You know the old saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, in the digital world it unfortunately doesn’t hold the same earnest validity. As far as SEO-ers and search engines are concerned, titles and metas are the hardcover of your book (website) in an indexed library, and before you can even open it and start flicking through the (web)pages, a captivating summary of the content inside is needed. In this blog, we’ll discuss what the different tags are, how to write titles and metas, as well as how to optimise your website to be successful.
What are title tags & meta descriptions?
Title tags and meta description are two types of HTML code inserted in the header of the web page code. These bits of code help search engines understand the context as well as content of a given page. These tags also appear in the search engine results page or (SERP), giving additional information to users and differentiating from competitive sites. In the image displayed below the title tag appears at the top in blue, while the meta description is the grey text below it.
Think of the title tag of your website as the title of your book, or if its a category page, the title of the chapter. What is it about? Is it funny or engaging? Would you want to read it? This tag needs to summarise the content in a short and sweet sentence fragment. This can appear in many places across the world wide web, including SERPs, as well as external sites and social channels like Facebook and Twitter, so be sure to make sure its suitable for all users! (For example – don’t make your title ‘Google’s favourite website – Brand Name’ when it could appear on Bing and seriously hurt Bing’s crawl robot’s feelings…among other things such as user intent).
Here’s how the title tag code looks:
<title>Your awesome title here</title>
And what it looks like:
Think of the meta tag of your website like the back cover of the book, summarizing the story in an engaging way that makes the reader want to read more. The meta description makes up for what you simply cannot fit in the title tag and gives you the space to summarise to users why they should click onwards and visit your site.
This is what the description tag looks like:
<meta name=”description” content=”This is where you add your awesome meta description. Make it engaging. Read more? Buy now! ”>
And what it looks like:
Why are these important?
Titles and metas are important for users and the user experience (UX), improving your sites click-through rates (CTR), as well as search engines and crawl bots. If you don’t include them in your code or specify them in your content management system (CMS), Google will typically pull existing content from the page that seems relevant- but leaves a big risk for misrepresenting page intent and negatively impacting UX. Don’t let a robot choose your title! If information is pulled from existing content in your pages’ header or copy, it can create duplicate content that also has a negative effect on your PageRank.
How do I write titles and/or metas?
Now that you know why title tags are important and where they should go in the code, writing a title should be a piece of cake! Start by determining a summarising word or phrase that encapsulates the page’s content. Next, think about important phrases or keywords you want to target, and make sure to include these towards the front of the title to catch the eyes of users as well as search engine crawl bots.
Make sure to keep your title between 50 and 60 characters, or within the parameters of a 512-pixel display. If your title is longer than this, it will get cut off. There is no perfect number of characters to use as screen display screens change by device, so stick to short and sweet.
Meta descriptions should follow suit to title tags, summarising the content using relevant keywords in a compelling sentence or two. It’s important to remember not to copy content from the actual page itself verbatim, but instead give a synopsis to avoid duplicate copy. Keep your meta description between 150-160 characters, as any longer than this and it has the potential of getting cut short leaving ellipses, as displayed below. Recently, Google has been experimenting with using either 160 or 320 characters (as seen in the above examples) but to avoid any potential issues, it is best practice to stick to 160 characters.
How to Optimise Title Tags & Meta Descriptions?
When optimising your titles, it’s important to put yourself in the mind of your consumer as well as the search engine. Spend some time making each one compelling to visitors, so that they’re more likely to click through to your site. Make sure your title has relevant keywords but isn’t oversaturated and repetitive. Include the brand either at the beginning or end of the title tag. If you are unsure, tools such as Deepcrawl and Screaming Frog can determine if your title tags need further optimisation.
When optimising your meta descriptions, think again to the back of a book cover. Give enough information to leave users interested, but enough of a cliff-hanger to make them want more. Metas should also follow short and concise parameters and, depending on the nature of your site, have a ‘call to action’ (CTA). Read more on how you can optimise your meta descriptions to improve CTR, UX and more here.