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30 steps to a more accessible website

Step 8: Constructing meaningful page titles

Every web page that you are responsible for should have a unique and meaningful page title.

  • The home page title can simply be the name of your website.
  • For other pages, you need to be careful to make sure that your page can be differentiated from similar pages elsewhere on your site. For example, titling a page "Lecture 1" is not going to help distinguish the first lecture in (say) Contract law from the first lecture in Tort. Similarly, titling a page "Research" gives nowhere near enough context within a university website; "Research into the evolution of seaweed" is better; "Dept of Biological Science / Research projects / The evolution of seaweed" is better still.
  • The exact punctuation is not relevant, although some screen readers will read every punctuation character out loud by default. As a general rule, excessive punctuation sounds as dumb as it looks.
  • You can put the site name at the end rather than at the beginning. It's a good idea to include your site name somewhere in your page titles, though; it's an important contextual clue, especially when people are switching between multiple open windows.
  • Page titles are also used if the reader elects to bookmark the page, so a well-designed page title will also be meaningful as a bookmark description. Bookmarks are often sorted alphabetically, so the truly dedicated page title designer will also want to try and anticipate whether the first letter of the page title is going to be suitably memorable when the visitor is trying to locate it in her bookmarks folder later.

Who benefits?

  1. Jackie benefits. JAWS has a special keyboard shortcut (INSERT + F10) which displays (and reads) a list of the currently open windows, by window title. In the case of web pages, this would be your page title. It also reads the window title while ALT-TABbing through open windows. Other screen readers, like Home Page Reader, read the page title out loud as soon as you visit the page.
  2. Marcus benefits. Lynx displays the page title in the first line of output, so it's always the first thing that Marcus reads in Braille.
  3. Bill benefits. Because of his stroke, he sometimes gets confused and momentarily loses track of what he's reading. The page title in the window titlebar acts as a visual anchor; it stays in the same place, even as he scrolls the page. He can always glance back to it to jog his memory.
  4. Google benefits. Google displays the page title in its search results, and ranks keywords higher when they appear in the page title. This is a Good Thing for you, especially for those individual entry pages. (Choosing good entry titles doesn't hurt either.)

How to do it

In SiteBuilder, you are asked to enter the Title bar caption when you first create a new page; it's the first field you're asked to enter. You can change it later if you wish by selecting Edit>Page properties.

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This guide is adapted from Dive Into Accessibility by Mark Pilgrim and is shared with the GNU Free Documentation License v1.1