How To Write Compelling Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
Strong page titles and meta descriptions can steer potential visitors towards your website. Google recommends that each page on your website should have a page titled that is specified, descriptive and concise. Google also urges website owners to avoid duplicated or boilerplate page titles. Sounds good in theory, but how can users go about doing this in practice?
What is a page title?
You can give each page of your website a title by using the title tag, which is an HTML element. Users are most likely to see your page titles when they are in the search engine results pages (SERPs). In the SERPs, the page title is typically displayed as blue text above a URL.
What is a meta description?
The meta description works similarly to the page title, but instead explains what users should expect to see when they visit your website. Just as with the page title, users are most likely come across meta descriptions in the SERPs, where they appear as the light black text below the URL.
To recap, in the SERPs the page title is displayed in blue and the meta description is displayed just below this in black. Together, they are known as metadata or sometimes snippets.
How do I add page titles & meta description to my website?
Both page titles and meta descriptions are HTML elements and can be added directly to the head section of your webpage. I’ve included an example title tag and meta description code sample below.
<title>I am a page title</title>
<meta name=”description” content=”I am a meta description.”/>
Most website owners don’t have to worry about editing their code directly. A Content Management System (CMS), such as WordPress, makes it easy to specify the page title and meta descriptions for each page of your website.
If you’re going to do any substantial work on your site’s page titles and meta descriptions then you should download Screaming Frog. This tool is a firm favourite with SEOs and you’ll quickly see why if you use it yourself. There’s a free version which is adequate for small sites and a premium version which is needed for larger sites.
Is meta description a ranking factor?
We don’t know for sure, but it’s suspected that meta description is not a direct ranking factor. But meta descriptions can have a measurable impact on a page’s click-through rate (CTR). Simply put, if your page titles and meta descriptions are enticing to users, more people will click through to your website from the SERPs. This has the obvious benefit of increasing the number of organic visitors to your website.
But it’s also thought that CTR is itself a ranking factor. To sum it up:
- Adding a strong page title and meta description to a website can improve its CTR.
- Google might “notice” the increased number of clicks coming to the website and decide that it deserves to rank more highly.
Why is Google not using my page title and meta descriptions?
There’s no guarantee that Google will display the page title you’ve specified in the SERPs. It might instead automatically generate a page title for you based on content pulled from your website. Here are a few reasons why this might happen:
- You’ve used the <title> tag incorrectly.
- Your page title and meta description is misleading or too long.
- Your page title and meta description is stuffed with keywords to the extent that it’s hurting user experience.
- Your page titles and meta descriptions are duplicated.
- You’ve used robots.txt to block Google from crawling your website.
How long should page titles and meta descriptions be?
According to Moz (as of February 2019) page titles should be 50 to 60 characters long and meta descriptions should be 50 to 300 characters long. But Yoast gives a different recommendation. Yoast suggests that meta descriptions be up to 155 characters long. Why are two authoritative sites giving a different answer to the same question?
As with other parts of SEO, there’s no single right answer. The advice from Google doesn’t contain a set character limit, but Google does stress that page titles and meta descriptions should be “concise” and not be “long or verbose”. This is because lengthy page titles and meta descriptions are often cut short. In other words, Google doesn’t want lengthy page titles taking up valuable space on users’ screens, especially as many of those users will be searching via mobile or other devices with a small screen.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Google doesn’t actually count in characters at all. They count in pixels. You can check pixel width using this tool.
How to write good page titles and meta descriptions
Good metadata is metadata that improves the CTR. In other words, try to write page titles and meta descriptions which convert searchers into clickers. Keep the following points in mind when writing metadata:
- Use the active voice rather than the passive voice.
- Ask the searcher to take an action.
- Address the searcher’s intent.
- Don’t mislead in your meta descriptions. The description must match the content.
- Add your target keywords where appropriate.
- Metadata should be unique.
- Mention any Unique Selling Points (USPs).
It’s worth taking a look at the page titles and meta descriptions of your main competitors. It’s likely that potential searchers will be reading at least a handful of page titles before they decide to visit a site. Is there anything you can say to make your site stand out from the crowd?
What are the best guides to metadata on the internet?
If you’re interested in learning more about metadata, check out one of the following guides:
- How to write search optimised page titles
- Moz on metadata
- Moz on the metadata update (video)
- Yoast on metadata
- Yoast on meta description lengths
- Google on meta titles and meta descriptions
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