No, we're not talking about a SEO media darling known as the title tag. We're talking about it's red-headed step sister, the title attribute.
According to W3.org, the “title” attribute offers advisory information about the element for which it is set. W3 goes on to state that “setting the [title] attribute on a link allows user agents (visual and non-visual) to tell users about the nature of the linked resource.”
Unfortunately, what W3 does not say is whether or not this fairly obscure attribute is of any use to enterprising webmasters. The question of SEO value, as it relates to the title attribute of a textual hyperlink, has been around for years, but to date, there has never really been any real consensus on the matter.
Matt Cutts has never directly blogged about it. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines doesn’t mention it. Even the various industry forums have rather long threads that debate the matter but don’t agree upon a specific resolution.
So what gives with the title attribute?
Well before going any further, perhaps I should take a few moments to actually show a title attribute in action:
Here's a photo of <A href="http://someplace.com/neatstuff.gif" title="Me scuba diving">me scuba diving last summer
</A> in Aruba.
If you open up this little code snippet on a web browser, you’ll notice that the title attribute does not affect the existing anchor text of the given link. However, hovering over the link makes a small window appear, which features the text outlined by said title attribute.
(note: we’re almost done with the boring code talk)
So in a sense, the title attribute works like an alt. image tag for text.
Any self-respecting SEO recognizes the value of keyword-rich alt. tags for images and/or image links. But can we be sure that the title attribute carries a similar kind of weight with Google and the other search engines?
The resounding answer is a definite maybe.
Personally, I’ve been using the title attribute for years. Not necessarily for any search engine benefit, but as a tool to communicate with end users. For example, if I’m working with a website about the New York Yankees, and there’s a global navigation link labeled “Home”, I’ll likely have a heard time convincing the powers that be to change the anchor text on that global link to “New York Yankees.”
Granted, you would hope that there would be an alternative link (maybe on the footer) that would also lead to the homepage, and could utilize a more SEO-friendly anchor, but either way it wouldn’t hurt to use the title attribute to give more information about the “Home” link to the user.
And if that title attribute is somehow factored in by
Googlebot, well that’s just icing on the cake!
But again, at this point there is only anecdotal evidence pointing to the SEO value (or lack thereof) associated with this attribute. There’s actually a very interesting thread on the topic, complete with semi-scientific observations over at the WebmasterWorld Supporter’s Forum, but it is only accessible to paid members.
In any case, the bottom line is that the proverbial jury is still out on this issue. Perhaps Matt Cutts will pick up on this topic and help clear the air via his blog. Or better still, maybe Google will step up and make a definitive stance on the subject, the way they recently did with regards to paid links.
Until then, your best bet is to use the title attribute when necessary, as a communication tool for your users. If it’s a part of the W3.org it likely can’t hurt, and if there is any search engine benefit, you’ll be reaping the rewards long before this technique becomes a part of the SEO mainstream.