SEO Title Tags and Meta Descriptions Tips

Any discussion centered on SEO title tags and meta descriptions immediately reminds me of the well-meaning yet overly idealistic notion that we shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover,” more specifically how false that notion often is.

As consumers – and human beings, really – we’re trained to do just that. Judge by the cover, the headline, or the immediate snapshot of a situation with which we may be confronted.

Any book publicists will tell you that what’s on front matters. From the moment we pick up a product, we judge the cover or packaging and make assertions about how it will fit into our lives, make us feel, or solve a problem. It’s precisely why cook books feature pictures of carefully staged culinary works of art as opposed to the Pinterest fail realities (…not speaking from experience or anything).

When it comes to search engines, your SEO title tags and meta descriptions are book covers, and search users (and search engines) are carefully analyzing those key SEO components to determine if your link is worth opening. This does include an analysis of keywords, but it’s also an analysis of context.

Title Tags & Meta Descriptions: The Basics

SEO Title Tag and Meta Description Writing Tips
Here’s an example of ContentMender title tags and meta descriptions. Notice the longer meta description on the Content Marketing Services page…more on that later.

Title tags and meta descriptions share a fundamental purpose: to tell search engines and users what a page is about. However, their functions and how you develop the content deviates a bit beyond that.

For title tags, keywords should act as a guiding star that signals relevancy to search engines and search users. This means diligent keyword research and concise and thoughtful title tag development. In this respect, keyword placement is significantly important, but it’s not the only driving factor behind a successful strategy.

Meta descriptions, on the other hand, are more about capturing the user’s attention and convincing them to click through and less about page ranks, at least immediately. Think of them as the back cover or inside jacket flap of a book. The cover page grabs a reader’s attention, but the description leads to a purchase.

At this point you may be asking “why the deviation between keywords and rankings?” By their own admission, Google doesn’t use the meta tag (description) for ranking purposes. However, it can and often does use it to pull in snippet text, or that information that immediately follows the title tag on a search result.

Does that mean you can forget all about keywords when writing your meta description? Absolutely not. If you have a well written, descriptive, keyword-friendly meta description, Google will likely use that for the snippet text. If not, Google will pull what it deems most relevant to the user’s search.

And while both options can prove to convert, a well written meta description puts the power in your hands, increasing the chances that the carefully crafted, convincing content to appear below the title tag.

In short, the title tag is the eye catcher, for both search users and search engines, and the meta description is there to seal the deal. And, as you likely know, the more times you seal the deal (i.e., users are clicking on your link for a relevant search), the more likely you are to enjoy a top-ranking spot in the SERP listings.

Turning Your Meta into Strong Marketing Messages: 5 Tips

So how can you turn title tags, meta descriptions, and keywords in to a powerful, conversion worthy trifecta? Here are some SEO title tag and meta description tips.

  • Keep character limits in mind

You can write creative and witty title tags and meta descriptions all day long, but if they exceed character limits, then they won’t be very effective because search users will only get part of the story.

Title tags should hover somewhere between 50 and 60 characters, avoiding unnecessary capitalization, punctuation, and symbols that take up unnecessary space. Additionally, your chosen keyword should lead the tag. Google has shown title tags upwards of 71 characters, but ContentMender recommends sticking with the maximum of 60 characters (though we are experimenting with 70 characters for this post).

ContentMender SEO Title Tag Length 2017
Here you’ll see two title tags from Relevance.com – one exactly 70 characters, and another one truncated…

Meta descriptions that are used as the search result snippet were once capped at 160 characters, considering Google truncated them afterwards. But, in November 2017, Google began experimenting with a departure from the 160 recommendation to 320 characters, deciding to include additional information to increase value to the user.

But according Search Engine Land, Google says “there’s no need for publishers to suddenly expand their meta description tags, if they feel their current ones are adequate. … We now display slightly longer snippets, which means we might display more of a meta description tag.”

The first photo of this post shows the longer character count for ContentMender’s Content Marketing Services page – it was optimized for the 160-character count, but Google added the extra information to the results page on its own.

  • Make it valuable

Search users want to solve a problem. What shoes should I buy? Where can I find fresh, local ingredients for my next stir-fry? What is a meta description?  All of those are considered “problems,” and the website that best uses the title tag and the meta description to solve those problems will be the one that users select and search engines deem top-rank worthy.

For those authoring title tags and meta descriptions, this means selecting keywords and carefully chosen phrases that first say “hey, I can help you,” and a meta description to back up your claims.

  • Test, analyze, and tweak

The internet, including search engines, users and customers, and competition, is constantly changing. Throw that reality in with the fact that not every title tag and meta description will be an automatic home run, and the need for testing, analyzing, and tweaking becomes quite apparent.

  • Include a CTA

In a recent Relevance article, ContentMender Founder/CEO Ron Lieback advised readers on the importance of including a call to action (CTA), specifically stating “don’t upload a piece of content without them.” I may be partial, but he’s absolutely, unequivocally right.

The ultimate goal of title tags and meta descriptions is to motivate engagement, and a solid CTA does that.

At this point many may be thinking “is the title tag real-estate worthy of a CTA?” If you have a title tag that’s already converting well, I’m not recommending you rush in and change it (that can be bad news). I’m not even recommending that every single title tag have an unequivocal CTA. However, if you look at the title tag and meta description as a nice little welcoming package for search users, then make it a point to always have a CTA somewhere in that package.

Thanks to those updates to Google snippets, you have even more room to create click inspiring CTAs, so optimize that space to increase engagement.

  • Write for the user, not the search engine

I’m definitely not the first person to write those words down, and I certainly won’t be the last; that should stand as a testament to their importance. I don’t need to tell you that the internet is one big competitive arena, with hundreds or thousands of companies competing for real-estate.

Highly optimized title tags and meta descriptions are only part of the battle. To really succeed, you need to think and write like the user because in the end, it’s the user (through CTR) who will determine those pages that maintain a place in top SERP spots.

Following the aforementioned tips will help you craft user friendly meta. Solve their problems, offer concise descriptions of page content, use keywords to take them to information they want to see, and don’t underestimate their ability to quickly decipher the difference between overly salesy/spammy content and relevant content, even before they even click.

If you want to increase traffic to your site, carefully crafted SEO title tags and meta descriptions are essential. And while keywords are an inescapable piece of the puzzle, they are merely foundational. It’s the curb appeal, or the book’s cover, that will really catch user’s eyes and engage them in your story.

ContentMender will optimally rewrite title tags and meta descriptions as a stand-alone service. Contact us today for additional information.