Special Characters in Title Tags: Reloaded
Last year, Predikkta engaged in some experimentation with certain special characters in order to determine their impact on CTR. The results of that particular CTR experiment highlighted mixed results, although there were benefits to having the check mark (✓) and trademark (®).
But that information is only going so far. It is time to see how special characters in title tags are seen to impact on CTR.
Before continuing, this is an analysis of special characters generally. Predikkta is currently engaging in experiments on numerous other characters to determine their usefulness, but the data is inconclusive at this point in time.
Before getting into an analysis on the impact special characters have on CTR, it is a good idea to define what special characters actually are.
Special characters are those characters that are not traditionally found in the English alphabet. This includes the check mark (✓) and trademark (®) figures previously tested, but also includes things like hashtags (#), the @ symbol, the special “and” or ampersand (&), the greater than or less than signs (< and >).
There are many more of course, including those symbols not found in the English language but are technically counted (such as umlauts, and the various symbols in the Scandinavian, Polish, French, and other Latin-based alphabets), although the rules for those characters are different to the symbols.
For this article, the impact emojis and emoticons have on CTR will not be explored.
THE RESULTS OF PREDIKKTA’S EXPERIMENTS
Predikkta test – it is how we can optimize properly and with confidence. So when we previously tested the impact special characters had on CTR, we used proper scientific methods to reach our conclusions. You can replicate them yourself if you have the technology and inclination.
Predikkta’s experiments led us to discover that using special characters bring mixed results. They require very specific sets of circumstances to produce a noticeable CTR increase, if they do anything at all.
However, when used correctly, the impact is still worthwhile investigating. Make sure you use the trademark symbol if brand is a crucial part of your online marketing strategy.
SETTING THE SCENE
There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to special characters: those who are against (☹) and those who support (☺) their use. Whilst, as with all aspects of life, different degrees of commitment to their respective camps, almost all online marketers have some opinion that sets them in these camps.
There are a few who try to tread the middle ground – they’re rare. This article does try to do this, although naturally it will fall slightly to one side when making a recommendation. However, there has been an attempt to provide an unbiased perspective of the two sides of the debate.
THE NEGATIVE OPINION
The negative views on special characters are based on two elements: professionalism and confusion to Google and other search engines.
The professionalism argument is simple: websites should not rely on eye-catching symbols to generate clicks for themselves. The title should be informative and explain to the potential customer exactly what the website is about. Furthermore, symbols often look as though a child or teenager has designed the title, which doesn’t bode well for your website’s standing.
Furthermore, there is only a severely limited amount of space for a title tag – why waste valuable space on irrelevant symbols when you need letters?
Google can also be confused by special characters. Hashtags in titles, for example, can sometimes be misinterpreted by Google, with the disastrous result of leading the potential customer into the comments section, for example. Likewise, the @, &, and < or > symbols are all used in coding in some way or another – so you can imagine the Google’s bots get very confused when they see these symbols over and over again.
As an aside, even the most anti-special character advocates acknowledge certain characters such as the pipe symbol (|) and the hyphen or dash (-) are useful in title tags, especially when there are separate brand and page titles.
Those who are more open to using special characters tend to highlight the necessity of standing out from the other results on the SERP. After all, every website desperately needs to get as much attention as possible – with more attention comes the potential for a higher CTR, and with a higher CTR comes the potential for more sales. Even though standing out is logical often it is a negative on CTR, so be wary.
It should be noted that even those who promote the use of special characters encourage moderation and care. Whilst some emoticons are certainly eye-catching, there are others that will make your site look like spam – most complex mathematical symbols, or scientific ones, fit into this category. So tread carefully if you are going to use them.
Special characters can be a useful addition to a title tag. However, you have to be very careful when and where you use them. Don’t go overboard with them. It is safer not to use them. However, by drawing the eyes of potential customers, you can really be doing you and your company a favor.
So, make sure you experiment. Or use Predikkta to experiment for you – after all, improving CTR is what we do best.
*Predikkta has sourced several external independent global tools to analyze websites.These tools do not reflect on occasion the internal website analytics, but are recognised global tools and provide accurate comparative results for measurement against competitors.
**The views in this article are those of the author