Putting the Cart Before the Horse

June 29, 2007 Posted by Tyler Cruz

The idiom “…putting the horse in front of the carriage” may have a negative tone in most instances, but may not be so in the case of SEO (search engine optimization).

 A couple days ago, while I was writing my previous post TylerReviews – Batch #13, I came across one of the reviews of my blog which gave me a couple suggestions on how to improve it. Derek Beau, the author of the blog and review, suggested that I “install the WordPress plugins Optimal Title or All In One SEO Pack” so that my blog titles appear before the blog name in the <title> tag.  He mentioned that this was “not only a search engine issue, but also a usability issue. ”

He’s referring to using: “Goodbye Urchin, Hello Analytics! | TylerCruz.com: An Internet Entrepreneur’s Journey” as opposed to “TylerCruz.com: An Internet Entrepreneur’s Journey | Goodbye Urchin, Hello Analytics!”

I know next to nothing about SEO, but am slowly learning through tidbits I read about here and there. I have never heard about how the order in a title tag can affect SEO before, and so before just running off and installing the plugin, I had to do my long and labourous infamous research first… here is what I found out:

In short, Mr.Beau appears to be correct. According to my research, putting phrases at the beginning of the <title> tag and the actual title or name of the blog at the end, is beneficial not only to SEO, but usability as well. Here are some of the “facts” I found to back this assumption up. 

1. The popular web guru blogs JohnChow.ca, Shoemoney.com, and WebPublishingBlog.com all put the phrases in front. Even Aaron Wall, the SEOBook man himself (I really need to read that one day) does it. I also checked my own site PublisherSpot.com, which does this. I spoke to my programmer who coded the site for me and knows a scary amount of SEO, and he confirmed that the phrases in front was better for SEO, which is why PublisherSpot already has this implemented. One notible blog I found that didn’t do this was MattCutts.com; however, this could very well be to laziness, as he admitted, even after writing his post on canonical URLs that he didn’t set 301-redirects on his own site for experimental and testing purposes, but also because he was just lazy…

2.  A snippet from a SEO site:

“Placing a keyword phrase at the start of the title tag allows it to be seen better by the search engines. Look at the following examples:

  • ABCDEF Electrical – Hi-Fi Systems
  • Hi-Fi Systems – ABCDEF Electrical

Both of these two examples are acceptable to human eyes but in the eyes of the search engines the second is see as more relevant if ‘Hi-Fi Systems’ is searched for because it appears at the start of the title. Generally it is best to place company name or the name of website to the end of your title tag.”

3.  A snippet from Dive into Accessibility:

Who benefits?

  1. Jackie benefits. JAWS has a special keyboard shortcut (INSERT + F10) which displays (and reads) a list of the currently open windows, by window title. In the case of web pages, this would be your page title. It also reads the window title while ALT-TABbing through open windows. Other screen readers, like Home Page Reader, read the page title out load as soon as you visit the page.
  2. Marcus benefits. Lynx displays the page title in the first line of output, so it’s always the first thing that Marcus reads in Braille.
  3. Bill benefits. Because of his stroke, he sometimes gets confused and momentarily loses track of what he’s reading. The page title in the window titlebar acts as a visual anchor; it stays in the same place, even as he scrolls the page. He can always glance back to it to jog his memory.
  4. Google benefits. Google displays the page title in its search results, and it ranks keywords higher when they appear in the page title. This is a Good Thing for you, especially for those individual entry pages. (Choosing good entry titles doesn’t hurt either.)

So, after confirming that this SEO myth was more fact than fiction, I proceeded to download and install the plugin which was suggested to me and which brought forth all the research.

I’m now using the plugin “Optimal Title“, and would recommend it, of course. Here is a description of the plugin taken from their website:

“Optimal Title is a WordPress plugin that mirrors the function of wp_title() exactly, but moves the position of the ‘separator’ to after the title rather than before. This allows you to have your blog name tacked on to the end of the page title instead of having it appear first.

Having your page information appear before your blog name in the title is advantageous because it provides more meaningful search engine results and browser bookmark names. The text that appears between your <title> tags is used to generate both of these things, and will often be truncated when viewed. Because of this, it is more effective to have words directly relating to the content of your page appear before common markers. Not only will the titles be more meaningful, but the they will also be more scannable when being viewed in a list. For more information on this concept, see Dr. Jakob Nielsen’s article Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines.”

So, I’m happy. I learned something new, and will definitely take it into consideration in the future whenever I’m writing a <title> tag, and hopefully one or two of you out there learned something new as well :)

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Posted: June 29th, 2007 under Articles  

6 Responses to “Putting the Cart Before the Horse”

  1. Ryan Stewart says:

    I’ve not even read the post yet because the title and first sentence through me off. The idiom is “putting the cart before the horse”

    You see, putting “the horse before the cart” wouldn’t carry a negative connotation because the horse is supposed to go before the cart.

  2. [...] He should read my Putting the Cart Before the Horse post regarding optimized titles…PPC-Advertising.info – A review of [...]

  3. [...] for few months, I’ve already adopted some of his recommendations. My favorite is “Putting the Cart Before the Horse“, in which Tyler recommends that bloggers use the WordPress plugins Optimal Title or All In [...]

  4. Maximus says:

    I would like to see a continuation of the topic

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