I'm sure many of us have noticed this recent change across all Stack Exchange site, where the most popular tag is displayed at the front of page titles (as displayed in search engines, and in the browser's tabs and title bar).

For some background see seo - Does the order of keywords matter in a page title? - Pro Webmasters - Stack Exchange and feature request - First tag in the title of the page is not that convenient. - Meta Stack Overflow.

Whilst I appreciate the reasons for this, and actually think it is quite useful on some sites (the two questions I linked to above for instance) I don't believe the change should be implemented on Ask Ubuntu.

Assuming the main reason for this change is for SEO purposes, I believe the reality is we will see a decrease in visits. Having the tag at the start of the title looks unprofessional because of being lowercase; is unusual on the internet; and on Ask Ubuntu is inconsistent across questions (see examples below). In my opinion this will put people off clicking on our Google listings.

What I have said above assumes we will see an increase in search engine position. I don't actually think the tags that are being picked out are likely to be entered into Google in the first place.

Taking the top five highest voted questions and five most recent questions at the time of writing, plus one I threw in to illustrate version tags, then we have the following to use as examples:

So some observations:

  • The tag is the most used tag on this site, but no doubt something very unlikely to be entered by users into a search engine, and therefore adds nothing for SEO. (Note I'm not saying I think we should stop using this tag.)
  • The version tags such as and are very commonly used (2nd and 3rd most used tags) so will often appear in titles this way. However the way these tags are used on the site means that the question often applies to Ubuntu versions other than the one tagged (although perhaps we should consider changing this tagging practice, but that's another discussion... I can't imagine how we would do so). Placing the version at the start suggests quite strongly the question is very much specific to that Ubuntu version.
  • Placing at the start of the Lightscribe question actually prevents the keyword of Lightscribe from appearing at the start of the title
  • The tag on the second question I listed is almost totally irrelevant to actual question (although I understand why it was tagged this way)

Having the tag greatly decreases usability; specifically when using tabs then it is very hard to work out what each tab is at a glance.

Screenshot of tabs Google's own SEO guidlines (page 5) tell us to avoid:

  • using extremely lengthy titles that are unhelpful to users
  • stuffing unneeded keywords in your title tags

My fear is that that all this effort could result in our site being penalised by Google and other search engines.

I apologise for the length of this post; many thanks to those of you who have hung on until the end...

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tl;dr :P Just kidding, but I agree with this. –  Marco Ceppi Dec 11 '10 at 21:12

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

This is by design, otherwise legal creative commons scrapers demolish us in search rankings. Your concerns are unfounded, in fact, it's quite the opposite.. Matt Cutts himself signed off on this approach and endorsed it in an email to me.

See:

First tag in the title of the page is not that convenient

and

Scrapers enter the scene - was the choice of license right?

for details.

I would also argue that this encourages proper and correct tagging of questions. If the tag is objectionable in the title, then it's probably a bad tag practice -- as you pointed out!

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So the poor readability is by design? Phooey. I think it's really sad that technical considerations (SEO) take precedence over human considerations (readability). Flute's screenshot says it all. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Dec 31 '10 at 7:26
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There's no doubt that page views on our site have gone up considerable recently - of course this could be purely coincidence but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt... (still the multi-tab usability is disappointing) –  8128 Jan 11 '11 at 18:28
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I agree that this is very annoying when using a browser with tabs. :-( –  JanC Jan 13 '11 at 16:34
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Maybe there should be a setting for each user whether to show the tags in the start of a title. –  Azendale Oct 7 '11 at 0:59
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I think @Azendale has a good idea here: allow users that have a certain minimum reputation to disable this? –  JanC Nov 5 '11 at 21:37

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