Title tags and meta descriptions are an important part of on-page SEO, yet few SEO beginners are aware of these fields and how they can be utilised to improve your site’s performance. These fields should be an important aspect in any SEO strategy and they’re very straightforward to optimise. Here we’ll show you how.
What are title tags and meta descriptions?
Title tags and meta descriptions are part of a wider set of meta tags in the HTML code that indicates the metadata of your page. This information is not displayed on the page itself but is processed by web browsers and search engines to figure out how to display information in search results pages (SERPs).
Here's how they look in the page HTML:
<title>Liquid Light - Award winning web design & digital agency</title>
<meta name="description" content="An award winning web design & digital agency with over 20 years experience delivering user-centric solutions which fulfil your business objectives.">
The screenshot below shows how they look in the SERPs. The title tag forms the first line of the SERP snippet. The meta description forms the second part of the SERP snippet and should summarise your web page in a few sentences.
Why are title tags and meta descriptions important for SEO?
Title tags and meta descriptions are important because they’re typically the first encounter that a user has with your site when they perform a Google search and, with all that competition, first impressions do count. Not providing well-written title tags and meta descriptions could mean that you are missing out on site visits and leads.
Having a compelling, well written title tag and meta description is informative for the user and can have a positive impact on the page’s click through rate (CTR).
How do I write a good title tag?
The optimal length for title tags is 60 characters. This will ensure it is not cut off on mobile devices. A good title tag will have the most important keywords located towards the beginning but it is recommended that you don’t fall into keyword stuffing, i.e. don’t add too many keywords, it must still make sense. The most important thing here is to be realistic and to make your titles consistent with the content of the page.
The title tag does not have to be the same as the page title – you can write a keyword optimised title tag which you might not necessarily want to appear at the top of your page itself.
For example, we may want to optimise the title tag for Liquid Light with our location:
<title>Brand Development in Brighton - Liquid Light</title>
But we’d prefer the page title that appears on our Brand Development page to read simply as ‘Brand Development’.
In the TYPO3 CMS, which all of our sites are built on, Page Title and Title Tag are two separate fields. You should find similar functionality in whichever CMS you are using.
How do I write a good meta description?
The optimal length for meta descriptions is 155 characters, anything longer and Google will truncate it so key information could be lost. Again, it is important that when writing your meta descriptions you keep to what your page is about. Make sure you include what is unique about your content but keep it relevant. Having a concise and enticing meta description will help improve your Click Through Rate (CTR). Using an active voice will also help to encourage users to click through.
It’s really important that your title tag and meta description include keywords. These need to be realistic and include a good balance of what you want to be found for, what people are searching for, and what your page is actually about. If you have to focus on one, go for the latter. Your SEO strategy should be more focused on attracting good quality leads, rather than a large amount of irrelevant audiences.
Pro tip: If your page targets more than one topic, then it may actually be beneficial not to write a meta description. This way, Google will always select the most appropriate text from the page dependent on the user’s search.
Checklist for writing a good title tags and meta descriptions:
- Include targeted keywords – make sure they are near the beginning.
- Check the length – 60 characters for title tags, 155 characters for meta descriptions.
- Use a SERP snippet preview tool if you want to see how they will look.
- Keep them relevant and concise, think of them like advertising copy.
- Avoid duplicates.
How do I edit my title tags and meta descriptions?
Each CMS will have a different way of adding and editing these meta tags. If you use our preferred CMS, TYPO3, we wrote this article explaining how. Other systems will use plugins, so check with your dev team.
I’ve never heard of title tags or meta descriptions so what is showing in Google results?
If the meta description field is left blank then Google will either grab the text it believes to be the most relevant from the page or, most commonly, the first 155 characters or so. This can lead to a jumble of dates, product names, or something irrelevant and certainly not optimised showing in the SERP snippet. Likewise, if the title tag is left empty then Google will likely use the page title, which again, may not be optimised.
Why is Google overwriting my page title or meta description?
On occasion, even though a well thought title or meta description has been entered, Google will overwrite them. This is because Google has the last decision on what it shows about your website. The reasons can vary, from your meta tags not being relevant enough, to them being missing.
It’s important to follow Google’s algorithm changes and to keep on top of SEO best practices, but also, knowing your audience and monitoring the keywords that are driving traffic to your site will help you write the best content to respond to what your target audience is looking for.
“Meta Tags can affect the way that users see your site in the search results and whether or not they actually click through to your site.” John Mueller
Meta tags are a great place to start if you want to make your pages look better on SERPs and improve your site’s CTR, but remember that they need to be realistic and the content on your actual page needs to be equally well-written and relevant.
Cristina, our Digital Account Manager, has interests that read like a lonely hearts column - she likes walks along the beach, enjoys drawing and has a GSOH. She’s obsessive when it comes to analytics and is filled to the brim with ideas for our clients.