A web page’s title tags define what the page is about — on this page, the title tag is “Perform a Page Title Audit to Improve Accessibility,” which appears at the top of the browser window or tab. Titles are short, descriptive phrases, and they play an important role in accessibility.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) address page titles in Success Criterion (SC) 2.4.2, “Page Titled,” which reads: “Web pages have titles that describe topic or purpose.” While that’s a pretty straightforward guideline, many webmasters fail to fill out accurate page titles for their entire sites. Others misunderstand the purpose of title tags, which can lead to significant issues.
Accurate page titles help people use the internet more effectively
To understand the importance of accurate title tags, imagine that you’re accessing the web with a screen reader (unless you’re already using a screen reader, of course). Screen readers convert on-page text to audio or braille output. If you’re trying to switch between tabs, or you’re deciding whether to click on a link on a page of search results, how would you react if the title tag simply read “home,” “services,” or “industries?” Without more information, you wouldn’t know whether the page contained the information you need.
And while page titles are clearly helpful for people with vision disabilities, they can also accommodate other users. People with memory limitations might look at the title in their browser bar to make sure they’re on the right page. Some users may have situational disabilities — for instance, they’re browsing the web with a slow internet connection — and accurate titles can help them navigate more effectively. Page titles are also an important factor in search engine optimization (SEO). Websites with accurate, descriptive title tags (and no duplicate or missing title tags) are more likely to rank higher.
In this guide, we’ll explain a basic process to audit your page titles for accessibility issues. One important note: Rewriting your page titles won’t address other accessibility issues, and accessibility has tremendous benefits for SEO and audience growth. If you’re considering an accessibility initiative, a Website WCAG Accessibility Audit is an excellent first step.
Start by creating a list of your website’s page title tags
On an individual page, you can find the title at the top of the browser tab. You can also view the page’s HTML and look for the text between the <title> and </title> tags.
To begin auditing your page titles, you’ll need to assemble a full list of all of the page titles on your website. Depending on your content management system, you may be able to easily create this list using SQL queries, and third-party SEO software like SEMRush, Moz, and Screaming Frog can also list out all of the page titles on your site.
Once you’ve assembled your list, look through each entry. Ask yourself a few quick questions:
- Can I determine exactly what’s on the page by reading the title?
- Does the title include relevant keywords?
- Are there any duplicate or missing titles?
- If I had several tabs open, could I find this page by reading the title tags alone?
Optimized title tags benefit all of your users, not just people with disabilities, and you’ll need to rewrite page title tags that aren’t effective. The most important takeaway: If you can’t instantly identify the content of the page by reading the title, neither can your users.
How to Perform a Page Title Audit:
Consider your user’s perspective when making changes to page titles
After assembling your list of title tags, you’ll need to rewrite any titles that aren’t appropriately descriptive. Writing fresh titles requires time and creativity, but you can improve your results by keeping a few basic concepts in mind.
Avoid vague title tags.
Don’t assume that your visitors can see your web page or read the URL. The title tag should provide all of the information they need to identify the purpose of the page. Vague titles like “Home,” “Contact Us,” and “Services" don’t provide enough context.
Build out vague title tags by adding information about your organization. “Johnson Plumbing in Baltimore, Maryland" is much more descriptive than “Home,” and gives clear, coherent information about the contents of the page.
Use relevant keywords in your title tags.
This is important for real-world users and can greatly improve your SEO strategy. A page title that reads “More Information About Doug’s Auto Repair Service in Chicago, Illinois" gives users useful information, and it also tells the search engines to rank the website when listing auto repair services in Chicago, Illinois.
Avoid extremely long title tags.
Webmasters often recognize the importance of title tags in SEO and try to add as many keywords as possible to improve their rankings. This practice isn’t especially effective and can be annoying for users with screen readers.
For example, this title tag is excessively long, and the extra keywords don’t add any useful information:
Johnson Plumbing Services in Baltimore, Maryland - Baltimore, MD Plumbing - Sewer Repair Maryland - Affordable Plumbing in Baltimore
Screen reader users won’t want to listen to 30 seconds of audio before clicking on a link or switching to a new tab. Generally, title tags should be 60 characters or less, though longer tags are defensible if a webpage has a complex topic.
Look for other ways to make your content structure more accessible
While optimizing your website’s page titles, pay attention to other navigation issues that might affect your audience. Heading tags are also crucial for organization (and crucial for SEO), so make sure you understand how headings function. As with titles, your headings should include clear, concise descriptions of your content, incorporating relevant keywords to help users understand the structure of your page.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are an excellent resource for planning accessibility improvements. Remember, accessible websites deliver a more enjoyable experience for everyone