This is a tough one. I have a habit of trying to fit as much into a title tag as possible. I try to keep it below 12 words as a general guideline, but I know there is a difference between a short 12-word title, such as “Dine in – fast food fair for people who eat on the go” (53 characters) and a long 12-word title, such as “California pipeline producers – environmentally sensitive petroleum infrastructure for transporting energy internationally” (OK, so it’s just 11 words, but it’s 122 characters).
In addition to being the most valuable real estate on a web page, the title tag is also used by many other websites to link to your page. So someone linking to the pipeline site, might use “California pipeline producers – environmentally sensitive petroleum infrastructure for transporting energy internationally” as the link text.
A new study suggests that Google reads only the first 55 characters of link text, which means that in the above example it would read only “California pipeline producers – environmentally sensiti”. If you had to target such ridiculously long words for your search market, that would totally suck. But it does speak to the importance of placing your most important keywords at the beginning of your title tag. This is where so many websites that put a corporate name of even their domain name at the beginning miss the mark. It also means trying to keep words like “the” and “and” out of those first 55 characters.
A couple caveats: Google could at any time change this to 50 characters. Or 60. Or 600. Or 10, for that matter. So don’t get stuck on the number 55, but focus on the principle. Yahoo and MSN will have their own limits, too, so don’t stop at 55 if you have something that might get picked up by someone else. And, of course, the title tag is not primarily about link text, is it?
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