Our clients often ask us how to write SEO-friendly meta titles and descriptions for web pages. It’s something that, even after all this time, many marketers consider to be a dark art – but the truth is, creating well-optimised snippets is easy as pie if you follow a few tried-and-tested rules.
We’ve shared some of our best advice to help you craft compelling meta tags that will appeal to human users and search engine crawlers alike.
What are meta tags?
Meta tags are the HTML elements of a web page that provide information about its content. Meta titles and meta descriptions are two of the most commonly used tags (but there are plenty of others out there that can be used to improve your content’s structure and coherence).
They appear in various places online. You can view the meta title of a page by looking at the tab in your web browser, and you will find that the meta titles and meta descriptions are pulled from a website into social feeds and search engines like Google.
Why are they important for UX?
These small but important snippets of information are used to summarise exactly what users can expect to find on your page. They need to be short, to the point, and make the topic of your asset immediately clear.
And because they’re displayed in the organic search results, your meta titles and descriptions need to be head-turning enough to capture the attention of your potential customers.
Why are they important for SEO?
Various search specialists, including Search Engine Journal, still believe that well-optimised title tags have an important role to play in any SEO strategy. There has been evidence to suggest that well-developed meta titles can have a significant impact on your page rankings – as long as they are optimised correctly, of course.
When it comes to meta descriptions, however, the jury’s out on how much they contribute to your search engine ranking positions (SERPs). They’re used more as a tool to capture attention and drive traffic.
Most SEO consultants will tell you there’s no harm in including one of your keywords in your description, but that it’s more important to write it with your user’s needs in mind.
Your best practice checklists
Follow the pointers below to make sure these two vital meta tags are giving your SEO campaign some extra oomph.
And here’s another tip: make sure every meta title and description across your site is unique. Duplicate tags are at best confusing, and at worst a one-way ticket to the bottom of the SERPs!
Stick to 55 characters
The search engines put a restriction on how many characters are displayed in meta titles in the SERPs. To avoid ellipses (…), don’t exceed the 55-60 character limit (which includes spaces, by the way). To check your title is short enough, copy and paste it into a Word document, then click on the word count function in the bottom left hand corner of the page.
Include your main targeted keyword at the start of your title
Moz has been saying for some time that keyword placement in meta titles matters. Follow a proven format by using your main keyword at the beginning of your text – and add in keyword variants and supporting phrases if space allows.
Include your brand name
There are mixed opinions on this, but at Indy, we always like to bar out the company’s brand name in each meta title – especially if we’re working on a larger ecommerce site with multiple product pages. Doing so adds consistency and familiarity to every tag, which is crucial if a user has conducted a search with a specific brand in mind, because they’ll be scanning the SERPs for the business they’re looking for.
Use bars to separate phrases
It’s generally considered best practice to add a ‘|’ in between each piece of information. Other SEO copywriters may use hyphens, commas or even full stops; none of these approaches are wrong per se, but to us, bars look neater!
Write within 155 characters
Google truncates meta descriptions to around 155-160 characters (and 120 on mobile), so you haven’t got a lot of room to play with. Pack the most important information into the first 100 characters to avoid losing your core message to space restrictions.
Write for your users
Your meta description is your page’s advert. Think about what’s going to entice the reader to click through to your web page instead of continue scrolling through the thousands (if not millions) of other results in front of them. Use active voice if you can, include your main USPs in the text, and don’t be afraid to use commanding verbs like ‘discover’, ‘learn’, ‘explore’, ‘try’ and ‘buy’ to encourage your reader to take action.
Use related key phrases
Google has stated before that meta descriptions are not used as ranking signals – ie, they do not contribute to the SEO value of a page. But that’s not to say you can’t use your targeted keywords and other relevant key phrases in these page summaries, if it makes sense to. Just don’t cram your content with a long list of search terms to try and satisfy the crawler bots. That’s so 2008.
Despite your best efforts, Google may choose to pull through its own interpretation of your web page into the SERPs instead
Yep, it happens – and it’s normally because the algorithm thinks your text doesn’t accurately reflect the theme of your page. If Google decides to assign its own tags to your content, there’s not a lot you can do about it except revise your original titles and descriptions and wait for the page to be reindexed.
Got a question about writing meta titles and descriptions? Tweet us @IndyConsultancy for more help and advice!
Alternatively, learn more about our onpage optimisation services.