Two Kinds of Titles for Web Pages
(In-Context and Out-of-Context)

Most writers know the value of an informative title, but many beginning web authors don't know that each web page needs two kinds of titles. The in-context (IC) title always sits at the top of a page, with the rest of the document immediately beneath it. The out-of-context (OOC) title is frequently displayed by search engines or archive pages, as part of a long sorted list.

When a web author has neglected to provide an out-of-context title, many HTML authoring tools will supply a generic, uninformative title, such as "New Page 1" (see the example below).

Image: "New Page 1"

The in-context title of this page is "Two Kinds of Titles for Web Pages (In-Context and Out-of-Context)".  The out-of-context title for this page appears in a colored stripe at the very top of your web browser window: "Titles for Web Pages: In-Context and Out-of-Context (D.G. Jerz; Seton Hill University)".

Why Bother with Two Different Titles?

Write the out-of-context title for the benefit of someone who has not yet decided to view the rest of your document. You can't rely on pictures or anything else to entice them. In the image below, taken from an RSS feed reader, the user sees only a list of page titles, and will not see the rest of the page at all unless the out of context page title is informative and attractive enough.

Feedreader screen capture, showing a list of out-of-context titles.

The In-Context (IC) Title

A person who sees your in-context title can always see the rest of your document right below it.  The navigation links, graphics, and other descriptive content provide additional information.  Since anybody who can read the in-context title can also see all this other stuff at the same time, the in-context title doesn't have to carry the full weight of describing the page's contents.


If you put up a website devoted to skiing near the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, you might include a link to the UWEC home page, a UWEC logo, photos of students on a ski trip, a map showing nearby resorts, and a calendar of upcoming events.  Your in-context title might be "Everybody's Favorite Sport."  While that title is not terribly informative, the context (pictures, graphics, the content of the articles) will easily supply the missing word, "Skiing."

Note: Depending heavily on graphics will make your page more difficult for people with very slow Internet connections, people who rely on text-to-speech readers, or all but the latest hand-held computers.

The Out-of-Context (OOC) Title

If your out-of-context title reads "New Page 1" or something else uninformative, the credibility of your website will suffer.

NoImage: "New Page 1" is not an informative title.

The OOC title is mostly meant for computers to display, when the reader is not actually looking at your website. The user is probably looking at a list of search results, and will have to click on the OOC title in order to visit your page.

How many times have you been searching through a list of search engine results, and found a list of pages with titles like "Jen's Page" or "Page 2" or "Untitled"?   If you have information of value to web searchers, you should write a good OOC title, so that readers will know what your pages have to offer.


On 25 Nov, 2001, I searched Google for "UWEC students skiing."  Here's how one of the hits was presented:

Infinity Software Solutions, Inc.
... deeper discounts for UWEC students & staff. Most shows ... Reserve ($2/day) and UWEC Recreation (for univ ... trails, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, workshops and a ... - 48k - Cached - Similar pages

If you were looking for skiing links, not software solutions, you wouldn't be likely to click on this link; but here's what you would find:

Simple Pleasures is a compilation of local recreational and volunteer activities, with an emphasis on those that are simple, healthy, non-materialistic, community-building, supportive of the environment, supportive of the arts, etc. While most of these activities are available no matter where you live, the primary focus of this page is on the Chippewa Valley of west-central Wisconsin.    Last Updated 02/11/2000.

The rest of the page is a list of local activities in the Chippewa Valley, collected nearly two years ago.  Its relationship to Infinity Software Solutions, Inc. is unexplained.

A much better OOC title would have described the page contents more accurately, since the reader of the OOC title hasn't yet decided to visit your page, and can't scan down the page looking for interesting stuff:

Nature-friendly Recreation Links -- Chippewa Valley, WI (Feb, 2000)
... deeper discounts for UWEC students & staff. Most shows ... Reserve ($2/day) and UWEC Recreation (for univ ... trails, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, workshops and a ... - 48k - Cached - Similar pages

Creating the In-Context Title

  1. Type it at the top of the page. 
  2. Apply the "heading" format.  This will make the text larger, while at the same time marking that line of text as particularly important because it describes the content of your website.  In MS FrontPage:
    • Put the cursor on the line you want to identify as the "heading".
    • Click the drop-down box in the upper left of the screen; it is probably labeled "Normal". (See image at right.)  
    • Choose a heading (Heading 1 for the largest heading; Heading 2 for a subheading, and so on.)

Note: Simply increasing the type size to 18pt or 24pt is not the same thing as applying the "Heading" formatting. If you increase the type size, but don't identify the text as a "heading", the computer will think it's just large text; it won't know that you have identified this particular block of text as describing the content of your website.

Creating the Out-of-Context Title

  1. You need to tell your web editor what the out-of-context title is. In MS FrontPage:
  2. Right-click on the page you wish to edit.
  3. Select "Page Properties".
  4. Type the title in the "Title" box. 

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