SEO Logic's free guide, Search Engine Optimization 101, presents SEO basics on one page. For answers to your lingering questions, go to the SEO FAQ. That's where I found some tips on how to optimize title tags.
TItle tags do some heavy lifting to raise the rank of your website in search results. The title tells search engines what your website is about, which affects where the site appears in search results. (Other factors also feed the complex search algorithms.)
The website title is displayed in search results, so it's the first thing searchers see when they skim the results and decide what to click on. If they clickthrough, the title is displayed at the top of the browser. This is also the name of the bookmark (unless the user changes it).
Finally, people who index sites read the titles to quickly decide if a site is worth listing and linking. (Yes, real people do that -- at the Montague Institute, for example.)
You can optimize title tags so they do their jobs better by following a few rules of thumb:
- Type titles in Upper/Lower Case (like a book title).
- Give every page in the website a unique title.
- Make titles clear, not clever.
- Describe what's on each page using keywords.
- On the home page, name the organization and purpose.
- Do all this within a 66-character limit.
Google displays just the first 66 characters of a title, then cuts the rest. Yahoo's limit is 120 characters. Each web browser also has its limit -- e.g., 95 for Explorer.
Don't underestimate the power of proper keywords. Research keywords your customers are most likely to use and, when it makes sense, include these words in titles, meta tags and content.