When optimizing for SEO, many businesses new to the idea may focus primarily on optimizing the content on the page they want to rank, and perhaps certain structural data that goes into the page’s code. However, one of the most underestimated influences of SEO performance is the very first thing people see when they find you on Google: The combination of your title tag and meta description.
What Are Title Tags and Meta Descriptions?
In short, title tags and meta descriptions are the lines of text and link that people see on Google search engine results pages (SERPs). The title tag is the blue link that users click on, while the meta description is the one- or two-sentence description below it describing what’s on the page.
Title tags consist of a string of keywords or a search-friendly phrase that serves as either the title of the page or an alternative to the title that’s modified for SEO purposes. People will click on this item to get to your page.
Meanwhile, the meta description is what people will see for additional details about the page’s content. Oftentimes the description will include a brief summary of the page’s topic and a call to action encouraging users to visit the page, but in many cases these descriptions will simply include an excerpt from the first paragraph of the page if they aren’t customized. As the name would suggest, “meta descriptions” are meta in that they are intended to be self-referential and describe the contents of the page to which they’re attributed.
How Do They Influence SEO?
Do title tags and meta descriptions have any impact on SEO? The answer is “yes” and “no.” To clarify, yes, title tags do have a direct influence on SEO and can affect your rankings to some extent as a key ranking factor. When it comes to meta descriptions, no, they don’t directly affect SEO, but they can have an indirect influence on your rankings.
Regarding that last point about meta descriptions, these little lines of text might seem insignificant to the point where you don’t even bother to optimize them, but the fact is that these can play an integral role in enticing potential visitors to click through to your page. If the meta description looks spammy or poorly written, or if it doesn’t do anything to convince users that the page contains the information they’re looking for, this could keep users away as they look for other more relevant results.
If you want to supercharge your SEO, you’ll do well to optimize both your title tags and meta descriptions to serve as accurate and engaging representations for your pages. Otherwise, those top rankings on Google could mean next to nothing.
How to Optimize Title Tags
Google has occasionally made changes to the formatting for title tags, but today it’s generally agreed that title tags should be around 50 to 60 characters long, with one or two key phrases that users are likely to search. Keep in mind that when it comes to length, Google measures pixel width rather than character count, so that 50 to 60 character limit will vary depending on the dimensions of the text within the title tag.
Google and other search engines use Arial, a proportional font, which means that each letter and symbol takes up a different amount of space. So, if you want all of your title tags to show and reach 60 characters for maximum keyword coverage, try to avoid using too many capital letters, items of punctuation, or spaces. If your title tag exceeds the maximum pixel width of 512px, the title will cut off and end with an ellipsis (“…”), which, believe it or not, could discourage visitors from visiting the page.
It’s also important to avoid keyword stuffing. Instead, opt for an alternative to your page title that people are likely to enter as a search query. For instance, if your page is a how-to guide titled “How to Optimize SEO for Top Rankings,” a good title tag could look something like: “How Do I Optimize My Website’s SEO for Top Rankings?” At 54 characters and using an inwardly directed phrase that people are more likely to search, you might find that this title tag is ideal for engaging prospects.
Even if you properly optimize your titles, Google may automatically choose another title tag. Google will often choose the title of the page itself along with your company or website name, separating the two with a pipe (“|”). With this in mind, you may find that your title is too short, in which case you can separate the main keyword phrase using a “|” followed by your company name, which can increase brand awareness and prevent Google from creating its own title.
How to Optimize Meta Descriptions
Unlike title tags, meta descriptions won’t have any effect on rankings directly, but they could mean the difference between a click and a skip. Make sure your meta descriptions are well-written and accurate in describing the page, and you may want to encourage users with an appealing offer that finalizes their decision to visit the page.
Meta descriptions are limited in pixel width to around 920px, which translates to between 150 to 156 characters. Typically, anything at or below 156 characters will show up without cutting off, but capital letters, spacing, and punctuation will also impact length for descriptions.
Typically, the ideal meta description will consist of two sentences describing what’s on the page and a call to action. The first sentence should serve as a brief summary of the page topic, followed by a brief statement to encourage the user to click through, such as “learn more here” or an offer like “request a free quote” or “get a free consultation today!” The key is to give users a compelling incentive to visit your website over others appearing in the SERPs.
You should try to ensure that all pages have personalized meta descriptions. Otherwise, all people will see is an excerpt from the page that could mean nothing to them and make you appear less professional.
Get the Most from Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
By optimizing these key components, you can effectively create individual “labels” for your pages that place you higher above competitors while increasing click-through rates. You’ll see a clear difference in page performance with winning title tags and meta descriptions in addition to all other SEO measures.