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I'm seeing a lot of sites go to a format similar to the one now in use by stackexchange sites (i.e. short topic - maybe a long topic - only finally the site's name). Is this optimal SEO? It seems kind weird both because I'm only begun to notice changes in this direction recently, and because it seems like it would make it harder to tell in search results which actual site you're visiting, even if the topic is one that matches.

Still, sites like Facebook, StackOverflow, etc probably aren't wrong, so I'm wondering if I should try to make my sites use that format, going forwards...

Edit: Found a more-fleshed-out duplicate: Does the order of keywords matter in a page title?

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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Those sites are correct. It's Google who got it wrong this time. They made the mistake of making SEO conflict with usability. And most site owners tend to choose SEO over user experience. Unfortunately, until Google fixes their algorithm, we're probably going to see more and more sites titling their pages this way.

Edit:
Just to give an example of how this keyword order rule de-optimizes user experience and search results, 3 pages with all other things being equal would be ranked in this order based on their page titles:

  1. SEO - Better Ranking - Search - 10 tips
  2. 10 easy SEO tips for better search ranking
  3. Matt Cutts gives 10 easy SEO tips for better search ranking

So the least coherent and most spammy page title is highest, and the title most descriptive and useful to users is last.

A real world example of this was that prior to StackExchange switching to this format, they were consistently being outranked (by several positions) by sites duplicating their content. This was despite StackExchange's high PR and being the originator of the content.

This situation is just like early algorithms which rewarded keyword stuffing. Every time you create a new ranking factor that isn't directly tied to content quality or aligned with usability, you dilute the actual ranking power of good content and encourage spammy behavior.

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+1 and really glad to read this answer, I was concerned to be the only dude who thought Google results are showing this type of issues. Definitely agree with you! Another funny exampe is searching on Google for "Hotel Cattolica" (it's an Italian nice seaside town), it results in 100s of sites with the title that shows Hotel Cattolica | name of the hotel, Hotel Cattolica - some hotel directory and so on. See by yourself and have fun: google.it/… It's wired! :) –  Marco Demaio Jan 31 '11 at 10:37
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It's good for SEO as the page specific keywords are first.

It's good for SERPs as the meaning of the page will show up in search results. It's better for searchers to see what a page is about and not just the name of a company.

It's good for users as their tabs and browser will display text that indicate what the page is about.

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How does frontloading titles with keywords help users? SERPs are just fine with natural page titles that use contextual keywords. Ranking arbitrary pages higher just because they use awkward frontloaded keywords de-optimizes SERPs. And if you're on a site like StackOverflow, having multiple tabs that read "php - ...", "php - ...", makes it very hard to identify which tab is which. If I've been research PHP info for the past 30 minutes, then I already know my tabs are about PHP. What I need is a way to identify different pages. –  Lèse majesté Jan 29 '11 at 5:20
    
I was answering the OP related to the structure of short topic - maybe a long topic - only finally the site's name. I do like you answer though. Well constructed titles are best, but large sites like this have to automate in some way. –  Tiggerito Feb 2 '11 at 15:49
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