The meta titles and descriptions for the pages on your website are probably the most important part of your on-site SEO.
If you have any problems or you’re just started out with SEO they’re also probably the easiest part of your site to fix.
The Meta Title
The meta title is simply a title or headline that describes the page.
It tells search engines what the page is about and shows up as the heading in the search results.
The HTML code for your title looks like this:
<title>This is the title of your page</title>
It goes in the <head section of your HTML document.
If you’re interested in learning more about HTML we have a post all about that here:
Don’t worry though because usually learning HTML isn’t necessary for your meta data.
Typically only the first 50 to 60 characters of your title will show up in the search results.
It’s technically how many characters can fit within a 512 pixel space.
If you keep your title around 55 characters then according to SEO Moz 95% your entire title will display.
The Meta Description
The description is a short one or two sentence description of the page. It provides a little more information for search engines about the content on the page.
The meta description also shows up in the search results underneath the title tag.
The HTML code for the meta description looks like this:
<meta name=”description” content= “Your meta description gets written here.”/>
This code also goes in the <head> section of your HTML document.
The best length for a meta description is around 150 to 160 characters. If it’s too long it’ll be cut off.
Search engines don’t even read past that length anyways so keep it short and sweet.
Entering the Meta Data on Your Website
If you have access to the HTML code for the pages on your website you can enter your meta data the old fashioned way.
If you’re using WordPress a lot of themes (like the Genesis Framework) will have section in the dashboard to enter this information.
We highly recommend the free plugin Yoast SEO. We use that in this site and it adds a very easy section to enter this information in the WordPress editor.
Most website platforms and CMS’s will also have section where you can enter a title and description as well.
You’ll probably never have to enter the code yourself.
Does This Meta Data Help Your Rankings?
You can’t just fill up the title and description with keywords and expect to have your website rank.
Search engine optimization is much more complicated than that unfortunately.
Writing a good title and description is however the first and one of the most important steps of your on-site SEO.
Without proper meta data describing the pages on your website the rest of your SEO will take a lot more effort.
If you have zero competition though proper meta data will definitely help you rank.
For example you shouldn’t have any competition for your business or brand name.
Often proper meta data combined with some other basic on-site SEO will be enough to rank your website when people search for you by name.
Best Practices for Your Title and Meta Description
The first thing to remember is to not fill up your title or description with a bunch of keywords.
Remember that people will see this information in the search results. Come up with a good eye-catching title and description.
This is what people will see when they do a search.
Make it look good so people will want to click through to your website.
Don’t be afraid to advertise yourself a little bit here. Your listing on the search results page is essentially an advertisement to get people to click through to your website.
Include a call-to-action in your meta description if you can.
Calls-to-action are always a good idea to include with pretty much any marketing you do online.
Using phrases like:
- Learn more
- See more
- Find out more
- Discover more
- Click here
At the end of your meta description all help encourage people to click through to your website.
Don’t forget to include some keywords as well.
Your meta description still needs to tell search engines what your page is about.
Plus when someone does a search for a certain keyword if that keyword is in your site’s description it’ll appear bold in the search results.
It’ll help your site look a bit more relevant and stand out.
Avoid Duplicate or Auto Generated Tags
It’s very important that every page on your website has a unique title and description.
It’s also best if these are written manually.
Often website providers will auto-generate your meta data based on information and keywords you give them.
This is lazy and results in some very poor quality and often duplicate titles and descriptions.
This actually hurts your SEO.
Google especially hates duplicate content.
Duplicate tags also confuse search engines because they don’t know which page is better and which one they should show in the search results.
Also remember that people see your title and description in the search results.
If they’re not good and just some autogenerated mess of keywords and your location no one will want to click through to your website.
In the video below Matt Cutts from Google explains the importance of unique meta tags.
According to him it’s better to have no meta description then it is to have duplicate ones.
Since this post is on the topic of meta data there’s another tag we should probably mention quick as well.
You may have heard of a meta keywords tag to go along with your title as well.
This is a list of keywords that you want the page to rank for.
In the early days of the Internet this tag would help your website rank. You could just fill up this tag with keywords and your website would rank for them.
Today however it no longer works.
Now the only thing you accomplish with the meta keywords tag is showing your competition what keywords you’re trying to rank for.
Don’t use the meta keywords tag anymore.
If your website vendor is using them get them to stop or find a new website provider.
You can tell if your website is using this tag by looking at your source code.
Most browsers have an option called something like “Show Source” or “Show Page Source.” It’s usually in the view menu.
This will open a page with a ton of HTML code.
Do a search with ctrl + F for “keywords”.
If you see a bit of code near the top that looks like this:
<meta name="keywords" content=“a bunch of keywords here separated by commas”/>
Then you should speak to your web provider about having that removed.