Meta Tags, Page Titles and Permalinks: they aren’t the same. Their jobs have subtle differences. One-size-fits-all works, but like clothes this strategy is more easy for the manufacturer than easy on the eye.
What Are Title Tags, Page Titles and Permalinks?
Where are Title Tags, Page Titles and Permalinks?
The first thing to keep in mind is that each of these elements do a different task and are found in a different place of your website. They are also found in different places in the software you use to add content to your website, such as WordPress, SquareSpace, Shopify and other systems.
Page Titles (aka H1)
Where is the Page Title?
Every page should have a visible Page Title. The Page Title for this page is “Strategic Use of Meta Title Tags, Page Titles and Permalinks”. The Page Title for this page is shown at the asterisk* in the image below.
What is a Page Title?
Every page should have a visible Page Title that is different from all other pages. Google wants it to be different from all other pages, but the fact that it helps the viewer understand the information on each page is more important. Different Page Titles are also important for ADA compliance. It helps folks who use screen readers understand the context of the page.
The problem with talking to geeks is that they often call these “H1 tags”. In the code, they are H1 tags, but to the viewer, they are the Page Title. The home page on a website has a general Page Title, the Site Title, which is the topic for the whole site.
Title Tags (aka Meta Titles)
Title Tags are a little more difficult to see and understand because, unlike Page Titles, they don’t actually show up on a web page. The reason it doesn’t show on the page is that whatever you put in the <title> is meant for your browser, search engine and other software to use. Those pieces of software use it to make their services work. For example, your browser uses title tags to identify the pages in the tabs across the top of the screen. Search engines also use title tags as the link in your listing.
Title tags are a web page element that is part of the code on the top of each page in an area that doesn’t show. This area of code is called the “head” (<head></head>). The area that is directly seen and used by the human viewers is called the “body” (<body><body>). The head often has hundreds of lines of code. One of the lines of code in that area is the <title></title>.
What are Permalinks?
“Permalink” is a name that is specific to WordPress, but the basic principle applies to most web development. It refers to the address of a page being turned into user-friendly text, instead of a database query. The address for this page that you should see in your browser address bar is https://montanawebmaster.com/social-media/strategic-use-of-meta-title-tags-page-titles-and-permalinks/. This is not the “real” address. It is the permalink address.
The WordPress software takes the title of the page and turns it into the “address” with the permalink coding. In fact, WordPress offers a number of settings to allow you to decide how you want your addresses to show.
- In your WordPress dashboard, go to Settings -> Permalinks.
Note that sometimes, plugins may have their own Settings item in the menu. Here, it is the Settings that generally shows under the Tools item.
- The screenshot above shows that I have used a Custom Structure that picks up the category and the post title.
- The first option “Plain” is the default address. It has what is called a query string – ?p=123. That example tells the software to ask the database for post number 123. Every time a viewer clicks a link that goes to a post, that is how the link shows, unless permalinks are set.
Other technologies have the same function available. One technology calls them “Pretty URLs”; another calls them “Clean URLs”; and sometimes people call them “Friendly URLs”. Most likely, your website platform has a way to manage them, but you may have to do some hunting.
Strategies for Page Titles, Title Tags and Permalinks
Although you can make them all the same, there are marketing and usage reasons to write different Page Titles, Title Tags and Permalinks, if you have the time to do it. The key consideration is what information is helpful to a viewer at the moment that element comes into use.
Strategies for Page Titles
When viewers see your Page Title, they are already on your site and on a particular page. They may have gotten there through a link, or through a search engine, or even typed the address from something written down. In any case, they have already chosen to be there on your site. The Page Title has several uses. First, it lets viewers know that they are on the right page. For that reason, your Page Title should be something that communicates the topic of the page very clearly.
This is not a good place for cute titles. It’s different from a magazine. When someone has spent $$$ to buy a magazine, they are more likely to read it. In the case of a website, the back button is very easy to use, if they don’t feel the page will deliver.
Also, the search engines use your Page Title as keywords that are important to that topic. If I had used “How to Optimize your Web Pages” for a title, the title would have been relevant, but not as specific. There is more competition for the general topic of optimizing your web pages than there is for the specific words Page Title, Meta Title or Permalink.
Strategies for Meta Titles
Because your Meta Titles are used in two very different types of location, this one is a little more complicated.
First, the Meta Title is used by the search engines and other software to identify the content of a web page. That means that your Meta Title should use keywords for the purpose of cataloging and searching.
Second, the Meta Title is used by humans who see it as the link in search results and the text in tabs in their browser. A tab only shows a few words, so the first few words are important.
Many web software systems pick up the visible title of the page as the Meta Title by default. This is another reason why your titles should clearly state what the page is about and avoid cuteness and gimmicks.