The labeling of page titles is a task of the Information Architect, the same way we label information chunks, buttons and tools, but page titles are sometimes overlooked or forgotten. Page titles are fundamental in describing the content of a page.

In complex information sites, where the pages are classified into successive categories, the page titles are most useful when they approach the index trail system. This means calling the name of the site where the page (article) is hosted, the name of the particular article open, and in between, the categories. This approach can be taken in two different directions: from general to particular, or from particular to general.

An Example - Evolt.org [thesite]

Once the evolt.org 2.0 site went live, we realized it was lacking something that the old site had: descriptive page titles.

There was some trouble finding out the right way to automate this in Cold Fusion, but finally djc found the solution.

Then, we got the titles up this way:

evolt.org : IA/Usability : The Tao of Testing - (general to particular order)

But now we had another problem: they were confusing if you had more than one browser window open. Since the article's name was at the end of the title, it was hard to distinguish among several articles open in different windows.

So djc just turned around the title elements, the way they appear now.

The Tao of Testing : IA/Usability : evolt.org - (particular to general order)

This way, one can clearly identify the page just by its title.

<flash news> Now the titles have changed once more, taking note of

paul's comments. The schema now is: Article : Site : Category. So this way the name of evolt gets a higher relevance index in all the four instances

mentioned below.</flash news>

It's important to notice that like all IA things, this is not a rule of

thumb, and you must always analyze carefully your particular case before taking

a decision.

Relevance of Page Titles

The relevance of page titles lies in the way it impacts the user's experience, in these four instances:

Window Titles: as described before, the more browser windows the user opens at a time, the more relevant useful page titles become.

Search Results: in search engine results, page titles often appear as the name of the result; therefore, if one uses the general to particular order, there's no difference in the results displayed if the path is too long.

Bookmarks: the same problem, if the general to particular direction is used, the user gets lost.

History list: the page titles are also reflected in the browser's back button history list, in the same way as bookmarks.

It's also a good idea to keep these "title elements" short (as with all your labels).

Thanks much to the people from the SIGIA List for reflections on the topic.