Great meta titles and descriptions won’t propel your website to the top of page one in Google, but they are more important than a lot of people realise.
Meta titles and descriptions are essential pieces of the SEO puzzle because they affect user behaviour and therefore have an impact on search engine performance, albeit in an indirect way. We’re going to explain what this metadata is, why it’s important and how to write your own.
Meta titles are the blue titles that you see on a search results page. They are a major factor in helping both your readers and search engines understand what your page is about, so you need to cater to both parties when writing a meta title for your web page.
Meta descriptions are HTML tags that provide users with a short description of what they can expect to see when they click on the page. If you perform a search for information on a particular topic, Google (or whatever search engine you use) will display a list of websites it thinks are a good match for your search query. The meta description provides the first opportunity to engage with a potential visitor - it is essentially the front door to your website.
If you’ve done a bit of research already, you might have come across something called “meta keywords” and are wondering how you can use these for your webpage. The simple answer is, “you shouldn’t!”.
Meta keywords are now an outdated and redundant piece of metadata that show us what things were like in the early days of the internet. Before advanced algorithms, search engines used meta keywords written by the author of the page as ranking signals. These meta keywords were simply written in the code of the website and people could add whatever they wanted. Think of them as tags or hashtags for webpages.
It probably sounds a lot easier to do things this way, doesn’t it? And that was the issue! Because it was so easy to add keywords this way, everybody started doing it to the point where it became spammy. Eventually, search engines began ignoring these tags and so should we.
It is important to correctly name the page and use appropriate keywords in the meta title. This doesn’t mean you should ram as many keywords into the title as possible, but it is good SEO practice to use important keywords that are reflected in content elsewhere on your website. Meta titles also need to be meaningful and descriptive, so readers know what the page is all about before they click through.
Although we don’t see meta titles and description on the webpage itself, we do see them in the search engine results. Take a look at the screenshot below as an example:
If you’re looking for more examples, all you have to do is look at the results from a search engine. Try it yourself for your industry and see what people are using in their metadata.
It is important to correctly name the page and use appropriate keywords in the meta title.
This doesn’t mean you should ram as many keywords into the title as possible, but it is good SEO practice to use important keywords that are reflected in content elsewhere on your website. Meta titles also need to be meaningful and descriptive, so readers know what the page is all about before they click through.
It’s a common misconception that meta descriptions have little impact on SEO because Google repeatedly states that meta descriptions have no effect on organic search engine rankings.
So if we take what Google says to heart, we can forget about writing creative meta titles and descriptions for our websites, right?
Actually, no: from an SEO perspective, a well-written meta description is pretty important. Being able to write a killer piece of content with high performing keywords is great, but without meta titles and descriptions, you’re putting yourself at a big disadvantage.
The same applies to meta descriptions. Web-users read the short descriptions when searching for information or products, so the more well-written your descriptions are the better. Google will also highlight in bold any words from the user’s original search query, drawing more attention to your page in the results.
In some cases, search engines can overrule the meta description that has been written. It’s not known for sure how and when this happens, but it likely happens when Google doesn’t think the meta description appropriately matches a user’s query. Instead, it will identify a section of text from the page that better matches the searcher’s query. According to a Moz study, only 51.3% of meta descriptions analysed were perfectly featured on the Google results page.
There is no doubt then that meta descriptions have a big influence on click-through rate. When faced with a page of search results, a user will use the descriptions below each website link to work out whether it is worth visiting the website.
If your website is at #5 in the page rankings, but your meta description is creative, descriptive and intriguing, a user might decide to look at your website before checking out the websites at #1-4 in the results. And the more often someone clicks through to your site, the better it is for your traffic volume. If Google detects more traffic, this can be used as a signal to determine search rankings.
As a side note, meta titles and descriptions also pull through on social media sites such as Facebook. Normally when you share a link, you’ll see a preview image (called an Open Graph image), a title and a short description. This text is pulled from the page’s metadata, so make sure you think about this carefully. Check out our separate article for information on Open Graph images.
So how do you go about writing your own meta titles and descriptions for your webpage? Here are some important things to remember...
1. Use relevant keywords You should always use keywords in your meta title and meta description that are relevant to your page. This helps both users and search engines determine what your page is about. By displaying the most relevant keyword in your title and description, you’ll have better chances for ranking in search engines.
2. Metadata acts as an advert for your page Your metadata should be used to quickly summarise your page - that’s it’s primary purpose - but in a compelling way. Treat your meta description as an advert and write some compelling copy. Make use of keywords and make sure the text is captivating enough to encourage users to click through to your website. Adding a call to action within your title or description, such as “buy”, “access”, or “read” to name but a few, will really help encourage people to do what you want them to do with the page.
3. Pay attention to the length of meta titles and descriptions
There’s a limit to how much you can write for your metadata before it becomes ineffective. Meta title length needs to be no more than 50 - 60 characters long. After this, Google will truncate the title and it may not display properly. There’s currently no exact character limit as different characters can vary in width. An upper case “W” takes up a lot more space than a lower case “l”. Because of this, Google limits meta titles based on 900 pixels.
To make the best use of the space, avoid using any punctuation apart from vertical bars or dashes for separation. Use keywords in order of their importance to make sure they appear.
Meta description length should be around 70 - 155 characters long (in order to keep the length between 430 pixels and 920 pixels). You can write more, but again, search engines will truncate the extra characters, especially if Google emboldens any of the words. The most important information should be in the first 60 characters to account for mobile and any wider characters such as “W”.
4. Be sensible with your metadata Try to avoid using all caps in your meta titles, as these not only take up a lot of space they also look spammy and make it difficult for people to read. You risk putting people off and significantly reducing your chances of high rankings. Keyword stuffing also looks spammy and search engines can detect this as a bad user experience.
5. Think about synonyms Search engines are now advanced enough to recognise variations of keywords in your meta titles. Therefore, we’d also recommend experimenting with synonyms for your metadata to see which perform best. You may reach more people or obtain better results just by changing a few words.
6. Make your metadata as appealing as possible You could try experimenting with different techniques to make your webpages more appealing. For example, using numbers in your meta title can help draw attention by exploiting a cognitive bias towards specific information. Because they are quite specific, they stand out among all the text.
Asking questions within your metadata can also help as this generates a curiosity gap and gives more incentive to click. Curious people will click to find out the answer to your question. In addition, question-based pages are more likely to win you a featured snippet or a result in the “People also ask” section.
7. Be unique Finally, we would highly recommend making each meta title and description unique. Search engines may struggle to decide which page to display if you have duplicate meta descriptions.
As meta descriptions are a preview of your webpage, you should make sure you always write unique meta descriptions. Pages with duplicate metadata can be confusing to people and lead to a lower click-through rate, meaning your SEO suffers as a knock-on effect.
If you don’t write a meta description for a page, the search engine will extract text from the page and use that instead. When a website has hundreds of pages some webmasters find it easier to leave out a meta description, however it's not really recommended. A meta description can encourage a potential customer to click on your link, so do you really want to leave it to the search engines or social sharing sites to use the first text that they see?
Writing meta descriptions can be a time consuming task for many websites that contain hundreds of web pages. Our team specialise in creating unique meta descriptions that are designed to perform well against other competing search results. If you would like to find out more, get in touch with us today.