SEO Quiz – Title Separators: Conclusion

This time around I asked you what separator you would use in your titles. Before doing research for this question, I never really gave a second thought about title separators. I would use either a hyphen or the pipe character and be done with it. After reading over the quiz’s comments, it’s obvious that many of you felt the same.

Who cares about title separators if it doesn’t influence our search engine marketing campaign?


Rand started off by explaining why he likes the pipe character.

Rand:

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 separate pieces of information about a site’s title.

Most people picked either A or B, but interestingly everyone had strong opinions as to their favorite.

Nick Fitzsimons:

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

Natasha Robinson:

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

But how exactly do the search engines feel about different title separators? Cary was the first to make a guess.

Cary:

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 grammatical sense.

Not a bad guess, but Dr. Garcia dropped by and explained to us none of the title separators matter after tokenization. (As most of us expected, including me).

Orion:

Thus, from the relevancy and ranking standpoint, none of the candidate delimiters described in the quiz really make a difference.

So if I already knew that title separators would be filtered out after tokenization, why bring up the question at all? Because as search engine marketers, we ultimately are marketing our sites to humans. Obviously rankings are very important, but we also need to take the time and consider how our design choices affect the ultimate experience that we are conveying.

From an accessibility standpoint, answer C is horrible. In a screen reader, » is read as “right double angle bracket“. Compare that to “dash” or “vertical bar”.

Answer D brings up a couple of potential issues. Bad coding can lead to very broken code when > is introduced. Tags can inadvertently be closed if there is incorrect html encoding. Sometimes > is escaped by the search engines and > is replaced by >

So that brings us to either A or B. Both are used very widely, but I’d like to make an argument for A over B. This is due to book marking in IE 6. In IE6, whenever someone bookmarks a page in favorites, the vertical pipe is not rendered in the favorites list. It just renders as a space. This can lead to confusing labels in your favorites.

Ultimately, title separators have very little impact on search engine optimization efforts. But these little separators could make an impression on your visitors and need to be considered when crafting titles.

Aside: Dr. Garcia brought up an important issue when searching for titles with separators. Often times separators mean different things to a search engine inside a query. A hyphen works as a localized EXACT operation, while a vertical bar works as an OR operation.

3 thoughts on “SEO Quiz – Title Separators: Conclusion

  1. Excellent post… I may have been wrong, but I’m happy to see I wasn’t insane : ) And you really do learn something new everyday; until I read this I’d never even heard of tokenization.

  2. “A hyphen works as a localized EXACT operation, while a vertical bar works as an OR operation.”

    So far, this seem to be true in Google in the first case and in the later in MSN. It may not matter in other SE’s.

    In both cases, the delimiter act as localized query mode within the actual query mode used.

  3. Sorry, I was typing too fast and hit “submit” before double checking my last post. Previous should read as I posted in the original discussion.

    Google, hyphen == EXACT (localized)
    Google, pipe == OR (localized)
    MSN, pipe == EXACT (localized)

    In all these cases the delimiter itself is not surrounded by spaces in the query, otherwise it will not matter.

    I hate to drop links, (feel free to remove it), but additional info is at http://www.miislita.com/fractals/overlapping-patterns.html

    Michael quiz is a great way to realize the importance of optimizing with user’s accessibility in mind.

    Orion

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