When building a website, there’s more to consider than organising content with HTML and styling it with CSS.
While the majority of a web developer’s time will be spent in this area, good websites also use titles and meta tags to help provide some more structure and additional information about a webpage.
Page titles and metadata tell you the title of the page you’re on and a summary of that page. These are then used by search engines, like Google, to create an easy-to-read link to a website from their index. For the algorithm as well as for site visitors, these are the first touchpoints your website has with the outside world, which makes them incredibly important for SEO as well as the overall usability of your pages.
Page titles and metadata tell you the title of the page you’re on and a summary of that page. These are then used by search engines, like Google, to create an easy-to-read link to a website from their index.
Metadata – more broadly - also includes URL, on-page headers, image file, alt text and more, but for this post we’re only going to be looking at titles, meta tags and meta descriptions.
So, why are metatags important?
It’s important to use meta tags for several reasons. The first reason, and primary for most people, is that they can help a site rank well in search engines. Strategic meta tags can go a long way towards improving a site’s SEO. They can be used to help users understand what to expect before visiting a page. This quick preview can be a big boost in a site’s overall user experience (UX).
A site’s actual content (i.e. the body copy of the page) is not enough, on its own, to secure organic search rankings. Accompanying metadata, optimised for search is vital for building visibility of pages in organic search results and increasing clickthrough rates from organic search.
Writing meta tags
Meta tags are snippets of information that are used to help search engines understand the content of your site.
One rule of writing great meta tags is to target relevant keywords. When selecting the right keywords, ask yourself:
- What is this page primarily about?
- What need is this page fulfilling?
- Given page objectives, which keywords best capture searcher’s needs?
- What are the primary keywords in terms of business goals, topic relevance and search volume?
- And based on this, what then are secondary keywords?
Writing meta descriptions
Although both classed as ‘metadata’, meta descriptions are slightly different from metatags. Meta descriptions are the relatively short explanation of a page, that appears in the search results under the title. They have no direct influence on rankings, however they can often increase clickthrough rates. They are primarily used to help users understand the content of your site.
Although both classed as ‘metadata’, meta descriptions are slightly different from metatags.
Think of a meta description as an ad for your page. Its function is to draw visitors to the page through compelling copy, or highlight reasons to visit the page such as “learn about…”, “discover how…” etc. It could even leverage the brand credibility by mentioning awards or accolades.
Meta description best practises:
- Include target keywords in the description as these will bold out in search results and help increase the CTR
- Avoid duplicate meta descriptions between pages
- Avoid using non-alpha/numeric characters such as quote symbols
Pixel width (and character count) limits for meta data are as follows:
- Desktop - 920 pixels in length (approximately 150-160 characters).
- Mobile – 680 pixels. Most important information should be in the first 680 pixels so that it’s shown to mobile users (approximately 110-120 characters).
Writing title tags
Perhaps the most important metadata element, title tags are the singular line of text you see in the search engine results, when bookmarking a page and on a tab in your browser bar. They are normally a short description of the linked page and are an important element for usability, social sharing and SEO. In fact, they have the most SEO power of any tag on the page for establishing keyword relevance.
When writing title tags, remember:
- The text you really want to be visible is at or near the start of metadata, so this is where to put your important keywords.
- Be consistent in using bars (|), commas (,) or dashes (-) to separate words
- Avoid stop words such as the, and, is, then etc.
- Make sure site branding comes last (because of descending value of keyword relevance)
- Keep titles unique between pages
- Should not exceed 600 pixels in width (roughly 70 characters on average)
- Avoid keyword stuffing
The writing process for title tags and metadata is pretty straightforward. Simply tell search engines what your pages are about by using well-conceived, powerful keywords and phrases. But be aware that the process doesn’t end there.
The writing process for title tags and metadata is pretty straightforward. Simply tell search engines what your pages are about by using well-conceived, powerful keywords and phrases.
Writing or optimising new page titles or meta descriptions is not a one-off task. Once you’ve uploaded your metadata, you’ll need to review the positive or negative effects of your changes and adapt them as you need to.
If you see improvements in click-through rate on pages with new page titles or meta descriptions, it’s worth taking note of what the changes were and whether those improvements can be rolled out to other pages too. If not, or if you see a decrease in clicks, consider reverting to your old metadata.
Title tags and metadata are typically the first encounter a user has with your site, so it’s important that you make them count through careful writing and regular optimisation.
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Photo by Melanie Deziel on Unsplash