Titles & Meta Tags

In the early days of search engine optimization, marketers focused on meta-tags as the primary way to attract search engine traffic. Meta-tags are HTML tags that help describe the document they are located within. Today we know that search engines not only look at meta-tags, but a sites content, internal link structure and link popularity.

While search engines still use the Title Tag as a factor in their algorithms, the Description and Keyword tags are not a factor for ranking.  However the Description tag is still an important element of the site because it, in conjunction with the Title tag, is the first impression of your site a user will have when viewing Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).  The Description tag is generally displayed under the Title Tag in SERPs and is an opportunity for you to provide compelling reasons for a user to visit your site.  Poorly written or non-descriptive language will turn users away, before they even have a chance to see your site.

The Title Tag is the most important tag for a search engine. The Title Tag should describe exactly what the document contains. It should be as concise of a description as possible for what information will be found on the page and ideally contain keywords and terms you hope to be found for. Also ensure that the Title is as readable as possible. You must consider that the Title Tag will be the first thing someone sees if you appear in a search result.

Too often, companies or individuals focus on making sure their company name or proper name appears in every Title Tag on their website. Imagine walking into an immense library that contained millions of books all with the same title. You would go crazy and never find what you were looking for.

The Title Tag should be no longer than 70 characters and should contain words and phrases that accurately describe the content of a page. Try to make the Title Tags located throughout your site unique and relevant. Every word in the Title should be contained somewhere in the page they are used for. Research has also shown that a call to action will usually produce more clicks than a basic description.

What a Title Tag might look like for this article:

<TITLE>Title Tags, META Keywords, and Descriptions – Searchleap Guidelines</TITLE>

Remember to use the analytics tool for your website to determine the top keywords that people are finding your site with today. You can then fine tune your Title Tags throughout your website to reflect popular terms that you are highly relevant for. This will only show you the keywords you are performing well for today. There are likely many terms that won’t show up in your log files. You’ll want to research those using one of the many keyword research tools out there, like the Google Adwords Keyword Tool.

The description for a website is a 155 character explanation of the page and its contents. It should contain keywords and phrases you hope to be found for, but it should also read like an introductory lead-in for the topic or service you are highlighting. The Description Tag is another call to action.

Example for this article:

<META name=”description” content=”Learn the basic guidelines for writing great titles and descriptions for your web pages.”>

Your Description and Title Tag together should be compelling enough to generate a click through from a search result. You have to put yourself in the search engine visitor’s position. They are looking for something very specific. The description you provide for your page has to convince the person that you are providing exactly what they are looking for. If a user comes to your site and the Title and Description Tags don’t accurately match the content they actually find, you are less likely to be considered a reputable source of information.

Any time quotes are used in a meta description, Google cuts off the description. To prevent meta descriptions from being cut off, it’s best to remove all non-alpha/numeric characters from meta descriptions. If the quotes are important to include they can be changed to single quotes rather than double quotes to prevent truncation.

Although conventional logic would hold that it’s universally wiser to write a good meta description, rather than let the engines scrape a given web page, this isn’t always the case. Use the general rule that if the page is targeting 1-3 heavily-searched terms/phrases, go with a meta description that hits those users performing that search. However, if the page is targeting longer tail traffic (3+ keywords), for example with hundreds of articles or blog entries or even a huge product catalog, it can sometimes be wiser to let the engines themselves extract the relevant text. The reason is simple – when engines pull, they always display the keywords (and surrounding phrases) that the user searched for. If a webmaster forces a meta description, they can detract from the relevance the engines make naturally. In some cases, they’ll overrule the meta description anyway, but it’s not always wise to rely on that.

Here’s a quick checklist to consider when writing tags:

  • Provides call to action
  • Contains less than 70 characters
  • Uses important keywords and phrases
  • Describes what the page is about
  • Consistent with other content components
  • Place Important Keywords Close to the Front of the Title Tag
  • Consider Readability and Emotional Impact

META Description:

  • Provides call to action
  • Contains less than 155 characters
  • Uses important keywords and phrases
  • Describes what the page is about
  • Consistent with other content components
  • Avoid Duplicate Meta description Tags
  • Quotes Cutoff Descriptions
  • Sometimes it is Okay to Not Write Meta Descriptions