SEO Quiz – Part 2: Title Separators

This one may not be as cut and dry as last week’s, but I’d like to see what everyone thinks. I wonder if there is a difference, if it really matters, or is this a moot discussion? I know of some usability and accessibility issues, but hopefully some of the big search engine marketing experts can chime in and give some more insight on the search engine specific issues. Well let’s get to the question and see.

Same deal as last week’s SEO quiz. I’ll let the question run for a week, then I’ll summarize the comments and give my own answer.

Q: Which separator character is best for a web page title?

  • A: Keyword Phrase – Site Name
  • B: Keyword Phrase | Site Name
  • C: Keyword Phrase » Site Name
  • D: Keyword Phrase > Site Name

22 thoughts on “SEO Quiz – Part 2: Title Separators

  1. I like B the best, as I feel it makes a distinction between the two phrases. It’s the only character that looks appropriate to me when viewing two seperate pieces of information about a site’s title.

  2. I’m torn between A and B; I’d probably plump for A as I’m used to seeing hyphens (or en or em dashes) used this way in print media. I tend to see the vertical bar more as a delimiter, or even a bitwise OR operation; non-coders’ mileage may vary.

    I’m not fond of the use of the right guillemot in C; in certain cultures, it would look like an unbalanced quotation mark. Finally, D’s use of the greater-than sign has always seemed to me like a poor man’s arrow, and I don’t see what place an arrow has in text.

    Thanks for helping me to realise how opinionated I am about such apparently insignificant details!

  3. Yeah, I’d vote a too. Visually it sets things off the most effectively in my mind, and would help get the best clickthroughs. What about great big gawdy ASCII characters? (like the infamous arrows) :)

  4. I do hope more people chime in here as I’ve always wondered this.

    I usually use “A” but looking at the choices together, “B” is much cleaner.

    Which I’d guess is what you want when looking at these titles in a search engine.

    Nick: I once spent the better part of an afternoon researching the use of “&” in titles… so don’t feel so alone – lol

    Natasha Robinson

  5. I’m guessing “A”, because I think what you’re getting at is: which of these choices is going to get your page listed the highest in a search engine, not which one looks best to the eye of the searcher. I guess “A” because the other choices aren’t typical English grammar, and I’m guessing that someone like Google is looking for titles that make grammarical sense.

    Then again, I might be totally wrong!

    BTW, Michael, I have an SEO question I wanted to ask you (the answer might make a good post, if you haven’t already posted about it) but you don’t seem to have your e-mail listed here. I’d really love to get your input : )

  6. Definitely A for exactly the reasons that Cary noted. If you want the title carwled well use “-”

  7. I’d go with B. I think C and D are more arrow-like — as in Parent->Child. Whereas A seems a bit bland.


  8. I think this would make an excellent question:

    “which of these choices is going to get your page listed the highest in a search engine vs. which one looks best to the eye of the searcher.”

    I just did a search on google for “atlanta real estate” and options “a” and “b” show up in both.

    IMO the one that gets the click from a SE user wins. Maybe a usability person can shed some light on which wins… Or is that off topic?

    Natasha Robinson

  9. Hi, Mike,

    Thank you for inviting me to contribute with my thoughts. I will discuss this strictly from the relevancy and rankings standpoint, not from usability points of view.

    1. During tokenization, terms are lowercased and all punctuation removed.
    This includes all delimiters (DEL) surrounded by spaces and placed between terms.

    This means that for two terms (k1 and k2) separated by a delimiter that itself is surrounded by

    k1 DEL k2

    is reduced to k1 k2 (note that k1 and k2 remain separated by a space).

    Thus, from the relevancy and ranking standpoint, non of the candidate delimiters described in the quiz really make a difference.

    2. A rather different scenario is when the delimiter itself is not surrounded by spaces as in


    If DEL is a hyphen, the IR system must invoke the parsing rules for hyphenation, which vary from system to system. In Google, a hyphen in a document or in a query, i.e., k1-k2, works as a localized EXACT operation.

    Thus, a query for k1-k2 is the same as query in EXACT mode (or as with quotes), even when submitted using the default FINDALL mode. A query k1-k2 k3 in FINDALL then contains a localized component, k1-k2.

    That DELs are interpreted differently is evident. In Google, DEL being a pipe (“|”) but not surrounded by spaces; as in


    is interpreted as an OR search. However, the same query, k1|k2 in MSN is interpreted as an EXACT search. This was parser modifications introduced in MSN Beta. It was not always in that way. To convince yourself, do a search for “car insurance” and another for car|insurance in MSN and in Google and compare results.

    I have discussed all this at several old SEW threads as well as at miislita. Here is one of such forums:

    At that forum I showed to Googleguy why Google’s OR implementation does not work as expected. These results have been independently verified by friend MLS librarians and IR folks.

    Hope this help.


  10. See, s SEO’s our job is to no just do what ranks best but also to make sure that when someone arrives to the site it is pleasant and looks credible. I like B for some of my clients because it is more contemporary / modern and if that fits with their image, then that is GREAT! The fine line of SEO is how to get a site ranking well without compromising the site look / readability.

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  12. The answer to the question posted at the top of this blog would be B. The Tile should be this way primary keywrods | secondary keywords and eliminate any wods like the, and, or, etc.

  13. I agree with the ‘|’ (pipe) camp.

    If you’re going for more than keyword the ‘|’ seems to work best.

    Looks good in the organic results too, which could possibly increase click thru rates in natural SERPs.


  14. To play it safe, I’d liked to observe and follow the way Google formats it’s title. I’ve never seen them used anything else beside a “-” within their titles. Lastly, it’s the webmaster’s call because ulimately this person will have to decide if it looks good or not regardless of what Google thinks.

  15. Wanted to check opinions, I’m using a hyphen and will continue to do so – if it’s good enough for Google, it’s good enough for me.

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