Without well-written meta tags, your company website may fail to rank, web searchers will not click your description, and you will lose clicks and potential customers.
Metadata is information about a website page that users do not see. It makes up part of the website code and offers external sources such as search engines information about the site.
There are many different kinds of meta tags, but in this blog post we are going to focus on meta titles and meta descriptions. Well-written meta titles and meta descriptions should accurately describe the content of a webpage, and entice potential visitors searching for your product or service to click your link.
We’ll take you through why meta titles and meta descriptions are so important, how to write them more effectively, and we’ll look at some examples of good and bad meta-tags.
Improving your metadata is fundamental to informing search engine robots and your web visitors about what to expect from your website.
Let's start by looking at what will usually give visitor's their first impression of your content: your meta titles. Then we'll delve deeper and examine your meta descriptions.
What is a meta title?
Meta titles, which appear in blue whenever a website page is ranked in a search engine result, should be eye-catching and appealing, sounding natural and never forced.
Even if your website ranks well, an ugly, confusing, or poorly-written meta title can determine whether someone clicks through to your website, or skips over it to visit a more instantly appealing page title instead.
Let’s say that I fancied eating a pizza tonight, and I searched for a pizza restaurant in Birmingham.
Here is an example of a good meta title which might appear:
It gives us the name of the business, includes the company’s USP of being “all vegetarian”, and ends neatly, without being cut off. Mr Singh could perhaps have included a call to action or an offer, but the meta title is neat, appealing, and makes clear what the business is offering. If I was a veggie, I’d be sold immediately.
Alternatively, here is an example of a bad meta title:
Now, as delicious as Pala Wood Fired Pizza’s pizzas might be, the company should look to enhance that ugly meta title. It simply repeats the name of the business without even using pipe-sign dividers (“|”), and ends with an ellipsis (...).
Here are 5 pro tips that will help you with meta titles
- Keep meta titles below 60 characters in length, otherwise you will risk them being cropped by the search engine.
- Include keywords and associated topics that you would like your site to rank for in your title, starting with the most important terms. Just don’t overdo it, by indulging in keyword stuffing!
- Do not duplicate meta titles throughout your website. This is a critical point. Duplicated meta titles mean that your own pages are competing with each other for ranking thereby watering down your SEO efforts.
- It has become best practice to think of SEO-optimised content in terms of topics rather than keywords, so write for the customers you want to attract, not the search engines.
- Consider including your USP (like Mr Singh), or an offer, if it fits.
What is a meta description?
Meta descriptions are - as you might expect - the description of a webpage, as it appears listed in a search engine.
Meta descriptions do not directly affect your website’s SEO, but they can dramatically affect your click-through rate. Like meta titles, a meta description can read well, inform accurately and draw your visitors to your site. Alternatively, a meta description can be ugly, poorly written, repetitive or carelessly worded, and therefore likely to send any discerning web searcher into the arms of a more appealing link.
Sticking with my pizza hunt, let’s look at a couple of meta description examples.
Here is a good meta description:
While I’m not taken by their meta title, Izza Pizza’s meta description is neat, friendly, accurately written, and makes my stomach rumble. Reading that, we know exactly what to expect from the business and its menu. We also know where to find it, because the company has taken advantage of two popular brand names - Selfridges and The Bullring Birmingham - which should also improve their rankings.
Table for two please.
Now let’s look at a bad meta description:
While I have no reason to assume that Pizza Quarter is a bad place to buy a pizza, with its ultra-brief description I’ve no reason to assume that it is a good place to eat, either. And while the website owners have included the (very) basic information, there is nothing in there that compels me to click through.
Ah, forget it. I’ll make my own pizza.
Well-optimised modern websites include meta titles and descriptions with a human audience in mind, rather than the search engine robots.
Here are 7 tips on what to look out for with meta descriptions
- Aim for meta descriptions that are between 140-160 characters long, to avoid your text being cut off with an ellipsis.
- Like your meta titles, don’t duplicate your meta descriptions. If you don’t have the time to add a separate description for every single webpage, at least make sure that you have unique descriptions in place for your most important pages.
- Use verbs and calls to action in your meta descriptions to compel readers to click: “Call now...”, “Visit the…”, “Try our…”, etc..
- Unlike the Pizza Quarter and more like Izza Pizza, include your company’s USP to make your weblink stand out from your competitors.
- Try to understand searcher intent and answer a question that potential customers may want to know.
- Check what your competition is writing, and compare yours to theirs. What makes some descriptions effective, and others less so?
- If you are targeting long-tail traffic, meaning phrases that involve 3 or more keywords, it may be better to let the search engines populate your description rather than composing one yourself. Search engines highlight the words that have been searched for, so if you write your own 140-160-character description you risk appearing less relevant in the search results.
Optimise your meta tags
Even well-maintained, well-ranking websites may benefit from some meta tag optimisation. As a final example, just look at this unfortunate Pizza Hut store’s meta description:
Surely they have a more appealing feature to attract their customers with, other than the fact that their toilets are out of order??
Monitor your click-through rates and find the pages with good volume but low click-through rates, and then try using our guidelines to improve them. Just be aware that search engines are now closely examining the ways in which websites are using metadata, and over-optimisation may result in penalties.
You can check the effectiveness of your metadata with this tool.
Well-optimised modern websites include meta titles and descriptions with a human audience in mind, rather than the search engine robots. Don’t try and trick search engines into ranking you higher. It’s all about the user, so aim to make your website as useful and pleasing to navigate as possible.