One basic aspect of SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of creating custom title tags and meta descriptions.
Not sure what those are? The title tag is what shows up as the name of your page on the search engine results page and the meta description is, you guessed it, the description below the title.
Some content management systems automate the creation of title tags and meta descriptions by plugging your page title into the title tag field and using your first sentence as the meta description. It’s highly unlikely that this is the best you could do for SEO so one quick way to boost your click-through from the SERPs (search engine results pages) is to create your own titles and descriptions for every page.
If you’re using WordPress or another CMS that makes this type of SEO easy, there’s no excuse for not doing this. You may have to download a plugin, like the popular Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, but that’s a piece of cake, too.
The trick with custom titles and descriptions comes when you sit down to write them. What really IS the best way to write a title tag? What kind of meta descriptions will actually inspire clicks? What are the rules that determine what you can or cannot write?
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Here’s a few:
Title tags won’t display more than 55 characters and meta descriptions only display the first 115. This includes spaces. It’s really not a lot of room, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you don’t have to come up with a lot of creative copy to fill it up but on the other hand, you have to be very particular with the words you use.
Pro SEO Tip: In my opinion, true professionals are those that understand all the rules regarding their industry well enough to know how to effectively bend and break them. Consider this: After 115 characters, Google will display ellipses (…) at the end of your meta description. That can actually be a powerful psychological tool to encourage click-through. If you put something truly provocative in the first 115 characters such that the ellipses suggests an end to the sentence that a searcher just has to read, you can gain an advantage over competitors that adhere strictly to the 115 character limit.
Ideally, your web page is about one obvious topic. Choosing just one or two specific keywords that describe that topic and then using them in the title and description is a good move.
You may be wondering how specific keywords need to be. If you say “Organic food” in the title and “Organic foods” in the description, is that ok? In my experience, it’s best to target one exact keyword and use the exact same words whenever possible. However, keep in mind that it’s really people that are going to be reading (and hopefully clicking on) these, so don’t force keywords into places they don’t fit.
Your title tag and meta description need to serve two purposes to be truly successful at SEO – first, they need to have keywords so your page is more likely to rank and second, they need to encourage people to click your link rather than someone else’s.
The trick to writing good titles and descriptions, then, comes from understanding your ideal searcher. What problem do they have that they’re looking to solve AND your page can actually solve for them?
To figure this out, think about your keywords. If you’re targeting “healthy organic foods”, it makes sense that people that are searching that exact phrase are either a. trying to find a place near them that sells healthy organic foods or b. trying to find out which organic foods are most healthy. Knowing that can help you write a description of your page that speaks to their intent and convinces them to click.
Typically, title tags are a series of keywords and sometimes, the brand name.
For example, “Organic Foods – Organic Farmers Market – Steve’s Grocer.” I have a couple of thoughts on this.
1. Brand/company name isn’t usually necessary unless you think it will help encourage clicks. For example, if you’re Whole Foods, you might put your brand name in your titles because you can count on searchers to be aware of your brand and to consider you a leader in your field. On the other hand, “Steve’s Grocer” doesn’t really mean anything to anyone, so better to use that space for keywords.
2. Best practice is to use dashes (-) or vertical lines ( | ) to separate keywords in title tags, but you can actually use lots of other symbols. Using an uncommon symbol can automatically make your listing stand out and attract the searcher’s eye. I’m not advocating for making your title tags garish and obnoxious but thinking about how they look on the SERPs is important.
Take some time and put real thought into your titles and descriptions. They really are the face of your website on the SERPs – be sure you’re putting your best foot forward.