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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

First things first on your web page

April 23rd, 2009 by mdmcginnis

Search engine optimizers believe that the first words that appear on a website will be given the most weight on search engines. Sometimes superstitiously so: I’ve seen questions on SEO forums asking if the order of the meta-keywords makes any difference in rankings, and others swearing that it does. (A better question might be whether meta-keywords make any difference at all, which is Nope. Still, I would put the most important, most unique keywords first, and the most general keywords last). But if your success on the Web depended on what Google thought about you, you might tend to get a little superstitious too.

Superstition or not, prioritizing your content is a good rule. Search engines do assume that if you give a keyword the prominent place at the top of your page, especially in your title, it must be important to you. They may not even pay as much attention to your whole page, if it’s very long, just the first part of it. How long is long depends on the search engine, and webmasters swear that it changes. But surely there is a limit. Search engines might display only the first 66 characters of a title, and may ignore the rest. Or they may not. They might display the first 150 characters of your meta-description, and ignore the rest. Or they may not. If you don’t discuss a topic until the end of a long web page, search engines might assume that it isn’t very important to you. Or they may not.

Putting the most important words first in your title has another benefit – it makes better bookmarks. If someone enthusiastically bookmarked a dozen pages from the College of Science, but all the titles began with “Texas A&M University, College of Science”, then all the resulting bookmarks might read “Texas A&M University, College of”, or “Texas A&M University, College of Science, Department of”. That leaves something lacking. Fortunately, the College of Science doesn’t do it that way, and their titles aren’t cut off.

For example, here’s how I would write a typical academic page title: “Page Name: Department Name: Texas A&M University”. Certainly “Texas A&M University” doesn’t need to go first, unless the page or department name is very generic, as in the case of the Texas A&M Foundation or the Texas A&M Facts page (though even that page could be called “Facts about Texas A&M University”). There are lots of web pages about Texas A&M – that’s what my team specializes in – but there are not as many pages about what you specialize in. So put the name of your topic first.

By the same token, try not to leave off “Texas A&M University” from the end of your departmental page titles. You have at least 66 characters to tell visitors what your page is about, and you want to use those characters to the fullest. If you run out of room, you might instead say “Texas A&M [department name]”. When I have extra room, I even add “College Station, Texas,” thereby hitting the popular generic keywords , “university”, “college” and “texas” (see, the name of our town is optimized for search!).

A title that merely says “About Us” or “Home” won’t mean much as a bookmark later. Imagine an enthusiastic college shopper with eight bookmarks that said “Apply Now” and twelve that said “Admissions”, trying to remember which school was which.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 Accessibility, Search
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