Testing the "meta title" Tag

I noticed recently that the meta data for a client's pages contained two versions of the "title" tag:

<title>Title of the page</title>
<meta name="title" content="Title of the page" />

I was sure I'd seen that second version before, and that even though it wasn't standard code, it had worked — that is, the contents of that "meta title" tag had displayed properly in the title bar of the browser window, the way it would if it were a normal title tag. However, I wasn't sure whether or not the title for such pages would be picked up by search engines. Moreover, I had never seen a page use both versions of the title. I figured that was superfluous, so I contacted my client and told them to delete the "meta" version.

The client contacted their developer, who wrote back that the content management system he was using "generates meta title in two different formats to ensure compatibility. If a spider or a browser understands one type, it simply ignores the other."

That was news to me, so I thought I'd better ask around. I started a thread about the question on the High Rankings forum. The responses were pretty clear: the tag doesn't exist.

As I've already noted, I was sure I'd seen the tag in use elsewhere and that it had worked, at least in part, so I decided to create this page, just to satisfy my curiosity.

I got at least part of the answer to my questions as soon as I published the page. The title of this page does not appear in the browser window's title bar. In Firefox v3.5.5, all I see is the browser name, which would normally appear after the page title. In Safari 4.0.4, Opera 9.00, Chrome 3.0.195.38 and Internet Explorer 8.0.6001.18702 (all for Windows) I get the URL of the page followed by the name of the browser. In other words, it doesn't work, at least not for a page with a document-type declaration of HTML 4 Strict.

If you check this page's code with the W3C Markup Validator, you'll find that without a standard title tag, the document's head section is considered incomplete:

Line 13, Column 7: end tag for "HEAD" which is not finished

Most likely, you nested tags and closed them in the wrong order. For example <p><em>...</p> is not acceptable, as <em> must be closed before <p>. Acceptable nesting is: <p><em>...</em></p>

Another possibility is that you used an element which requires a child element that you did not include. Hence the parent element is "not finished", not complete. For instance, in HTML the <head> element must contain a <title> child element, lists (ul, ol, dl) require list items (li, or dt, dd), and so on.

That pretty much settles it.

I'm still interested in seeing how search engines treat the page, so I'm going to keep it up. I expect that when it appears on a SERP, its URL will appear in place of a title. I'll update this page once I know for certain.

Update: 2 January, 2010

The page has been indexed and cached, and here's how it appears in the results of a site: search on Google:

Google SERP

This page is #24 in the image. The text snippet is the content of the page's meta description. Where the content of the title element would normally appear is the content from the second-level heading found above the subnavigation menu at the top of the right column. That's somewhat surprising to me. I suppose it makes sense that, in the absence of a proper title, Google would choose a heading to describe the page, but it's using an <h2> which serves as the heading for a menu rather than the <h1> for the page. That may be because of the way the page is coded: If you look at the source code, you'll see that the right column comes before the main content in the code, so the heading Google is using as the pseudo-title for this page is the first heading tag in the code.