How to write good title tags and description meta tags

Yesterday I described how straightforward it is to sort out your website’s ‘on page’ search engine optimisation yourself. Today I want to run through just one particular part of that, which is to ensure the main pages on your site have good title tags and description meta tags.

You’ll have a list of the pages on your site, and the associated search terms which you want each of them to cover. All you need to do now is to ensure the main search term appears in the title tag and the description meta tag, and that both look good.

A preamble to this exercise might be to ‘crawl’ your entire site and get a list of the title tags and description meta tags which you already have. You can create a big spreadsheet with all this information (and much more) using the Screaming Frog SEO Spider. This is a professional tool and priced accordingly, but the free version will handle up to 500 pages, which might be enough for you. Another interesting tool is A1 Website Analyzer. BMON clients can ask us to do all this, and advise on the results, without charge of course.

So, given the list of pages and associated search terms, what next? The first is to work out how you’re going to write or modify the tags. If you’re lucky, you’ll be using a content management system which has fields for this in the database. if you’re unlucky, you’ll be using a content management system which doesn’t let you do this, or you’ll have a site comprised of loose HTML documents, in which case you might need the help of a web designer to edit the tags.

Neither of these tags appears on the web page itself. They’re background information about the page. The title tag used to appear at the top of your web browser, in the frame, but that’s less likely to be the case with modern browsers. You can probably see it in the tabs if you have more than one page open. However, the critical place where it will appear is as the title in search engine results:

Now is it clear why the title is so important?

Now is it clear why the title is so important? And that’s not even taking into account the boost the result will get in the rankings just by having the search term in the title.

The rules for the title tag are quite simply that Google and Bing will show about 65 characters at most, so keep your title well below this or it’ll get cut off and look nasty. If you’re using a content management system, it may have been set up to create titles automatically, and possibly to add the company name to whatever the title is, so you might want to find a way to switch this off if you want full control.

Write the title like you would the headline of an advert: make it relevant and if possible, intriguing! Its implication needs to be: “click me”. It also needs to contain the search term you’ve allocated to that page. Why would the search engine think the page is relevant for that term if it isn’t even in the page title?

The description meta tag follows similar rules, although the limit here is a more generous 160 characters. It should be noted however that the content of this tag is not used by Google to determine the relevancy or ranking of the page. Nor does Google always show it as the two black-text description lines in the search result!

So why is it important?

Well, it may be shown, especially if it contains the search term for which the page is showing. And if it does show, it should play an important role in getting people to click on the result. You’re in a beauty parade here – there’s no getting away from that. But if you can’t be bothered to write a compelling description which might make you stand out, there’s no point in writing one at all. If you don’t, Google will just make up its own description lines, using any relevant text grabbed from the page. The results will be unpredictable.

Will your handcrafted description meta tag show? Let’s look at some examples:

Will your handcrafted description meta tag show?

In the top example, the search which the user made features in the description meta tag, so Google is happy to show exactly what we wrote there.

In the second example, some of the search which the user made features in the description meta tag, but some doesn’t (although it does appear somewhere down the page). So Google shows part of the description meta tag, and a separate ‘snippet’ taken from down the page, where that part of the search was found.

In the third example, the words in the search do not appear in the description meta tag, so Google chooses to ignore it, and instead displays a snippet from the page which does contain the search.

And that’s it really. Off you go!

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