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I've seen questions edited to remove the language name from the title. Won't search engines - and folks using search engines - have an easier time finding them if these "tags" are kept as part of the title?

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migrated from Aug 31 '09 at 19:50

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

Stack Overflow has an extensive tag system which allows users to identify what technology is involved in a question, watch or ignore certain subjects, narrow their searches to a specific area, and even learn about the tag's subject via its wiki.

This tag system works. You can rely on it to notify users who are interested in a tag about your question. Stack Overflow is optimized so that tags are indexed by search engines along with the content of the question. Users are guaranteed to view your tags, and will take them into account when answering your question.

Therefore it is completely unnecessary to force tags into your question titles.

You absolutely do NOT have to use any one of the following forms when composing your title:

  • [tag]: [question title]
  • [question title] -- [tag] [tag] [tag]
  • [question title] in [tag]
  • [tag] [tag] [question title] [tag] [tag] [tag]
  • [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag]

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?

Note that the system automatically prefixes the title with the most common tag (unless it's already in the title somewhere) to help search engines find it more easily.

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If you ask the question in the first example, I will hurt you in unimaginable ways. – casperOne Apr 24 '12 at 15:07
Canonical question and answers on this issue here? – Benjol Apr 25 '12 at 6:08
I think that this is a stupid policy. Having things that appear to be tags in your question such as "How do I emulate the Form.Show event in Windows-Mobile". are very relevant to the question, and they do not reduce it's readability at all. This policy is all downside and no upside. – Sam I am Jul 5 '12 at 14:47
@SamIam: Wrong: Your comment is [wrong] – Won't Jul 5 '12 at 14:52
The suggestion that tags are not helpful in the title would be more convincing if there weren't cases of people misunderstanding questions because they don't notice the tags. (And in some cases, voting to close the question because they don't understand its relevance.) – user196371 Sep 21 '12 at 20:20
Yep, I have to say I think this policy is crazy. It results in people editing questions titles that were very clear, and reducing them to completely ambiguous pap. Granted, there are times when tags can be removed from question title without a loss of clarity, but turning question titles into seemingly completely generic entities reduces readability and promotes inappropriate answers. I feel like the edits people are making to try to follow this policy are often making things worse, not better. – beska Feb 27 '13 at 22:13
An example, to explain my recent comment: if I look at the Hot Questions right now, in gaming there is a question called "Blast-proof exp grinder?" This title is almost meaningless. Adding the word "Minecraft" to the title would make it very clear (to people who are interested in such things). But as it stands, that word would be removed in favor of the tag. (Note, I'm not advocating removing the tag...just being able to have them in the title where useful) – beska Mar 6 '13 at 16:30
@beska. So put the tag in the title, but in title style, not in tag style. And, while you're about it, turn the title into a question: "How do I create a blast-proof exp grinder in Minecraft?" – TRiG is Timothy Richard Green Apr 11 '13 at 12:33
@TRiG I've tried that a few times, but they often get peer-reviewed and declined, because "tags are not supposed to be in question titles". So I'm more trying to raise awareness about it than fix a specific question. – beska Apr 11 '13 at 17:21
"Users are guaranteed to view your tags" - absolutely not true. I've gradually learned over time to check the tags, but it's still not something I naturally see early on. Moreover, tags are not shown in the "hot questions" or "inbox" lists, so they can't be used in that context to quickly filter for topics that interest me. And on the question page itself, the tags are shown after the title and the question, which means the tags may not be visible at all without a page scroll. By all means use tags: they are very useful. But don't forbid the use of key topic terms in titles. – LarsH Apr 18 '13 at 19:56
@beska, maybe you should add an answer to this question. That would give people who disagree with this answer something to upvote. – LarsH Apr 18 '13 at 20:03
To add a bit of abjectivity to this discussion, consider the correlation of tags in titles with significantly lower question scores:… – Steve Konves May 3 '13 at 2:04
The problem with this normalization of tags is that you have to look in two places to see the scope of the question. Even the [qtitle] in [tag] is useful to quickly scan 50 questions for something you can answer. Readability counts. – RickyA Sep 24 '13 at 11:52
Disagree. Not all people search through tags. In addition, while just browsing, Title is the most descriptive method to understand the nature of Question. After all, it never give any harm to Tag system in any way. If it is doing so, then your system got a big flaw... – Farrukh Waheed Jan 22 '14 at 12:11
I don't see how "How do I do this in X?" isn't "organic to the conversational tone of the title". If people are going to follow this policy mindlessly, at the very least the policy needs to not contain mistakes or contradictions. (And I'm pretty sure Sam I am's original comment was referring to that particular example and not the general policy.) – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jul 30 '14 at 14:21
up vote 140 down vote

I would like to emphasize for those who are editing questions to remove tags from the titles that there is nothing wrong with including words used as tags in the title when they make the question clearer. For example, converting

Does Mongoid support secondary-only reads?


Secondary-only read support?

does not help anybody. The prohibition is against forcing tags into titles where they otherwise would not belong.

Please do not remove key words that happen to be tags when doing so makes the titles muddier.

Our Fearless Leader even explicitly encourages the use of tag words in titles in certain ways.

If you review the history of this question and answer you will see that the genesis was in people adding keywords to the title in order to help people doing searches and not in order to help people reading the question. Won't's point is mainly that there is no reason to do that, since between tags and other very smart SEO techniques used by the SE software the search engines already get all that information, and since forcibly stuffing tags in the title is annoying to people reading the title, don't do that.

However, despite what Won't asserts, plenty of people do not notice the tags when scanning the lists of questions or, even more critically, when reviewing edits or votes to close. It happens a lot. If the title could easily be interpreted many different ways and is only clarified by words already used as tags then the title is too vague and the tag words should stay.

That said, there is widespread agreement to avoid having tags or anything else in the title that disrupts the conversational tone. So go ahead and remove tags from titles like

  • [tag]: [question title]
  • [question title] -- [tag] [tag] [tag]
  • [tag] [tag] [question title] [tag] [tag] [tag]
  • [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag] [tag]

This specific example of [question title] in [tag] is more controversial. I feel strongly (and apparently Jeff Atwood agrees) that even if the question is thoroughly tagged, the title

How do I pass a reference as an argument?

is ridiculously vague.

How do I pass a reference as an argument in [tag]?

is going to be much more helpful when "[tag]" is one of "PHP", "Python", or "bash". On the other hand

How to JUnit test for any output in Java

is probably better off as

How to JUnit test for any output

since anyone who knows JUnit would infer Java. Still, I'd much rather live with some unnecessary ' Java' titles if it means avoiding titles like When to use symbols?

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I have personally removed many tag-names from question titles. When I do it, though, I try to reword the title so that it still makes sense and may in fact be more specific, for example:

issue in HTML5 with displaying video


Video element only shows control bar

and then I add tags to show which browser the error occurred in, etc.

I think that making the question titles more specific will allow targeted assistance to problems.

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Good point. Questions with too little information are by far a bigger problem than questions with too much information. – colllin Jul 27 '13 at 17:23
I guess we can look at it the other way around too. Sometimes the tag in title is the only thing that is relevant to the question in search of. That is not necessarily a good thing either. – yardpenalty Dec 14 '13 at 10:03
I my opinion two different thinks are mixed clear titles and technology in the title. It is good to be more specific. So a change to HTML5 Video element only shows control bar keeps the technology and improves the title. But this is not an argument in favor of removing html5 from the title. – slackmuggle Dec 26 '13 at 23:32
Sadly making this change means that someone contributing their time to solve others' problems has to spend more time locating the tag. Who knows whether the retitled version refers to HTML5 or C# or Delphi or Java? Including the tag in the new title would clarify the situation Sadly, some people become obsessed with this "rule" which is in itself highly subjective. The time taken to mechanically examine and reprocess titles and add a comment quoting the regulations would be far better spent crafting solutions. I analysed a random snapshot of titles. 17% no tags in title - 74% included tags. – Magoo Jan 9 '14 at 4:33
When I do it, I read the question to find a more appropriate title if I can. Generally, the original titles which I edit have just "issue with [tagtext]" or "[tagtext] doesn't work" which can really be rewritten. However, of course, sometimes the tag text has to be in the title, I agree. – icedwater Jan 14 '14 at 3:37
I totally agree with @threeFourOneSixOneThree on this. HTML5 Video element only shows control bar would be an even better title, not a worse title than Video element only shows control bar, as it is more specific and thus more likely to attract the right experts to a question. – John Slegers Feb 23 at 13:21

Though I totally agree with everything said, I'd like to add:

In my eyes it is not necessary that users, whose edits require peer reviewing, remove the tag from question titles, like:

  • [tag]: [question title]
  • [question title] in [tag]

as long as this is the only editing of the post.

They are are usually considered as "Too minor" and rightly so! (recent example) These unnecessary edits blow up the review queue, and it is a little annoying that there are users out there, which are purposeful looking for those questions, probably don't even read them and just edit the title to get the rep/badge. So it happens that I use my daily 20 Suggested-Edit-Reviews mostly on minor title edits, I think that count could be spend for more useful suggestions.

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@Mat I don't see a way to implement this, without harming the possibility of necessary edits. So it's no feature request. But in the given example the editor justified his minor edit with this meta-question here. So I'd like to throw this issue into discussion here, so he or future rep-hunting editors wouldn't do it anymore. – thewaywewalk Jan 11 '14 at 14:18
Sorry, misread your post. Though you were proposing that such edits be automatically accepted/not go through review. – Mat Jan 11 '14 at 14:20

Tags in the title help digest search results. Google knows nothing about Stack Overflow's tags (or does not display results based upon them). The same probably applies to other search engines like Bing.

enter image description here

A second issue is duplicate questions titles. Below is an attempt to remove the tag "BlackBerry" from the title.

enter image description here

The original question is here, while the duplicate question title shown above is here.

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This is not actually true. If you take a look at your example image there is a topic called "ios - how to navigate through textfields". However if you navigate to the question "ios" is not in the question title. This is because Stack Exchange adds it for the sake of search engines. – Amicable May 6 '14 at 12:52
Your second example is covered by this answer on this page, it a nutshell don't remove tags just for the sake of it. "Timer not working" is not a clearer title. – Amicable May 6 '14 at 12:55
While SO can add meta keywords to HTML pages and tags to the URL, the end user looking at Google results may skip titles which don't include the relevant tag. A tag in the title often has a lot of value. – arielf Aug 12 '14 at 23:24
@Amicable: It's pretty common for the most popular tag on a question not to be the most relevant one, though, in which case having the more-popular tag prepended doesn't make up for leaving the most relevant word out of the title... – SamB Dec 31 '15 at 2:44

While it makes no sense to put all information found in your tags in your title as well, it makes no sense either to remove all references to any information found in the tags from every question.

Consider the following two titles :

  • How to read a text file
  • How to read a text file in PHP
  • How to read a text file in Node.js
  • How to read a text file in

If I ask you which of these you're most likely to click, your answer will probably depend on whatever is your technical expertise. If you're a PHP programmer, you're more likely to click How to read a text file in PHP. If you're a backend JS programmer, you're more likely to click How to read a text file in Node.js.

More importantly, however, is this : regardless of your expertise you'll be less likely to click How to read a text file because you'll first need to check the tags to see if you have the proper expertise to answer this question. You know this to be true. In general, people are either lazy, busy or both, and thus always tend to be increasingly less likely to take action the more steps an action requires.

Yet, if you strictly apply the principle that (1) the programming language should be mentioned as a tag and the principle that (2) information in a tag does not belong in a title, only the title How to read a text file would be in accordance with both principles. That, I believe, is an indication that principle 2 needs some tweaking.

Additionally, consider that questions aren't always accompanied with tags, (like the "Linked questions" and "Related questions" on the right hand side of any question). In these cases, all you have to go with to figure out whether a question is relevant for you is the title. Do you really want to waste my precious time and that of so many others on this website by encouraging us to click on questions that involve programming environments I'm completely unfamiliar with, where this could have simply been avoided simply by mentioning a programming language? From a UX (= user experience) perspective, that is about as horrible as it gets!

Or what about search engines? While search engines like Google or Bing probably do include tag information in their search behavior, it is unclear to which degree they do, and I'm pretty confident that titles explicitly referencing a particular technology are more likely to be one of the top results when searching for that specific technology than titles lacking such a reference.

But even if that would not be the case, tag information is not shown in the title or anywhere else in the search results, meaning that I have to assess whether to click a title based on just the title and a tiny bit of additional content :

Screenshot search results

So, while I guess there are valid arguments to removing content also found in tags from titles of questions, I don't think this should be applied to all questions as a general principle and that some common sense should be applied here to decide whether certain information in a title has a positive or negative impact on UX.

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I'm also on the fence about this. When you look at the list of questions on the main page in which each question has a list of tags under it, certainly all those title-embedded tags seem pretty redundant, and even kind of, well, crappy.

I get that, I can see how that could easily send OCD types into seizures and conniptions. And we certainly have our OCD types in I.T., and thank goodness we do, I mean, when a misplaced semicolon can crash your space station, that detail orientation has value, without question. I'm blessed (or cursed) with a certain amount of it myself, and all those title-embedded tags, now that they've been drawn to my attention, are already starting to make part of me wrinkle my nose and suffer an urge to whack someone's knuckles with a ruler:

(Er, oops, sorry.)

But I don't see any tag lists under the question titles in the "Linked" or the "Related" question lists. And I don't see tags under the question titles that show up when I'm typing a question in and SO is referring me to questions it thinks may be related.

If we avoid using any tags when we fashion question titles, won't that make it harder to tell how relevant these other questions really are?

It may be that those lists of potentially related questions shouldn't serve any useful purpose, because people should use the actual search function before typing in a question, but it seems to me that these peripheral lists do actually serve a useful purpose, and that they shouldn't have tag lists, and if they don't, and the question titles don't have any "embedded tags", or anything that could be called one, then their usefulness will be substantially reduced.

Also, "tags" in question titles aren't necessarily really the same things as tags. When used in a question title, a "tag" like "C#" really narrows the focus of the question and the motivated responses. That question is definitely specific to C#. But when used as a tag, it just means that that question is in some way related to C# or involves C#. It doesn't necessarily mean that the question is really specific to C#.

What exactly is a tag? I suppose a person could argue that a title-embedded tag is pretty obvious and easy to recognize; that most people would probably agree that some particular word or phrase, used in a title, represents a title-embedded tag. But I can imagine that not really being so in many cases (just because a word or phrase is listed as a tag doesn't mean that every use of it represents a use of the tag - words have different meanings in different contexts), and how much argument about these kinds of things do we really want to encourage?

Would we rather piss off question editors, or question authors? Is this kind of policy not a perfect example of the kind of thing you end up with when you engage in the rule of the many by the few? Because we think the few are more deserving than the many? Look at all those reputation points! By golly, you've earned your right to whack knuckles, haven't you!

Anyway, while I understand the annoyance that title-embedded "tags" may produce for a lot of us, I'm not sure I'm convinced that they don't actually serve a worthwhile purpose.

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Generally, an answer makes a point. I have absolutely no idea which side of the argument you are on – Jonesopolis Jan 21 '15 at 16:45
@Jonesopolis: That is the point. Meta is the place for nonsense. "To the Warrior of Knowledge, always battling ugly truths, the idea that there is no truth at all is a great bath and relaxation. Nihilism is our kind of leisure." - Nietzsche – no comprende Jul 24 '15 at 1:48

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