The title of this article is …

famous newspaper headlineThe title of this blog post is exactly 32 characters long. Did I bother to count them all? Nah. I used a handy web-thingy called Text Mechanic. Or I could have used Word (tools > word count).

More importantly, why do I care? In this case, the headline and title tag of this post are identical. I’m looking out for the Google bot (or Bing bot), which considers the title tag the No. 1 clue to what the content is all about. That’s also the headline/title displayed in the search engine result pages (SERPs).

Google sets a length limit as to what’s displayed, and another to what’s read by the bot for factoring into the search-engine algorithm, but doesn’t reveal these magic numbers. What would be the fun in that.

Copy editors call the length limit of a headline “the count.” Different characters have different widths. There’s a formula for counting manually that includes a count of 2 for large characters (such as a cap M) and a count of one-half for smaller ones (such as the i). In prehistoric days, the ink-stained would write heads solely by the count — say a three-column newspaper head with 30-point type would have a count of 30. The old guys in green visors could do the math and composition in a snap, but it’s a lost art. Thank god.

We’ve wandered down this dusty road because Google quite recently adjusted the displayable length of the titles displayed on search engine results. The count is tighter because the type font is larger. How much tighter, the SEO geeks are still working out.

Until recently, the safe count for titles was generally considered to be about 60 to 65 characters. Now it appears to be about 50 to 55 characters. The scientists over at the Moz Blog did a breakout on all this: “Ultimately, we want to find a reasonable length at which we can be fairly confident our titles won’t get cut off.”

And the verdict: “If all of your title tags were exactly 55 characters long, then you could expect about 95% of them to be left alone (unbroken).”

Let’s take a look. Here are two of my web sites. The top one (69 characters, including spaces) just saw its title truncated in a most awful way. The second one (57) looks fine:

titles in google search engine results

Nothing tragic about all this, but you probably should revisit the titles for your index page and other key standing pages. I wouldn’t both going back for blog posts and the like, although some will.

I usually expand my article headlines (h1) in the title-tag field to take advantage of the more generous counts, in order to work in a few more keywords and perhaps eliminate awkward abbreviations. Didn’t in the case of this post, for cuteness sake. Awww.