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How to specify an SEO title or title tag in WordPress using the Yoast SEO plugin

7 min read | Last updated on

So, you’ve got yourself a shiny new SEO-friendly blog post or web page. And you’ve got your SEO particulars. But how do you specify your SEO title? And what on Earth is a title tag? Most platforms make it pretty simple to tell Google what your content’s title is, once you know how. Here’s how to specify your title tag or SEO title in WordPress using the Yoast SEO plugin.

Yoast SEO

Before I dive into the actual how-to, let’s first make sure you’ve got the right plugin.

Yoast SEO is one of many plugins you can use for this sort of thing. I use Yoast because it does a good job and it’s easy to use. The free version is fantastic and suitable for the needs of most small businesses. So if you haven’t already installed it, go ahead and do that. (I’m not affiliated with Yoast in any way and don’t get anything for recommending this product.)

What is an SEO title or title tag?

Ok, now let’s look at what this SEO element is and why it’s important. So, what is an SEO title or title tag? Your SEO title is the title that’s displayed when your page or blog post shows up in a search engine’s search results (on the search engine results pages or SERPs). It can be the same as the title of your page or blog post, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, often your SEO title will contain your brand name whereas the actual title of your piece of content won’t.

The SEO title is specified using an HTML element called a ‘title tag’. But you don’t need to know how to edit your site’s HTML to specify the title tag — that’s what Yoast is for.

The SEO title is an important part of your content’s SEO (that’s why it’s called an SEO title 😀) but it’s important for your potential readers too. The SEO title is what snares the attention of your target market when they see the entry for your article or page in the SERPs. It also tells the reader what your article or page is about. If you get the title wrong, either:

  • no one will click through to your content; or
  • people will click through and then find out the content isn’t what they were looking for and so they’ll go back and keep looking

Both consequences are pretty much the kiss of death for any piece of web content. So your SEO title really is just as important as the experts say.

*Phew!* That’s a lot of responsibility for one little 70-character phrase (yes, you did read that right — if your title tag is any longer, it’ll get truncated).

What makes a good SEO title?

As I alluded to above, writing a good SEO title is a bit complicated. To be effective, your SEO title needs to:

  • Be a maximum of 70 characters. Well technically, it needs to be a maximum of 600px wide but that works out to be about 70 characters depending on exactly which characters are used. (That’s because the width of English letters and other characters varies so the exact number of characters that fits within 600px varies too.)
  • Be a minimum of 50 characters. Ok, you could have an SEO title that consists of a single character, but it wouldn’t be very useful. The best SEO titles are between 50 and 70 characters long because you want to fit as much as you can into the 70 character word limit. If your title is less than 50 characters long, you can probably fit another keyword in the title. Yoast SEO will suggest you lengthen your title if it’s less than about 50 characters.
  • Hook the reader. If a search engine user reads your SEO title and, based on that, doesn’t think your article will be interesting, useful or relevant to their search, then that user won’t bother reading the article description let alone clicking through to read your article itself. The SEO title should grab your ideal reader by the eyeballs and convince them it’s worth their time to at least read the article description.
  • Be a good description of your content. If search users click on your SEO title and find that your content doesn’t meet their needs, they’ll quickly hit the ‘back’ button and search for another piece of content that does the trick. If this happens too much, your content’s ranking will plummet. So, while a hook is important, your SEO title still needs to be relevant.
  • Contain your primary SEO keyword. This helps Google figure out what your content is about. The keyword should be as close to the beginning of the SEO title as possible — but only if putting it there doesn’t detract from the search user’s reading experience.
  • Include your brand name. There’s some contention about this, but I’ve always held that you should include your brand name to help boost brand awareness (unless your brand name is really long and takes up too much title real estate). Apart from that, Google and other brands emphasise branded content, so it’s relevant from that perspective too.
  • Contain one or more secondary SEO keywords. If you’ve got room left in your SEO title, try to fit in one or more of your secondary SEO keywords to give your content an even bigger SEO boost. Just make sure you do this in a natural way.

Does that seem like a tall order? That’s probably because it is. Writing headlines is a delicate balance between art, science and instinct and writing really good ones can be really hard. (There’s a reason why some companies are able to make money just by writing headlines…)

But that’s why we have SEO writers 😀

How to change your SEO title or title tag using Yoast SEO

So how do you actually specify the SEO title? Well, WordPress generates a default SEO title that is the title of the post or page plus a separator plus your website’s title. Incidentally, you can use Yoast SEO to change your separator. Just go to ‘SEO’, ‘Search Appearance’ and the ‘General’ tab and choose the title separator you like best.

So, every blog post or webpage you create in WordPress will have an SEO title by default. Thus, technically, you don’t need to specify one.

But if you want to change the default SEO title (especially if your SEO writer has created a different SEO and post/page title), then here’s how you do it.

Total Time: 1 minute

Open your page or blog post.

Click on the Yoast SEO icon to open the SEO sidebar.

OR Scroll to the bottom of your content until you find the SEO section.

Open the snippet editor and locate the ‘SEO title’ field

Delete any of the snippet variables that you don’t want to keep and replace them with your desired SEO title.

The Yoast plugin will tell you if your SEO title is too long. (The red bar in the picture below indicates the title is too long. When the title is a good length, the bar turns green. If your title is short enough that Yoast thinks you’re wasting valuable title real estate, the bar will turn orange.) If you’ve been provided with an SEO title by an SEO writer, make sure you use the exact title they’ve specified if you want to get the full benefits of their expertise.

Save your page (or publish it if you’re ready to publish it).

Yoast SEO will then turn your SEO title into a title tag and add it to your page/post’s HTML code.

And that’s it. Pretty easy right?

Additional reading

Your other SEO particulars are also important when you’re trying to improve a piece of content’s position in the SERPs. You can use the Yoast SEO plugin to specify these SEO particulars too. If you need some help, check out these articles:


Dr Kelly Wade

Hi! I’m a full-funnel marketing specialist and my mission is to build a better tomorrow by helping organisations that solve crucial problems, efficiently generate sustainable growth with strategic marketing assets that attract, nurture, convert and retain the target market.

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