Three Ways a Pipe or Dash in Title Tag Makes a Difference

A lively discussion on Twitter about whether or not a pipe “|” or a dash “-” in the title tag made a difference led to interesting observations. Several members of the search marketing community shared three distinct viewpoints illustrating why there is a difference.

Bill Hartzer (@bhartzer) started the discussion by asking what he should use.

Bill has been a leader in the search marketing community for decades and is respected by many. As the discussion developed, it quickly became apparent that Bill had his own answer already.

I suspect he may have been curious to see what others had to say:

Pixel Space in Title Tags

Ethan Lazuk (@EthanLazuk) offered the observation that the pipe saves space.

Title elements are measured in pixels as well as in characters.

  • Characters are letters, numbers and symbols.
  • A pixel is a the smallest image element in a display, like a dot.

That means that if you replace dashes with pipes, you can actually fit more characters into a title tag.

That in turn increases the amount of words displayed in the website title that is displayed in Google’s search results.

Ethan’s observation was a clever contribution to the discussion.

Bill Hartzer agreed, saying that pixels mattered.

Bill tipped his hand and showed that he already had his mind up about using pipes in the title element.

Others agreed with Ethan and Bill that optimizing pixel space was useful.

Pipe and Dashes Can Communicate Meaning

An interesting observation was made by Keith M. (@SumoFondue).

Keith suggested that the pipe was useful to separating entities (person, places or things).

He observed that the dash can serve to separate the attribute of something being described.

In his example, the entity (Acme Inc) is separated from the call to action, “Shop ABC Products” by the pipe.

“Shop ABC Products | Acme Inc”

The dash serves to separate the entity (Men’s T-Shirt) from the description of it, which is the word, blue.

Blue is an attribute of the t-shirt. Separating the two words and phrases with a dash serves to communicate this relationship.

“DEF Men’s T-Shirt – Blue”

There is no suggestion that the dash would help Google understand that “blue” describes the entity. But it may help communicate the relationship of the phrase t-shirt to the word, blue.

Google probably understands the relationship already because of the natural language processing (NLP) algorithms in use.

But websites are designed for humans. So the web page elements, even the title tag, should be created with how humans may respond to them.

The pipe may be visually useful for separating the call to action (Shop ABC Products) from the entity (Acme Inc).

Do What Looks Best

There was a third group of people who suggested doing whatever looks best. That’s a third way to think about the role of the pipe and the dash in communicating information to a potential site visitor.

Search marketing expert Stephanie Woods (@steph_woods) said: 

Dan Leibson (@DanLeibson) agreed that aesthetics was an important consideration:

Others agreed with Stephanie:

User Centered SEO Decisions

Nobody suggested it made a difference in ranking whether one uses a pipe or a dash. That was never a consideration.

The discussion highlighted that there are user centered considerations related to how users see and understand even the smallest elements on a web page.

I know a person who squeezes a small percentage of extra conversions by manipulating details, big and small, to appeal to the site visitor.

For example, her landing pages detect if a site visitor is using an iPhone or an Android device.

For the iPhone visitors she displays an “iPhone friendly” icon.  The Android users get the “Android Friendly” icon.

A/B tests showed that conversions improved by a small but measurable amount for their campaigns.

The smallest detail in a title tag can have a positive influence, even if it’s an aesthetic factor.

Efficiently communicating information, even from the title tag, while also being appealing, can be useful.

Follow the Twitter discussion here:

Should I use a | or a – in the title tag?