What Are Page Titles and Meta Descriptions?
Page Titles and Meta Descriptions are short pieces of HTML code found in every web page. They show the title of the web page and its description, similar to the title and blurb on the front and back of a book. They tell you what the book (or page) is about before you open it (or click the link).
Page titles and meta descriptions act as a short summary device that internet users can use to decide whether the page listed in a search engine’s index contains the information that will answer their query.
You are probably used to seeing page titles and meta descriptions every day within search engine results, such as the classic 10 blue links you used to see in Google’s search results but didn’t know their name (until now).
Page titles and meta descriptions are incredibly important for your website’s SEO campaign.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what page titles and meta descriptions are, why they’re important, our recommendations for writing them and how to add them to your website.
- What Is Metadata?
- What Are Page Titles?
- What Are Meta Descriptions?
- Why Are Page Titles and Meta Descriptions Important?
- Are Page Titles and Meta Descriptions a Ranking Factor?
- How Long Should Page Titles and Meta Descriptions Be?
- How to Write Page Titles for SEO
- How to Write Meta Descriptions for SEO
- Which Page Titles and Meta Descriptions to Optimise First
- How Do I Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions to My Website?
- Why Is Google Not Using My Page Title or Meta Description?
What Is Metadata?
Metadata is data that is written into the code or underneath a layer of code to provide extra information to the software reading it.
There are multiple examples of metadata, and Wikipedia includes half a dozen.
You’ll find metadata in the photos you take, sharing the geographical location of where the digital photo was taken as well as the ISO of the photo, the focal length, whether a flash was used and so on.
Metadata can be found in digital music files, listing the song title, the name of the artist, the type of music, the genre, and so on.
Videos include metadata too and it’s quite similar to the metadata used in HTML pages — discussed below — as the title of the video and its description will be listed in the metadata code within it.
Metadata for websites is a deep subject as there are lots of metadata tags options available to website owners (or “webmasters”), each of which can be optimised to make your website easier to find and use. Two of the most important are the Title Tag (or “Page Title”) and the Description Meta Tag.
What Are Page Titles?
Page Titles or “Title Tags” are small pieces of HTML code you can find in the source code of web pages.
They look like this:
<title>This Is A Title</title>
If you’re using the Chrome browser, you can find the source code of this page by pressing “Ctrl+U” or following these instructions.
This is the title of the page as chosen by the author or webmaster. It is displayed in the tab title of the browser you’re currently using and it’s also the name used when you bookmark a page.
This title is shown by search engines, like Google, within its search pages. A user, like yourself, can then use this page title to determine whether the linked-to page contains the information they are looking for.
If the text within the <title> tag for a page is “How to Get to Paris by Train (On a Budget)”, it’s safe to presume that the linked-to page contains information about how to travel to Paris cheaply.
How well you optimise this text determines how likely a person is to click the link to your page. The higher the likelihood that happens, the higher the opportunity to receive lots of traffic to that page from search engines.
Page titles should be kept short to avoid Google truncating the title and leaving out its most important parts. Titles should also be an accurate summary of the linked-to page — otherwise, visitors are more likely to leave the page as soon as they realise the content doesn’t match their needs.
Good Page Title Examples
The following are examples of good page titles. It’s highly likely that they’ve been optimised for SEO and, as a consequence, receive a high number of visitors to each page.
Bad Page Title Examples
The following are examples of bad page titles. These are likely to receive very few clicks in comparison to their closer, better optimised, neighbours.
What Are Meta Descriptions?
Meta descriptions are small pieces of HTML code that provide a description, or summary, of the page it relates to. Similar to the blurb for a book or summary for a film, it should describe the contents of the page it is attributed to. This code should be found in the source code.
They look like this:
<meta name="description" content="This is a meta description of a page">
You can find the meta description for this page by pressing “Ctrl+U” to open the HTML source code.
The meta description for each page will be chosen by the content’s author or by the webmaster. This description is only seen in search engine results pages or when a page is shared on social media.
As with page titles, the quality of a meta description can contribute to the likelihood that someone will click on the attributed link and visit the page. If the description is under-optimised — or in some cases, completely missing — then the likelihood that the page will be clicked on is reduced.
In the event that a page doesn’t have a meta description tag, Google may use text it has found from the page, which can often be just words found in a page’s main menu, resulting in nonsensical page descriptions.
As with page titles, meta descriptions should be kept short to avoid Google truncating them.
Good Meta Description Examples
Bad Meta Description Examples
Why Are Page Titles and Meta Descriptions Important?
Under-optimised page titles and meta descriptions frequently receive fewer clicks from search engine users than their well-optimised counterparts.
Would you have clicked on the link for this page if the page title was simply, “Page Titles and Descriptions”? Maybe, but probably not.
“What Are Page Titles and Meta Descriptions?” gives a higher confidence level that the linked-to page provides the answer to the question.
Equally, if the meta description for this currency converter page was simply “Exchange your money for foreign currency” would you be enticed to click the link? Maybe, but probably not.
What draws your attention is the advantage of being able to calculate your currency exchange “live”, meaning that you’re getting a simple method for finding out the best exchange rate for your money right now.
Compare that with an alternative page with an under-optimised title.
How likely is it that you care enough about who provides their currency exchange services that you’ll see that description and be immediately drawn to click the link? Very unlikely.
Bad page titles and meta descriptions result in lost traffic to your website.
If you do well to improve the ranking of your website and get onto the first page, all of that effort will be for nothing if nobody is going to click on your link.
From now on, consider the page title and meta description of all of your pages as an advert for your business. Every page’s metadata should be well designed and appealing to your target audience.
Are Page Titles and Meta Descriptions a Ranking Factor?
Page titles and meta descriptions are not a ranking factor. Google confirmed this back in 2009 — however, don’t be surprised if you find conflicting information about this.
Moz’s On-Page Ranking Factors guide lists title tags as “the second most important on-page factor for SEO”, whereas Backlinko’s Google’s 200 Ranking Factors guide lists the usage of keywords within title tags as a ranking factor.
While we believe that title tags and meta descriptions are an important part of optimising a website for search engines, we believe the most important aspect to consider is how well optimised title tags and meta descriptions are for clicks.
The better optimised your title tags and meta descriptions, the higher the chance they’ll be clicked.
Sometimes, improving the metadata of an already well-ranking URL is all that’s needed to increase visits to a page by several multiples.
It’s also alleged that Google records which URLs are getting the most clicks and retaining the most users. If a user clicks on a link, leaves, then clicks another link, we call this “pogoing”. Google denies that is a ranking factor, but we believe it’s very possible that it is monitored and factored into ranking in some capacity.
How Long Should Page Titles and Meta Descriptions Be?
It’s important not to get too overzealous when writing page titles and meta descriptions. You may have lots of good things to say about the page you are optimising, but it’s very likely that a lot of what you have written won’t be seen by anyone.
When page title tags or meta description tags are too long, they are truncated In Google’s case. Page titles tend to be truncated somewhere between 55 and 70 characters (or 600 pixels).
There is no exact point, as you can see from the range above, as the truncation typically depends on the length of the words in a title tag or on the type of search query used.
Because of these variables, we advise writing page titles that are approximately 60 characters in length but to also research how titles are being displayed for your target search query (or “keyword phrase”) so that you can optimise your title to fit Google’s handling of that search query.
The length of a meta description varies wildly, again, depending on the query. Meta descriptions can also be truncated, so we suggest writing them to up to a character limit between 120 and 155.
Meta descriptions on mobile devices are often shorter — due to screen size limitations — so we prefer to write meta descriptions that are 120-130 characters in length. We may then add another 25-35 character sentence, such as a Unique Selling Point (USP), to make use of that additional visibility on desktop searches.
Google has changed the length of page titles and meta descriptions a number of times over the past few years, including a period of time where meta descriptions were 300 characters in length before reverting months later to 155 characters. For this reason, we advise not only writing shorter page titles and descriptions but also frequently checking how your pages look in Google’s search results to see how your metadata is appearing.
You can find guidance on writing page titles and meta descriptions for the latest character lengths in our separate “How to Write Page Titles and Meta Descriptions for SEO” guide.
We would also recommend ensuring that your page titles are a minimum of 30 characters and your meta descriptions are a minimum of 70 characters.
To keep within length limits, we recommend that you check your metadata using a page title and meta description tool — our personal favourite is by Paul Shapiro — as it includes pixel length checks too.
|Min. Characters||Max. Characters||Max. Pixels||Min. Characters||Max. Characters||Max. Pixels|
How to Write Page Titles for SEO
Our guide, “How to Write Page Titles and Meta Descriptions for SEO“, includes the latest information on how to write page titles for SEO, but the fundamentals remain the same regardless of character restrictions.
- Page titles should be short (see latest character length limits)
- They should include the most popular keyword phrases for the page
- They should use search “modifiers”, such as “buy”, “prices”, “best” and “guide”, to suit the intent of a searcher
- They should use your Unique Selling Points (where space allows)
It’s important to try to follow all of the above recommendations, but most importantly of all, it’s crucial to see how Google is showing titles for similar searches already. It’s very likely that other websites have tested what works, so don’t be afraid to follow the pack.
You should also monitor the number of clicks you get on your new page titles so you can see whether they’re doing better or worse than your previous page titles. You can do this by monitoring your clicks in Google Search Console.
For additional guidance on writing page titles for SEO, check our updated guide.
|can||budget||buy||“brand name” log in|
How to Write Meta Descriptions for SEO
Writing a meta description is similar to writing an advert for your website. It should be short and to the point, highlighting your Unique Selling Points (USPs) as briefly as possible. You have only milliseconds to catch a person’s attention, so you have to be concise.
Character restrictions are also in place for meta descriptions and they differ between mobile searches and desktop reasons. Because of that, we suggest writing your meta description in two parts — a first part for mobile searches and a second part for desktop searches.
- Meta descriptions should be short (see latest character length limits)
- They should highlight your Unique Selling Points
- They should accurately summarise the content
For additional guidance on writing meta descriptions for SEO, check our updated guide.
Which Page Titles and Meta Descriptions to Optimise First
If you are a plumber with a website with 15 pages, it won’t matter which order you write your new page titles and meta descriptions in, but if you own or manage an eCommerce store, you may have thousands of pages of metadata to write.
The best approach is to put together a list of all of your website’s URLs and the traffic they each get (which you can do using the Google Analytics API in Screaming Frog). You can then sort this list by highest visits or sessions per page. You now have a list of your most important pages.
Start by reviewing and re-writing the page titles and meta descriptions for the first 10 pages, then review these in the days or weeks after the change and see whether your clicks and organic traffic per page have increased or decreased.
Alternatively, with the same list of pages, you can look at the number of searches for the best search query for each page (by doing keyword research) and start by writing new metadata based on the most lucrative queries first.
How Do I Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions to My Website?
The HTML tags for page titles (HTML Title Tag) and meta descriptions (HTML Meta Tag) are simple to write. You need only the notes program on your computer’s desktop to write them — but installing them can be complicated (depending on the system your website is built with).
Each Content Management System (CMS) has different methods of adding metadata. WordPress, for example, requires an additional plugin to make adding page titles and meta descriptions easier. Shopify, on the other hand, has in-built options for adding metadata to each product page with ease.
The following are guides for the most commonly used CMSs:
- How to Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in WordPress
- How to Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in Shopify
- How to Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in Magento
- How to Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in Joomla
- How to Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in Drupal
- How to Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in Squarespace
- How to Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in Wix
Why Is Google Not Using My Page Title or Meta Description?
There will be occasions when Google may not use the new page title or meta description you have uploaded. This is common, so don’t be too downtrodden.
There are a few reasons why this may be the case, but the most typical one is that Google has determined that the content of a page contains the information that a person is searching for but the page title or meta description for it is not good enough to earn a click.
What Google is doing is using the available content of that page to dynamically create a new page title and meta description it believes is more likely to earn a click from the visitor so that they visit that page.
The first reason it may do this is that the page title or meta description is under-optimised. The second reason is that the page may contain lots of different topics or multiple answers to several questions, so the search engine creates new metadata for that specific part of the page.
For this reason, we recommend reviewing the search queries for each page to see whether there are other keyword phrases that page appears for, and if there are, to review your metadata and use the keywords in the title or description accordingly.
Another reason Google may not be using your new page title or meta description could be that it hasn’t recrawled the page since it was last updated. This is very common for larger websites, where some pages are not crawled on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis.
The best thing to do is force Google to recrawl the URL using Google Search Console. The metadata should then update in Google’s search results. If it doesn’t, it may be worth speaking with an SEO specialist to determine whether there is anything in the page’s source code that may be preventing the correct metadata from being used.