Title tags and meta descriptions are important elements of your website’s content and are important for SEO. The title tag and the meta description tags should include keywords relevant to the content of the web page they describe. This helps search engines understand what the page is about and index your web pages accordingly for relevant keywords or keyword phrases.
What is a title tag?
The <title> tag defines the title of the document. The title element is required in all HTML/XHTML documents and is one of the key on-page SEO elements. It is a “meta” element, meaning that it gives information about the HTML/XHTML file, but does not appear on the page to users. However, this doesn’t mean it’s not seen by users; the title tag appears on the results pages just above the URL (see below) and also appears at the top of the browser. Moz.com, the largest SEO community in the world believes that it is the single most important on-page SEO element (behind overall content).
Titles give users a quick insight into the content of the web page and how it might be relevant to their query. It is often the primary piece of information with the meta description (see below) that is used by potential visitors to decide which search result to click on, so it’s important to use high-quality and meaningful titles when you optimize your web pages.
Here are best practice guidelines for writing title tags:
- Title tags generally should be less than 70 characters long so the whole tag fits on results pages when it is displayed and people can read it at a quick glance.
- Every title tag on your website should be made unique with distinct, descriptive titles for every page on your site. The HTML suggestions page in Google Webmaster Tools lists missing or potentially problematic title tags.
- Use keywords in title tags and place important keywords close to the front of the title tag. Search engines will “bold” (or highlight) those terms in the search results when a user has performed a query with those terms.
- Avoid keyword spamming. There is no reason to have the same words or phrases appear multiple times. Also, try to have a theme for each page so you’re not recycling the same keywords in multiple title tags (this runs the risk of cannibalization of search results – Google can be unsure of the best page to rank).
- Google recommends titles include your brand so include your site name at the beginning or end of each page title, separated from the rest of the title with a delimiter such as a hyphen, colon, or pipe.
What is a meta description tag?
Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of Webspam, announced in 2009 that neither meta descriptions nor meta keywords factor into Google’s ranking algorithms for web search. However, he stresses that it is still important to write a meta description as Google will sometimes use the summary in search results snippets (located below the URL) if the search egine believes it is an accurate synopsis of the page.
Matt explains Google’s perspective on meta descriptions in greater detail in this video:
Accurate meta descriptions can also help improve your click-through rates along with relevant title tags.
Here are the best practice guidelines for writing meta descriptions.
- Meta description tags generally should be approximately 150-160 characters long so the whole tag fits on Search Engine Results Pages when it is displayed and people can read it at a quick glance.
- Ideally, every page on your site should have a unique meta description. Google suggests using site-level descriptions on the main home page or other aggregation pages, and using page-level descriptions everywhere else.
- For a large site, creating unique meta descriptions may be time-consuming. Google suggests that at the least, create a summary for the critical URLs like your home page and popular pages. The HTML suggestions page in Webmaster Tools lists pages where Google has detected missing or problematic meta descriptions.
- The meta description tag should ideally target a unique keyword for each web page but again avoid keyword spamming and have the keyword only appear once.
- Descriptions are like a short sales pitch or summary for the page. Write keyword-rich descriptions that engage visitors and entice them to click through to your website.
- The meta description does not have to be a full sentence. It can include important facts relevant to potential visitors. For example, articles can list the author, date of publication, or byline information – just keep it within the character limit.
Writing title tags and meta descriptions for click-through optimization
When tackling title tags and meta descriptions, the end user is always the most important factor – not the search engine. Including keywords in your titles and descriptions is important, but SEOs can take their titles and descriptions to the next level by considering these tags in the context of motivating a user to click, similar to a PPC ad.
Here are a few quick tips on improving click-through rates with title tags and meta descriptions.
- Include action verbs that encourage the user to act – “shop now,” “read more,” “find out secrets,” “book today,” “sign up for a free trial,” and more.
- Call out value propositions, including things like “free,” “2 minute sign-up,” “voted easiest to use,” and more.
These tips may seem too “spammy” or pitch-oriented, but the goal is to catch the eye of the user and improve interaction rates. Studies have shown that tweaking meta titles and descriptions to include these features not only improves click-through rates but also search engine ranking position – Google takes notice and rewards sites that get higher engagement with better positions.
SEO jargon and search terminology can be overwhelming when you have just started learning about SEO. You can find out more search terms in our SEO glossary. Writing title tags and meta descriptions are an important part of on-site SEO but there are a lot of factors that influence your Search Engine ranking.