fortunately, many SEO tools will automatically calculate title tag length for you. Zyppy will warn you if your titles exceed 600 pixels.
Other preferred options for checking title tag pixel length include:
- Paid: Screaming Frog will calculate the pixel length of all titles found in a crawl, which you can easily export.
- Free: Both Paul Shapiro’s Search Wilderness and Climb Marketing offer bulk title tag pixel counters
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