Do you know how to write effective page titles and meta descriptions? It’s a crucial element of Search Engine Optimisation. In this post, we’ll explain how you can create metadata that earns your website those key clicks! But first, we’ll give you a quick and dirty guide to metadata creation. Check out our cheat sheet:
1. Page titles should be unique, should accurately describe their page and should be around 70 characters long (580 pixels).
2. Meta descriptions should be unique, interesting and “contain all the relevant information users would need to determine whether the page is useful and relevant to them”.
3. Meta descriptions should follow the 150/150 rule for length. The first 150 characters should contain essential information.
4. The second 150 characters of a meta description are optional. They should contain supporting information as needed.
If in doubt, you can always check Google’s SEO guide.
Still with us? Good. Our process is effective and we’ve tested it time and again to make sure that it falls in line with how people search the web and how they use Google. But before we head down the rabbit hole, it’s important to understand both what it does and why taking a casual approach to the process is a long-term recipe for bad results and domain disaster.
Understanding How Google’s Search Results Pages Work
You’ll need to understand Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) if you’re going to write good page titles and descriptions. By the way, when we’re talking about both page and meta descriptions, we’ll use the term metadata. You’ll also need to know how your target audience is likely to interact with the SERPs.
Each search phrase delivers different results according to what Google’s algorithm “thinks” the searcher wants to see. Google can display results in different ways. The classic “ten blue links” are sometimes replaced by new features. Nowadays searchers see Knowledge Graphs, image carousels, Answer Boxes and a host of other features.
For example, let’s search for “ten blue links”. This search gives us the classic ten blue links with individual descriptions. When presented with ten blue links, the searcher will often choose the result at the top of the page in position one.
Google’s new results pages have much more going on. For example, on some searches, a carousel of linked images will appear at the top of the page to both draw the eye and the click. Go and search for “game of thrones cast” and you’ll more than likely find similar results to the below image:
Some searches return “Knowledge Graphs”. These are widget-like boxes that appear on the right-hand side of the page, typically listing details for a business that may match the original search term. For example, an “emergency plumber” search gives localised responses. There’s also a local plumber featured in the graph:
There is also the Answer Box. These small snippets of information try to answer the original search query. These Answer Boxes can have two consequences:
- Either the user clicks the link within the answer.
- Or the user reads the answer and doesn’t click any links at all.
If your website is below an Answer Box, it’s much harder to earn that single click compared to if it were in position one of ten blue links.
With the above in mind, it’s more important than ever to write page titles and descriptions for search engines that are not only optimised for the benefit of SEO but also to increase the click-through-rate (CTR).
Why Click-through Rate Optimisation Is Important For Metadata Creation
As Google doesn’t release a full checklist of the roughly 200+ ranking factors it considers within its algorithm, there are those who believe Google when it says that meta descriptions aren’t a ranking signal. There are others in the industry who suspect the opposite to be true.
At Exposure Ninja, we focus on building metadata that helps users interact with our website. We also think that Google considers Click-Through-Rate (CTR) when deciding where to rank each website. We know it’s possible for well-written metadata to boost our CTRs, so it’s fair to say that metadata is an indirect ranking signal.
So How Do We Write Page Titles And Meta Descriptions?
Before making any changes to the metadata of a website, it’s crucial to download the metadata on said website for both future reference, to help with the rewrite, and fall back, should the new meta uploaded result in any loss of organic traffic (traffic sourced from Google) or a decrease in CTR.
Screaming Frog is the best tool for downloading a site’s metadata, but it does require a license. If you need a free solution, try the meta tag extractor built by Buzzstream. After submitting our list of URLs to the tool we can download the supplied CSV file and copy/paste the data into our pre-prepared meta creation spreadsheet:
Once we’ve filled in the spreadsheet with our downloaded metadata and associated URL we’ll then assign the corresponding keyword phrases for that page to guarantee they’re used within the new page title and meta description. This ensures that when the link appears in the search results the keywords in question appear in bold.
Next, before we move onto the writing process, we’re going to look to our competitors. We do this to find Unique Selling Points (USPs) that work time and time again.
Using Unique Selling Points In Page Titles And Meta Descriptions
Every day, businesses across the world are running A/B tests on Google’s SERPs — spending serious cash in the process.
Google’s Adwords program works through a cycle of testing and improving. In well-established industries, it’s likely that companies have tested which USPs work best to earn a click for several years. By reviewing the ads at the top and bottom of a Google results page, you can pick up important points that we might have missed during the keyword research process.
In the example below, there is a list of keywords that we may find useful for our own plumbing clients, some of which we may not have considered during our own keyword research process. These include the following:
- Fast Response
- No Call Out Fee
- Drainage Problems
If companies are willing to spend money on those words and phrases, it’s safe to assume that they’re the right type of keywords for triggering a response from the searcher. This also suggests that they’re profit-generating keywords too. Using them within your new metadata could be a winner!
Psychological Triggers In Metadata Creation
Using the right type of psychological phrasing in your metadata is another route to success. You only need to look at advertising to see that the right words in the right place can generate a sale.
You can communicate your messages in different ways and there are several great studies and blog posts on the impact they have on CTRs. CoSchedule’s How To Write A Call To Action In A Template With 6 Examples explains how useful the process can be on a wider scale. One of the most useful posts of all is the 380 High Emotion Words Guaranteed to Make You More Persuasive by the delightful Bushra of The Persuasion Revolution.
Here are a few of our favourite words:
How To Write Metadata
The writing process for metadata creation is straightforward. If you have prior experience of regular blog post writing or copywriting then the process will be a doddle.
It’s important to think about keyword placement. We’re not looking to stuff in keywords until the metadata is like an overflowing suitcase, instead, we’ll use the right keyword in the right place.
The most important place to put keywords is at the beginning or first half of the title or description. People scan the SERPs rather than read every word. So don’t hide keywords and make them easy to miss!
For a long time, eye-tracking studies of Google’s search results suggested that keyword placement within the Golden Triangle was the optimal choice. But as the results page design changed and mobile users became more prevalent, the triangle became less relevant. Google SERPs heatmap studies show that a user’s eye movement differs depending on the design of the search results displayed.
Taking all the changes and standard conventions into account, we still feel that placement of the keywords towards the beginning of both the page title and description increases the likelihood of earning a click.
For example, whilst creating the title for our post 5 Types of Hashtag Explained (and How To Use Them), we used both the likely search query (“types of hashtag“) at the beginning, before closing with a statement of use for the searcher (“how to use them“).
Should You Include The Brand Name In The Title?
Website plugins such as the Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress allow you to include a brand name or site name as a suffix to your page titles. But, in our experience, it’s far more prudent to include the brand or website name during the page title writing process. This allows us to ensure that the title displays the best information possible to the search user.
Although this can sometimes limit the number of characters — especially when the brand or website name is long — it’s preferable to the alternative which is seeing the title truncated within the SERPs to accommodate the brand name, as seen in the below example from the Moz blog.
The exception to adding the brand or site name as a suffix occurs when either the brand name receives enough search requests per month that it would be wiser to have it at the beginning of the title, or when the brand itself is widely known. For example, the Amazon brand name is best written at the beginning of their home page title, whereas a new company might find trouble earning clicks if their brand name started the title.
The Best Page Title And Meta Description Length For Google’s Search Results (May 2018 Update)
There’s no minimum or maximum length for a page title or meta description. As of the May 2018 update, Google sometimes shows shorter snippets and sometimes shows longer snippets. Sometimes, Google doesn’t show snippets written by the webmaster at all, instead generating its own snippets from on-page content. And sometimes, Google will show different searchers different snippets depending on the time, location, and device used by the searchers.
That said, most page titles and meta descriptions shown in the SERPs fall into a range:
- Page titles are often truncated after 70 characters (580 pixels).
- Meta descriptions are often truncated after around 150 characters (900 pixels).
But meta descriptions that are 300 characters (or longer) are not uncommon! What should we do?
The answer is the 150/150 rule. The first 150 characters are likely to appear in the SERPs. For the first 150 characters, we’ll write unique and interesting text which “contains all the relevant information users would need to determine whether the page is useful and relevant to them”. That’s sometimes enough. But for some pages, we may think that supporting information would be appropriate. In those cases, we’ll add a second set of 150 characters containing supporting information. If it is truncated, nothing essential will be missed. If it’s not, then we’ve earned our website an edge in the SERPs!
Testing Your New Metadata Before Implementation
Once written, it’s important to verify that we verify our new page titles and descriptions before we upload them to our site. To do this, we use two tools.
The first tool we’ll use to check how the metadata will appear in the search results is the Google SERP Snippet Optimization Tool by SEOmofo. This ingenious tool is slightly dated in appearance but provides a close enough representation of actual search results.
The final check we’ll do is to see whether our new page title fits within the new pixel dimensions of the search results. Although we rarely use more than sixty characters, there will be times where sixty-one or more characters are necessary. Testing the metadata before it’s live on the site narrows the likelihood that a rewrite will be required. For this, we use Search Wilderness’s Pixel Width Checker for Page Page Titles.
Monitoring Google’s Search Console and Adjusting As You Go
Once you’ve written your new metadata and added them to your website, it’s important to follow up on the process by regularly checking how they perform — much like you would with ‘call to action’ optimisation for buttons and links within your own website.
Using Google’s own Search Console analytics you can track the CTR for individual search queries and see if the number of clicks has either improved or declined. Should the new metadata have a negative effect on particular landing pages, you’ll have the original page title and description saved within your spreadsheet to re-upload to the site and return the CTR to the pre-rewrite norm.
Regular Reviews and Rewrites
Writing new page titles and descriptions isn’t a one-time operation. As with landing page optimisation, it’s crucial that the resulting search CTR is reviewed and re-optimised. Has everything has been done to increase the chances of earning a click over the competition? This is especially important when the competition is high. Having the best title within the SERPs could earn more clicks than a lower ranking page might otherwise generate.
For our clients, we’ll return to the revised metadata and double check to see if further optimisation can be done. We never settle for okay meta and always ensure that we’ve followed every step above, no matter how long the process takes.
How Do YOU Write Page Titles and Descriptions?
We hope that the above ‘how to’ advice helps you during your next metadata creation task and welcome any and all suggestions on how you write effective and CTR-driven page titles and descriptions.
Tell us all about your metadata writing process in the comments below.