Testing Keyword Use in Title Tag as a Google Ranking Factor

This is the second part of a three-part tutorial that examines and verifies ranking factors for the Google search engine. If you want to make sure that your SEO efforts for your web site will be meaningful and give it greater visibility in the most popular search engine, keep reading.

In the first part, we verified several important link-related factors. These included keyword-focused anchor text in backlinks and link popularity (quantity/quality of links) as well as the diversity of link sources.

It has been shown that a high quantity of links alone cannot help your site earn higher rankings in Google. You need to have both a high “quantity” (amount of links from unique sources) and high “quality” (presence of targeted keywords in the anchor text) of links in order to have a substantial impact on your site’s Google rankings.

In this part, we will discuss “keyword use anywhere in the title tag” as one of the important ranking factors pointed out and discussed by SEO experts. According to these experts, this is the most important on-page (keyword specific) ranking factor.

{mospagebreak title=Keyword Use Anywhere in the Title Tag}

It was in 2008 and early 2009 that keywords used in the title tag became the most important ranking factor. But recent results on a search engine ranking factors survey by SEOMoz rated keyword use in the title tag below the use of keywords in the inbound link anchor text. The actual verification of keyword use in anchor text reveals that its importance level is 87%, as analyzed in the first part.

Let’s analyze and verify the importance of keywords used in the title tag. To do this we will use the following method:

Step 1: Select two competitive, two- or three-word key phrases with a high volume of search engine traffic.


Selected keywords:

1. Best mobile phone deals

2. Car insurance quotes

Step 2: Gather title tag data for the competitive keyword for the top and bottom search result positions (position 1, position 5, position 10, position 300, position 400 and position 500 in Google’s search engine results).

Step 3: For the purpose of this factor with respect to the search query, we will devise our own rating system that is logical and acceptable. For example, if the targeted search term is “car insurance quotes” and the title tag used by the position 1 result is: “Auto Insurance Quote: Car & Motorcycle Insurance – Progressive,” all keywords are included in the title tag. This means you can find the key words “car,” "insurance" and "quotes" in the title tag.

Since the targeted search term is a three-word key phrase, we can rate the keyword presence with the following equation:

Keyword presence in title tag (%) = (Number of words in the title tag that match with each of the words in the targeted search term) / (Total number of words in the search query).

% Keyword presence = 3/3 = 100%

Let’s consider an example to see the equation in action. Say your targeted term is “best mobile phone deals,” and one of the title tags of the ranking pages uses the title: “Cell Phones and Services and Cell Phone Ratings”

Analysis of the title tag:

Best = 0 occurrence

Mobile = 0 occurrence

Phone = 1 occurrence (actually there are two occurrences (plural/singular) but since we are interested on a single presence, this will count only once).

Deals = 0

Therefore the % keyword presence of this title tag with respect to the targeted search term will be:

% Keyword presence = ΒΌ = 25% (only one word in the title tag that matches with the targeted search term).

{mospagebreak title=Keyword Proximity and Prominence in Title Tags}

Step 4: Assess the keyword proximity in the title tag. Of course, it might appear more relevant that you can find an exact match of a search query in the title tag. Here is an example of how we might quantify keyword proximity in the title tag:

Targeted search term: Car insurance quotes

Title tag: Auto Insurance Quote: Car & Motorcycle Insurance – Progressive

Of course you cannot find an exact match of the targeted search term right there in the title tag, but “insurance quote” (bolded above) might contribute some to the relevancy score. Since “car insurance quotes” is a three-word key phrase, and we found an exact match (only part of the targeted term) for “insurance quote,” The keyword proximity score will be:

% Keyword proximity = 2/3 = 67%

Let’s look at another example. In this case, our targeted search term is "best mobile phone deals."

Title tag: Buy now 65% off: Best mobile phone deals

In the above example, the keyword proximity is 100%, since the entire targeted key phrase is found in the title tag.

Step 5: The last factor to be assessed in the title tag is the keyword prominence. This factor is described by SEOMoz as “Keyword Use as the First Word(s) of the Title Tag”

For example:

Title tag: Best Cell Phone Deals, Coupons

Targeted Search Term: Best Mobile Phone Deals

The breakdown of the targeted terms and its location in the title tag is as follows:

Best = 1 (because the word “best” is the first word in the title tag)

Mobile = 5 (because the word “mobile” is not found in the title tag, it will be rated at 5, the maximum)

Phone = 3 (because the word “phone” is the third word in the title tag)

Deals = 4 (fourth word in the title tag)

The title tag consists of five words, so the % will be as follows:

Best = 1/5 = 20%

Mobile = 5/5= 100%

Phone = 3/5 = 60%

Deals = 4/5 = 80%

The average of the percentage values is 60%. The higher this value, the farther the words are from the left (first word in the title). To get the rating, we will subtract:

Keyword prominence rating in title tag = 1- 60% = 40%

The rating is now sensible, since the higher this value, the closer the words consisting of the targeted search term are to the first word in the title. Thus, the better will be the keyword prominence.

{mospagebreak title=Computing the Overall Relevance Rating}

Step 6: Compute the overall rating that assesses the keyword presence in the title. Here is the equation: 

Overall rating (keyword use anywhere in title tag) = Keyword presence in title tag x Keyword proximity x Keyword Prominence

A high rating means that the exact match is found in the title tag, and that it is prominent.

The hypothesis for this test is as follows: the overall rating of keyword use in the title tag should appear significantly higher for the web sites with top rankings in Google when compared to the ones near the bottom. If this is not true, then it may mean the importance of the factor decreases as compared with other, more important relevance signals, like anchor text.

Below you’ll see the data gathered using the targeted key phrase “car insurance quotes” and “best mobile phone deals” for the top and bottom Google search results:


This result shows that there is a “weak” relationship between the keywords in title tag overall rating with respect to Google search engine results positions.



Explanation of this result: the trend appears consistent (a decreasing rating from the top to the bottom of Google’s results) but weak. The 66% importance rating given by SEOMoz might appear to be higher than the actuality. From my own perspective, even though results say it is no longer a powerful ranking factor “alone,” unlike the presence of keywords in anchor text, accurate and descriptive title tags could still help the user or website visitors. So I still value this factor from the user’s point of view and include it in my checklist.

I took a quick look at intensely competitive keywords like “computers” and was surprised to see that three of the top ten results Google do not use the exact word "computers" in the title tag.

They do use keywords in title tag, though. Google knows these highly authoritative and trusted websites in the field of computing: sony.com, acer.com and ibm.com

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