Every article gets two titles—the meta title and the on-page title (H1). These two titles can be exactly the same. But, if you’re struggling to balance SEO and creativity, you can make them subtly different. That said, they have to bear a family resemblance! As Rand Fishkin explains in this Whiteboard Friday, you don’t want your search user to see one title on Google, click it, then arrive at a page with a completely different title! Odds are, this person will feel confused or annoyed or think your site is broken—and leave. There needs to be continuity between the title that appears in search results and the title that appears on the page.

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Go For Keywords in Your Meta Title, Get Creative On the Page

Your meta title sums up what the article is about in a few words (60-70 characters max) and should include your focus keywords. For SEO, the meta title is definitely a bigger deal than the H1, so think of it as prime real estate for your keywords. With your H1 or on-page title, you have a little more room, and you can say the same thing more creatively if you feel inspired.

Example #1: Matchy Matchy

The meta title and H1 for this post are very similar. You can see that the meta title uses slightly more search-friendly phrasing while the H1 addresses the reader. If there’s no reason to vary the titles, go ahead and make them identical or very close. It’s your call whether to lean toward consistency or creativity (more on that below).

Meta Title: Do Meta Titles and H1 Titles Need to Match?
H1: Do Your Meta Title and H1 Have to Match?

Example #2: Mixing It Up

Here’s an example from another post of mine where the two titles are not as closely matched. I used the meta title to directly target keywords, while the longer on-page title is more playful and creative. Notice how they both include the phrase “Optimize Everything,” so they’re clearly tied together.

Meta Title: How to Optimize Everything In Your Blog for SEO
H1: Optimize Everything! Applying SEO Best Practices Even When You’re Not Keyword Obsessed

Example #3: Edits to a Guest Post

Recently we recommended some SEO edits for an article that a guest author wrote for Land Trust Alliance. The article is about how land trusts can partner with farmers to preserve affordable farmland. However, the title that came with the story—”Partnering with Next Generation Farmers”—is too vague to draw much organic search. We decided to leave the original title on the page so we’re not interfering with the author’s creative decision. But we added some important keywords to the meta title.

Meta Title: Partnering with Farmers for Affordable Farmland
H1: Partnering with Next Generation Farmers

We also recommended an H2 right at the top of the page so anyone who clicks from the meta title to the page can be sure they’re in the right place.

H2: Bold Steps Needed to Secure Affordable Farmland

Editing a guest writer can be tricky! Learn how to make non-invasive SEO edits in my recent post, “How to Edit Articles By A Guest Author for SEO—Without Overstepping!”

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Want Fun AND Informative Titles? Just Add a Colon.

This winter, my coworker Genna Harris wrote a blog post about a JB Media Institute live call with Rand Fishkin (the one and only Rand Fishkin cited above). In the interview, which is about company culture, Rand makes a reference to the TV show Mad Men. As I was editing the post, I thought we could title it “So Not Mad Men.” That sounds fun and intriguing.

Problem: That title is not good for SEO—because it says nothing about what the post is about. That means it’s also not good for potential readers. They want to know what the post is about, too.

Solution: Take your short, fun, catchy title, add a colon, then follow it with an informative, search-friendly description, like this: “So Not Mad Men: Talking Company Culture with Rand Fishkin.”

Here’s how that one aligns with the meta title:

Meta Title: Interview on Company Culture with Rand Fishkin
H1: So Not Mad Men: Talking Company Culture with Rand Fishkin

Once again, we’re using the meta title as a straightforward, searchable description of what’s on the page. And we’re being more relaxed and having fun with the on-page title. But we made them similar enough that viewers won’t get confused when they go from search results to the webpage.

Reasons to Make Your Meta Title and H1 the Same

Two titles aren’t always better than one. There’s a good argument for making your meta title and H1 identical (or very close.) That is that users will appreciate the consistency. When they click on the title in search results, they get to a page that matches their expectations. That’s important! So, you should never stray too far from your meta title with your on-page title.

It’s your call whether to lean toward consistency or creativity. Personally, I’d be more likely to use a creative H1 in the case of an article or blog post (like the examples above) than, say, a product page or an evergreen page on a core topic.