I was inspired to write this post after I read something on Google+ yesterday about SEO. It really got me thinking about the economics of SEO and more importantly, the value of publicly available SEO advice.
About 9 months ago I think- I was talking to my friend Kathleen Daniels- a fellow member of ActiveRain- and I expressed my frustration about a friend who I was giving free SEO advice to. I was ticked-off because he was taking my suggestions cafeteria style: liking and implementing some and ignoring others.
Kathleen said something that day that made perfect sense:
"Michael, if you give away something for free, it's not worth anything is it? If you charged him, you can bet he would take your advice."
That's right Kathleen!
90% of the SEO Tips Online Are Junk, Based on Simple Economics
My tactics are my intellectual capital. I could never give away my best SEO tactics- nobody can. If I give away my best stuff, then it becomes worthless as capital. Yet, in the effort to do better in the search engines, many of us try to read as much SEO nonsense as we can.
Enter the SEO blog.
Much of the online world has come together and has generally agreed on what "good SEO" is, and then they all do those same things. They all write about the same things... And so many of them spread misinformation. So many. Then like sheep, they are herded together and penalized. By a panda or a penguin.
It's weird; I know.
Yet, I'm Still Going to Give You Something Of Value!
You probably came here because I said "Yoast is wrong" in my title. Or maybe because I wrote "Moz is wrong." Don't worry-- I didn't make you suffer through my rant for nothing.
Here is what you need to understand about Google (and most people don't). It's just this simple:
Google is a database. You aren't actually searching the internet-- live, in real time-- you are searching the Google database. Like any database, it has "fields" to hold the data. Those fields have certain limitations. For example, when you search the MLS for a certain ZIP code, the IDX/MLS database only allows a certain number of characters in the zip code field. The MLS only allows for a certain number of characters in any field- because that's how databases work.
If you use Moz.com, and your page title is longer than 70 characters, it's qualified as an error and shows up in red on your dashboard. Moz says: "The visible portion of the title tag in the search results extends to 70 characters, after which it is truncated by the engines or replaced with other text from the page."
Yoast says (via his plugin) that: "Title display in search engines is limited to 70 characters."
Both are wrong.
Quick Sidebar: If you have a WordPress site, the only SEO plugin I recommend is Yoast WP. I think it's best and it's what I use for my clients. Install his plugin if you have a WP site. Also, I pay for Moz monthly and I recommend that you use Moz to help your SEO efforts as well. I just don't agree with either of them on the subject of titles. That is all.
Now back to it:
Google arranges titles on the page according to physical width. This means that you have about 485 pixels to display your page title. (I'm a database guy, not a designer. If you are a designer, feel free to chime in.)
Check this out:
This demonstrates the width theory. The page title above, that is displaying in Google- even though Yoast and Moz say that it won't display- is 86 characters.
Again, databases don't work in widths- but apparently Google displays in widths. That's a bit different than what Google stores, in the Google database, about your site. Way different. This time I showed 86 characters, but really, I think the max is around 105ish (in the display), based on my own experiments.
A real life example:
If I showed you an Excel spreadsheet with MLS listings, and I had the MLS number field shrunk down so that you could only see 4 numbers, would you believe me if I said:
"There's your proof! That's proof right there! MLS numbers only have four digits, because you can only see four!"
Silly, right? You'd just tell me to widen the field so you could see all of the digits. It's just as silly to think that Google stores your website information in fields based on width.
Here's an example in reverse:
Those are a bunch of fat capital W's- and there are only 33 of them. Again, this is a width issue.
This title is totally maxed out, in width only, at 33 characters.
If you believe the average SEO blog, then you believe that there are 70 characters in a page title. But we can see that there are as little as 33 (displayed) and as much as 86 (characters stored by Google). And again, I've gotten over 100 characters to display in Google and that means Google is storing at least 100 characters.
Let that sink in.
So what do you do with this information?
Here's the thing: I don't write this information so that the amateur SEO can "game" the system. Gaming the system usually harms your website. "Do not try this at home." But instead, I write this to illustrate a point and to get my readers to see beyond the copious amounts of SEO B.S. on the net.
After reading this you might decide:
1. To make all of your page titles as close to 100 characters as possible- Yoast and Moz be damned- and know that Google will index every single character of your 100 character title. However, I don't publicly endorse this idea. That's my disclaimer.
2. Do nothing- because something about this just doesn't feel right. After all, Yoast and Moz both say 70 characters, so be safe and do what everyone else does.
3. Be smart and test this out on a single page of your website, using real correlation- and ignore the SEO gurus. Here's an idea: Make those 16 additional characters a unique phrase that nobody would ever search for. Something like...
Homes for Sale in San Jose | Real Estate Agent with Listings in San Jose | Pickled Herring
Don't put the words pickled herring anywhere else on the page but the title. It will add exactly 18 characters to your title and be "truncated."
Get it? I'll let you figure out what you should do from here, to see if Google is indexing your pickled herring page...
That's real SEO folks. Understanding databases. Once you understand that, you will achieve Google-enlightenment. Good SEO starts with a very basic and common sense understanding of databases. If you understand how an MLS search works, you already have a basic understanding as to how Google works. It's not voodoo. It's about writing good property details so the home buyer finds the best listing for his or her needs.
Have a great day!