· topic

Titles vs. Headings

Cody Woodard recently lamented pages that use duplicate titles and headings, where the <title> and <h1> are same. It's often held to be good design practice to make the title longer than the heading, but considered advice on the subject is more subtle.

The two W3C QA tips that give advice on Titles vs. Headings, Use h1 for Title and Good Titles, say clearly that titles should i) make sense out of context, and ii) not be too long. On how headings relate to titles, on the other hand, they conflict in their advice: one says that the headings can be the “same as the title” if the document stands alone, or shorter otherwise; and the other advises that a heading may be “more detailed” that the title.

Moreover, Aaron Swartz's original message suggesting the tip advised that titles be duplicates of headings. TimBL's original advice on the subject, from The TITLE element in HTML of the Hypertext Style Guide, suggests only the advice that a title “should identify the content of the document in a fairly wide context.” The undertone, perhaps, is that a title would necessarily be longer than the heading.

Advice on Titles vs. Headings nowadays should be practical: Tim's advice still stands in that a title should be informative when used as a link to the document in question on a search engine. This means that it shouldn't be absurdly long either. The heading should orient people whilst they're on the page; despite the conflicted advice of the QA tips, there is almost certainly never any need for it to be longer than the title. In other words: len(title) >= len(heading). But as long as you make sure that the title is okay, the heading is often just a matter of aesthetics.

Further Reading

Sean B. Palmer, 2006-12-13