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Should you optimize the link title attribute to improve your search results?

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So you're a website owner whose SEO consultant has suggested that you optimize your link title attributes to improve your performance in the search engine results.  Or, you're an SEO wondering if this is a good idea.  Will this little trick give you an edge?  In a  word, no.

First of all, what is a link title attribute?

It is not the title tag - I've seen people confuse this in forums.  It is additional text you can add to an href link that does not show up on the page.  It typically only shows up on-hover as a tooltip over the link (if supported by the browser you're using).  This is where you find a title attribute in code:

[[a href="/contact.cfm" title="If You Need To Reach Us"]]Contact[[/a]]

And here is how this shows up on the website:

Href link title attribute example

How are you supposed to use link title attributes?

You can use this attribute to add a tooltip, as you see in the example above. This tooltip is not mandatory, so if you're not using it then don't fret. If you're trying to improve usability, you can use it to provide additional information to a user who might be interested in clicking the link. However, keep one thing in mind: not all screen readers pick up title attributes for links, so never put really important information into this attribute. You don't want a user with a screen reader to miss out on something if they have their reader set to ignore title attributes.

Why can't I put my keywords into the link title attribute to boost my SEO?

Let's think about this a minute, and I'll start with a philosophical objection. What's the main piece of advice given out by experienced SEOs and search engines? Don't make changes to your site ONLY for the sake of SEO. If you want to stuff your keyword phrases into the title attribute thinking this will give you an edge, you're making a decision based solely on SEO. Instead, you should be thinking about your users. Will adding your keyword phrases to every link on your page make your site easier to use? Will it help users better navigate your site? No. You're doing this just to game the search engines. So, from a philosopical point of view we can say this is not a good idea.

What if you're not the philosophical sort? Let's consider the evidence. Have you done a study to see if putting your keyword phrases into the link title attribute helps your site rank better? Or did you just read it on a blog post from 10 years ago and think this was a good idea? I challenge you to find any reputable SEO who recommends this tactic, or who has found positive results - especially now, in the days of the Google over-optimization penalties. With all the talk of over-optimization, tactics like this are just asking for trouble.

Consider this post from SEO Roundtable, aptly titled "Google's Algorithms Find Stuffed Title Attributes As Sneaky":

In any event, this is Google going on the record about something obvious - do not spam the title attribute. Well, do not spam anything.

I also talked to Damon Abramson, the in-house SEO at WeDoWebContent, and here is what he had to say:

Many studies have been done over the years completely decrementing Link Titles of any SEO value whatsoever. They are completely ignored by the search engines. However, image alt text and anchor text is always indexed and ranked so this is where the focus should stay.

So from a SEO smell test perspective, this is senseless since it adds no appreciable SEO value to the links and may even cause confusion to the visually impaired utilizing screen readers since the readers will now not only read the anchor text in the link but the link title as well. And if you utilize them wrong (spam –like repeating the anchor text) you CAN get penalized for it. So using something that gives you nothing but can potentially cost you something is not a move I would recommend.

However, if they are used properly to accurately describe the page the anchor text is linking to without keyword spamming, they won’t hurt the page at all. Just won’t help it.

Still don't believe me? Do your own search, ask your own respected SEO contacts.

Don't get so caught up in SEO that you neglect USABILITY

Remember how I said above that visually impaired users often set their screen readers to ignore title attributes? Why do you think somebody would do this? Because of how title attributes have been misused over the years by SEOs who think they can pump up their ratings by stuffing keywords into every nook and cranny of their site... and by the many older WordPress sites that duplicate the link anchor text in the title attribute field, turning the title attribute into useless, repetitive text.

It's true, if you have a WordPress blog you might want to look into this. By default WordPress used to make the title attribute of any page link the same as the anchor text. There used to be a popular plug-in to remove the title attributes, as many people found them to be a waste of space in their code and thought they contributed to a negative user experience. As of WordPress version 3.3, this functionality no longer exists - WordPress now leaves the title attribute blank - and you should too.

Look at it this way - if your link anchor text is so unclear that you think you need to provide extra information to your site user in the tooltip, then change the link anchor text. Don't slap a tooltip on top of an unclear link. And for goodness sakes please don't waste your time and risk your rankings by stuffing keywords into your link title attributes!

 

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