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Titles should be completely independent of tags. A good title tells an expert whether they want to read the full question all by itself.

I know this has come up multiple times before, before, but in each case, the discussion has seemed to have turned into a different question. For example,

Should questions include "tags" in their titles? really asks, "Don't we need tags in titles to help with SEO"?

So, "no, we don't, because we add the top tag (or two, in some cases) to the crawler results," is correct, but it appears that people are interpreting that to mean that people generally can (or should) omit key terms from their titles if they exist in the tags.

To be clear:

  • I agree that we should never force a tag into a title if it's not helpful; Why didn't my beer cake cook properly? should NOT have "[Baking]:" jammed into the title, because it adds nothing to a reader's understanding of what it's about, BUT...

  • Nothing should be left out of a title just because it exists in the tags.

Trilogy examples: How do I make a machine "blank screen" for a period of time (as a penalty) if certain noise levels are reached?, What is the purpose of the holes marked "Do Not Cover" on hard drives?, What's wrong with always being root?

Arqade examples: http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/68710/how-is-experience-divided-in-multiplayer, What actions reward experience?, Ways to earn experience-points,

The problem with all of these is that without a language, OS, or game title, they fail to convey whether you care to read the question, because you need to read the tags to even figure out if you work with the language or own the game in question.

A term being in a tag in no way reduces the need for it in the title. Tags are great for filtering, but a title is supposed to function like a headline.

This is a good headline:

enter image description here

This is not very good headline:

enter image description here

Titles, like headlines, are BIG AND BOLD on the front and other pages. So you can browse and stuff. Tags are small, and kind of low contrast. So they don't, you know, distract you from the headlines.

Bear in mind that on non-technical sites, new visitors, even new experts, don't necessarily even know what tags are.

The title test:

If you assume the reader can't even see the tags, is your title a good, stand-alone summary of the question for an expert on that topic?

I'm sticking with gaming examples because they're more broadly accessible than some topics:

Why do zerglings with speed beat normal zerglings? does not need, "in Starcraft" added, because it's impossible to be interested in the answer and not know that a zergling question relates to Starcraft.

but...

Besides practicing, what are some great ways to become a better player?, absolutely needs "...in Starcraft 2" added to it, because without the tags, it's currently useless as a way to decide if you want to read it.

This is really no change from Jeff Atwood's comment: enter image description here

In the wake of that comment, people seemed to mostly hear:

"stop forcing a word you don't need in just cuz it's a tag"

... which is right, but what it really says is,

"most of the time, some tags will naturally belong in a title that effectively summarizes the question".

EDIT: Some folks felt this was (an unduly public) way to call out gaming specifically. It's not - I think this is a problem to varying degrees on a number of sites, but used examples from gaming because they're easy for most readers to follow. Sincere apologies to anyone in the Arqade community who felt I was using a network-wide forum to criticize a gaming practice - I wanted to clarify the best practice for all the sites that encounter this at least sometimes, including SO, where you still see people stripping languages from titles in edits sometimes.

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Luck, or the lack of it, had nothing to do with it. Don't you know that god - in his ultimate wrath, but with utterly convincing infinite benevolence - sank that boat verily on purpose? –  Grant Thomas May 13 '13 at 18:56
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I've seen a 10K+ user edit out "in java" from the title. I immediately asked for his motivation, to which he never responded. I'm wondering if I should have reverted - and I considered it at that time, too. –  Jan Dvorak May 13 '13 at 18:59
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Thank you! I have felt this way for a long time, but have seen a lot of editors doing the opposite. –  Jeremy Banks May 13 '13 at 19:01
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Maybe I'm not entirely getting it, but what is the question or point for discussion here? Or is this post an announcement of some sort—a reference guide to point to? (Maybe this would have been better suited as a FAQ-like post to supersede others, with a made-up question and a proper answer…) –  slhck May 13 '13 at 20:16
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I think "Sinks" is a detailed enough title. –  Cole Johnson May 13 '13 at 22:41
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Where are we imagining that users are encountering titles without tags? When I scan the front page of Arqade, I generally scan down the tags, which are all nicely horizontally aligned. If the tag interests me, then I read the title. Looking for the game name in the title is inefficient, and I have a hard time believing that new users don't understand that the prominent box under the title indicates the game it is about. –  bwarner May 30 '13 at 16:58

6 Answers 6

Now that I've listened to the Stack Overflow Podcast (#47), I understand the point of view you're trying to get across quite a bit more. I agree that the correct way to be handling this, rather specifically from an Arqade point of view (since that's where I spend most of my time and that's the site mentioned so much during the podcast) is to do the following;

  • Make a way for us to denote that a tag is 'the topic of conversation', in our instance, this would be the name of the game
  • Make these tags very prominent next to the game title

While I agree that some of our titles make it difficult to understand what game is being spoken about without referring to the tags, I do not believe the correct way of dealing with this issue is to edit the game name into each title to specify which game is being discussed as this leads to things like question titles wrapping onto multiple lines, horrible titles like "Game Name: Question?" or "Question - Game Name" which, in my opinion, is a further step back than our current titles.

Ultimately, this issue only exists within Stack Exchange, as any question on the site will appear with the tags prefixed before the title in the page title, on search engines, etc - therefore it should be dealt with within the Stack Exchange engine, rather than changing the way titles are currently formed.

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Corresponding to your "subject of question" tag suggestion might be a "incidental to question" tag. I've always hated adding a "C#" tag to an ASP.NET question simply because the code happens to be written in C#. –  John Saunders Dec 12 '13 at 13:21

I have to agree with the others here: Tags can very well be supplementary to the title.

This is for a simple reason: The way the search currently works - reasonably so - makes it a little hard to locate a question, if the data in the tags isn't included somewhere outside the tags. Otherwise it does indeed require knowledge of search queries and the tags for the search to find the results one is looking for.

This does not mean that we should cram all the important data into the title, though.

  • The title should describe the problem at hand.
  • The question body should describe the circumstances.
  • Tags should allow for filtering and quick reading of the question list.

So, to sum this up:

  • A question that doesn't contain all the information without the tags is incomplete.
  • Title + Tags should contain all important data.
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"A question that doesn't contain all the information without the tags is incomplete." Then there's a lot of editing to do on SO. Many questions are only answerable because they have one (or more) of java, .net, c# or vb.net, etc. –  Mark Hurd May 17 '13 at 6:53
    
Of course, and then, in theory, the exact same question can be asked again with a different tag and then expect to get different answers, instead of being marked as a duplicate. –  Mark Hurd May 17 '13 at 6:57
    
@MarkHurd 1. If the question isn't complete by title & body, it relies on people reading the tags to understand it. That is not the function of the tags. Tags are for skimming and filtering. 2. I don't see how you even come to that conclusion. Changing the tags should not change the information in the question (title + body) - because the question does not need the tags. –  user98085 May 17 '13 at 12:20

You're going against a long established practice on SE sites with this argument. Space is valuable, and titles that are long enough to wrap and occupy two lines are generally a bad idea. You further encouraged the princpiple of omitting the primary tag by adding the most important tag to the HTML title, so if a user actually adds the game to the title they'll have a negative effect on SEO because the game name is at the end of the title instead of the front where it would be if it was automatically added.

Your proposal would mean that most questions on SO would have to include the progamming language in their title, and most questions on Arqade the name of the game. Both sites tend to avoid this unless the titles are really short.

For me personally, on SO I would not gain anything by having the programming language in the title as I always browse SO by tags. It is just so huge that it does not make sense to just look at the frontpage.

Of course it would be useful to immediately know which game a question on Arqade belongs to. But that information is already in the tags, it should not be necessary to repeat it. That the game a question is about is not immediately obvious on Arqade is just a failure of the current UI for this case. We, the users of Arqade, have long argued that game tags are special and deserve some additional features. I personally would go even further and argue that Arqade should be structures around games and not tags, but I understand that this would be a huge development effort for a single site.

If some sites like SO and Arqade have a tag that almost always should be in the title according to your criteria, then the SE software should support this case.

I personally even include the game name on Arqade for short titles, but in general this is just not reliable enough because many titles are long enough that including the name of the game would be rather painful.

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To expand on this, any user that is familiar with stackexchange will know about the tags, any user that isn't will have arrived via a search engine most likely, which will have displayed the tags in the page title in the search results... –  Flyk May 13 '13 at 20:39
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Tags aren't visible by hot questions, related and linked questions, just to make a point. In google search result page also the titles are something that's always shown fully, the other things - it depends. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Apr 16 at 12:04

We've actually dealt with the "Game Name in title" issue for a very long time. Based on the experience we've had running the site, along with our discussions, we've come to the conclusions that the best way to convey the game is via the tag. Having the game name in the title is great, but only if it naturally fits there. Adding "In Starcaft 2" at the end of every post often makes titles feel less natural and concise. Natural and concise titles are key aspects of being a good title and using tags to convey the game name is one way we make concise and natural titles.

I guess what I'm ultimately saying is that I feel the rule that "Title should be stand-alone" is a little too narrow since it:

  • Ignores the fact tags exist and their placement in the site makes them prominent to any users looking through the question list
  • Assumes that "stand alone" is the only factor in what makes a good title. Like I said above, being concise and natural is also important.

With that said, I think a more sensible rule (and is basically what we follow on Arqade) is that "The Title and Tags should be enough to tell an expert if the question interests them."

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The problem with that is that a new user can't even see what kind of questions the site has until they learn something new. On this site, headings don't convey a topic. You need to also find a smaller, additional piece of info, which often is the key word needed to summarize the question. –  Jaydles May 13 '13 at 20:22
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@Jaydles Like I said in chat, I think you're underestimating both new users and your site design. The tag is very prominent in the question list, and is therefore hard to miss. Their placement on the question excerpt indicates that they are important in understanding what the question is about (not to mention that tags are used everywhere on the internet. They're not some new thing). –  Wipqozn May 13 '13 at 20:29
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My biggest problem with not having the tags in the title is when I'm posting a new question, and try to review the Related Question list to see if what I'm posting has already been posted somewhere. You can't see tags there, and the content isn't filtered by tag, so although the title might match mine, there's no context given for what sub-category the post is in so it is likely to not be of interest to me. Sometimes I'll waste a bunch of time clicking through the links there, but most times I just ignore them if there's a lot of close matches. –  Rachel May 14 '13 at 11:59
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Yeah, and now there are those 'hot questions' from arquade, where nobody knows what game they are about before clicking :D –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Apr 16 at 12:07

I agree, but I don't quite understand why this needs a new question; hasn't this been the generally accepted "community" decision for a very long time, at least on Stack Overflow?

This I dislike

Python: How can I access the first element of a dictionary

This I don't mind (I think the "in Python" is fairly unnecessary but can accept that others disagree):

Accessing the first element of a dictionary in Python

and this is also fine:

Access the first element of a Python dictionary

The highest upvoted answer in Should questions include "tags" in their titles? has a similar example:

The only time you should use tags in your title is when they are organic to the conversational tone of the title. For example,

JavaScript, jQuery: When should I use one or the other?

is an example of forcing tags in order to compensate for a lousy title. The title would be much clearer if rewritten thusly:

Can I use jQuery to foo the bar on the baz, or am I stuck using plain JavaScript?

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Personally I don't mind the form of "Python: How can I access the first element of a dictionary", and that is actually preferred to "How can I access the first element of a dictionary", as it is much more useful when doing a search for how to access the first element of a dictionary in any language. –  Rachel May 13 '13 at 19:14
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The latter Python example looks the most correct and clear way to me, particularly so when not browsing within specific tags. On SO, at least, we can talk about Heaps, Stacks, VMs, Pointers, Arrays, and all sorts of overlap in the title perhaps relating to any given language or framework, making it tempting to click into an irrelevant (to the individual) question. I think this question's recommendation is asking to introduce the same difficulties as censors cause. If SE want to stop explanatory, self-contained titles, then they should be thinking about solving the problem, not its symptoms. –  Grant Thomas May 13 '13 at 19:36
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@Rachel No matter the discussion about which is better grammar or more correct usage, the Python: at the start of your example sentence is a clear case of seeding the title with a tag. We don't need to see Python in the title - it's already in the tags. This will also be highlighted further to people who have python as a favorite tag. –  slugster May 13 '13 at 20:05
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See other responses - a number of people seem to think that putting tag terms in titles should generally be avoided as redundant, and it happens regularly, as shown in a few examples above. –  Jaydles May 13 '13 at 20:26
    
    
Don't forget that even if someone is not interested in the specifics of a language, seeing how it's done in other languages might actually help him find a solution on his own. For instance, if I want to access an element of an array in PHP and find a question about Java telling me it's done by using arrax[index], it's not hard to figure out (or at least test) the php way: $array[index]. So even if someone "accidentally" views his very question in the wrong context, it might still help. After all, we expect users to show effort and post what they've done to solve the problem. –  scenia Mar 14 at 14:40

Why do zerglings with speed beat normal zerglings? does not need, "in Starcraft" added, because it's impossible to be interested in the answer and not know that a zergling question relates to Starcraft.

That's a very poor example as you're not guaranteed it works across all games that contain Zerglings.

As of right now, there are two StarCraft games and each game has one expansion. There's no guarantee that thing X in one game works the same as thing X in the same game's expansion, let alone in the other games in the series.

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This is a very good point about that example. It shows just how blurry the lines are between when you want to add the principal tag to the title or not. –  Rachel May 13 '13 at 19:04
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This answer just seems to be about Starcraft to me. Can you explain this metaphor? –  AAA May 13 '13 at 19:05
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@djechlin Either the point of this answer is that tags should always be in titles, because the example given of a question that doesn't need a tag in it's title was bad, or he's just saying Jaydles picked a poor example; probably the latter, making this just a comment. –  Servy May 13 '13 at 19:09
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@djechlin There is Starcraft, SC: Broodwars, SC 2:Heart of the Storm, SC 2: Wings of Liberty, one more SC2 expansion I can't remember the name of, and then there are other games based on the starcraft universe which may have Zerglings... Warcraft or Warhammer comes to mind, but I didn't play many of those so don't remember if they have zerglings or not. The point is, "Zerglings" could apply to any one of those games. The title doesn't make it clear about which game the question is about - all it does is narrow it down to a group of games which may or may not share the same audience. –  Rachel May 13 '13 at 19:10
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If you're playing one of those games and do a search because you have a question, you already know what you're looking for, and in the question the tags could refine it to verify it's the game you're trying play, though. Your point that it would perhaps need a specific Starcraft in the title might be more for people just browsing the site, without a context in mind. –  Bart Silverstrim May 13 '13 at 19:12
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@Rachel The second StarCraft 2 expansion isn't out yet, which is why you don't remember its name. WarCraft 3 also contains Zerglings as a hidden unit on at least one of the game's maps. –  Powerlord May 13 '13 at 19:18
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@BartSilverstrim The point was that Zergling only limits the list of games it could be, you'd still have to check the tags to see which of the 5 (6 sometime next year) games/expansions it actually applies to. –  Powerlord May 13 '13 at 19:19
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Point taken, although I think you're being a bit too literal with this example. Perhaps that title would benefit from a more specific "in Heart of the Swarm" or something, but just adding "in Starcraft" wouldn't be adding a heck of a lot. I also think it's fairly safe to say that nobody is asking questions about the best use for zerglings in Warcraft 3. –  Anna Lear May 13 '13 at 19:23
    
@BartSilverstrim If you want the tags to speak for the title, then UX should be considered, because in its current state, as per my comment on Ben's answer, this isn't necessarily immediately obvious, this answer and its validity notwithstanding. –  Grant Thomas May 13 '13 at 19:41
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While you may have a valid argument, you don't show in any way why that means a tag should be artificially introduced into the title of the question. By all means disambiguate in the text of the question or the tags, but keep the title natural. –  slugster May 13 '13 at 20:08

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