The “Hidden” Text of a Title Tag: An Exploit for Search Engine Spammers?

The most important on-page factor for SEO is the title tag — that bit of text between the <title></title> tags. There are already some outstanding articles out there on how to craft successful title tags — specifically, Netconcepts’ own Brian Brown has a two-part guide on successful title tag strategies (part 1 and part 2) which just came out recently, and I posted some quick title tag tips a while back.

You may have your title-building strategy down, but have you given serious consideration to title length restrictions? Titles look different to spiders than they do to humans. SERPs only display a maximum of 65 title characters, so that’s all visitors will see, but search spiders record up to 120 characters or more. Some initial tests on lengthy titles reveals that some engines count keywords long past the 120 character mark, opening up an unfortunate opportunity for exploitation by spammers.

The people who find you on any SERP (search engine result page) will make their click decision based heavily on the first 65 characters of your title. Though the rest of the snippet (often times taken from your meta description tag) will also play a significant role, the title is the most influential piece of your search listing. Oddly, the title is ephemeral from the visitor’s perspective; once on your page, most visitors will quickly forget about the title, which is relegated to the top border of the browser. Search spiders, on the other hand, have traditionally listed 120 as the maximum number of characters they will index.

If spammers are not yet taking advantage of these differing limitations by putting a normal, user-oriented title into the first 65 characters and tons of keyword spamglish into the remaining 55, then I’m sure they will be.

This assumes that search engines give any credence to those last 55 characters (and that they are truly limited to 120 characters maximum, which at least Google no longer seems to be), knowing that searchers will not be able to see them in SERPs, and that the title is only important to visitors before they click a link.

Or perhaps this “hidden” portion is completely discounted?

If not, I anticipate that search engines will adjust their algorithms to count only the characters viewable to searchers. At least we can hope that search engines will address the issue before it becomes common practice to keyword stuff the “hidden” segment of page titles.