Writing Quality Title Tags and Meta Descriptions to Support SEO Strategy
In writing for website clients, your work doesn’t stop at content. You also have to know how to prepare dynamic title tags and meta descriptions—the two key visual components of search-engine pages that drive searchers to your client’s site.
- The title tag on a search-engine page is the blue, boldface “title” of the web page that searchers click on for information about the term(s) they entered in the search-engine box. The title tag appears just above the website’s actual URL.
- The meta description is the “snippet” information that appears just below the URL. It summarizes the content of the website so that searchers know what to expect when they visit the site to satisfy their search-term query.
Title tags and meta descriptions aren’t just window dressing. Each factors into where websites are ranked on the search-engine results page (SERP). As such, they’re essential elements of an overall search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
SEO is part marketing science, part marketing art. The science consists of algorithms that search engines use to rank sites on its SERP. The algorithms are based on various analytics that determine the number of visitors who go to websites directly from the search-engine page. These visitors are collectively referred to as “organic search traffic.”
For instance, Google, which had a whopping search-engine market share of 73.73 percent as of March 2018, uses more than 200 variables in its algorithms to rate how well individual websites meet the needs of search-engine users along such criteria as the appeal and quality of content, the reliability and value of information, and the trustworthiness of the site. Google is looking out for its search-engine “customers” by giving them comparative access to the highest-value sites.
How do title tags and meta descriptions factor in?
- Title tags are actually part of the algorithm. A thoughtful, compelling tag that relates specifically to your client’s website content is an analytic signpost of a high-value page for organic-search visitors.
- Meta descriptions are not a specific analytic targeted in the algorithms. However, a thoughtful, compelling snippet about the content on your client’s website increases the likelihood that searchers click on the link. “Click-through rates” (CTRs) are analytic signposts in the algorithm, so the more searchers who click on your client’s site, the higher up in SERP positioning it moves.
The bottom line? if Google is putting customers first, so too must the title tags and meta descriptions you write for your client.
Here are some guidelines for their structure, content, and style—to match the compelling content you’ve already prepared for your client.
Title Tags Are Key to Driving Up SERP Positioning
SEO expert Moz says, “Title tags are the second most important on-page factor for SEO, after content.”
One of the reasons is that the boldface title tags are the most noticeable component on the SERP. They tell searchers the specific subject or topic of the website—if the tag is, as it must be, accurate.
In fact, it’s important to remember that Google, for instance, will create its own title tag for your client’s website if it believes that your wording does not “make it easier for [its] users to recognize relevant pages,” or if the title is “nondescriptive.”
So the underlying criterion in writing a high-quality title tag is to keep searchers and potential visitors in mind—it doesn’t have to be “ad-sey” or self-promoting. It simply has to be clear and precise, relevant and appealing.
Note about Length: Title tags should be between 45 and 60 characters long, including spaces.
If they’re longer than 60 characters, Google, at least, will cut them off at the 60-character juncture with ellipsis points (. . .).
The Style and Content of Title Tags Require Thought, Yet Not Overthinking
Tags can be descriptive phrases, or they can combine a descriptive phrase with the brand, which is normally separated from the descriptive content with what is called a “pipe”—a vertical bar, [|]—at the end of the tag.
Experts continue to argue about the structure of the tag’s wording—including whether tags should even contain a pipe-separated brand. If the brand is well-known, then use it. If not, then use your limit of 45-60 characters wisely—be positive and precise, because you’re introducing your client to the potential visitor for the first time.
Use Keywords Studiously
- Place your primary keyword as far forward as possible—searchers often scan the first few words of a tag, and they’ll find what they’re looking for immediately.
- If your product is your primary keyword, then also try using your secondary keyword so the tag also matches part of the query of searchers, since they might not be looking for a specific product per se.
- Use keywords organically—that is, as naturally as possible. Do not try stuffing them together without context about the content.
Content Should Engage
- Describe the benefit or value of the site or product—what searchers can expect from the product or site when they click on the link.
- Be precise in describing the content of the site. Searchers will bounce off the site if the title doesn’t match the content—and that’s not good SEO protocol.
One Stylistic Point
- Don’t use ALL CAP titles—they are difficult to read, and their size may cut down on the amount of character space that is available for the tag.
Again, the overriding principle is to cater to searchers and potential visitors, because that’s what the search engines are doing. CTRs and content stickiness are what you’re aiming for.
Meta Descriptions Showcase the Value of Your Site
The ”snippets,” as metas are called, will enhance CTRs if crafted properly. And, again, the higher the CTR, the greater value a search-engine algorithm attaches to your client’s site.
And, to drive home the point again, you write meta descriptions with the searcher foremost in mind.
Note about Length: The meta description normally has a limit of between 155 and 160 characters, max. (Google recently increased that limit, but it’s still not clear where it will truncate the description with ellipses after the 160 characters).
Normally, the 160-count will give you two sentences’ worth of information. You don’t need more than two sentences to make your impact.
Writing Meta Descriptions Requires Just a Few Fundamentals
As an experienced writer, you don’t need to be told to write legible, readable copy. So the overriding criterion here is writing compelling copy, with the primary goal of increasing CTRs and content stickiness.
- Use the primary keyword up front. It will be boldface, and if searchers are simply scanning the meta copy, they will see their search query immediately.
- Do not stuff keywords in the description unless you can do so in a natural tone of voice.
- Solve the problem or answer the question of the searcher with a value proposition—why your product or site is the one that provides the best benefit or solution.
- Use active voice. One of the best ways to ensure active voice is starting the meta with a second-person imperative verb—use, explore, discover, choose, etc.
- Make sure the meta matches the content behind your product, since visitors will quickly bounce off your site if it doesn’t give them what the meta says it will.
- Make the meta unique. Don’t repeat text from the website content itself.
- End the meta with a Call-to-Action, suggesting that the searcher visit the site for more information about the value proposition—try, learn about, find out, etc.
Writing high-quality, compelling title tags and meta descriptions is largely a matter of commonsense in placing keywords appropriately, matching them accurately with the site content, and keeping them to their suggested length.
But, as everything in here suggests, the overriding criterion is focusing on searchers and potential visitors. Give them something of value, and they’ll click on your link. The more they click, the more the search-engine algorithms will capture that value themselves and the higher up your client’s website will move on the SERP.
For most of his career, TG has written or edited white papers, journal articles, and evaluation reports to support Government policy that seeks to better the lives of disadvantaged people in the United States and throughout the developing world. He has also shifted gears to the ecommerce venue, writing hundreds of product descriptions in such fields as computer components and digital devices, power tools and accessories, home and garden products, and dozens of other product categories.