What is a title tag
A title tag is essentially the name of the web page. The title tag is displayed in the tab at the top of the page when you view it and are they often used on search engine results pages (SERPs) to display preview snippets for a given page. They are very important for search engine optimisation (SEO) and social sharing.
Title tags should always make sense to the person searching for your website and ideally the wording should be based upon research into keyword search popularity and relevance to the page itself.
Title tags have long been considered one of the most important on-page SEO elements; the most important being overall content.
Tips on creating powerful title tags
- title tags should be a maximum of 66 characters long, including spaces
- the most important keywords need to be at the start of your title tag, with your least important words being at the end (left to right).
- try to use pipes (sometimes referred to as vertical bars) to separate your phrases and avoid using any other form of punctuation such as hyphens, asterisks, or underscores.
- keep your important phrases short and simple.
- put your company name or organisation at the end of the title tag, unless you don't need to include it at all. We include ours for branding purposes and in some instances Google will move your company name to the start of the tag in any event - the SEO value is not diluted in these cases.
Key mistakes to avoid
- not creating a page title at all.
- repeating or spamming keywords (search engines will think you're trying to beat the system and you will be penalised).
- making the titles too long. Search engines limit the number of characters which are displayed in SERPs and if they are too long they are truncated and not read by the crawling robots. Optimal titles should be between 50 and 60 characters.
- giving all of your page titles the same name.
- giving your page the same name as your business or website.
- naming the page without connecting it to your page content.
Examples of poor meta titles
- Football statistics
- Tax tips
- Vacuum cleaners
Examples of good meta titles
- Chocolate Gifts | Artisan Truffles | Gourmet Chocolate
- Football stats | Team stats | Player stats | Soccer stats
- Five ways to pay less tax | Tips on debt and credit
- Upright | Handheld | Wet & Dry Vacuum Cleaners
What are meta descriptions?
Meta descriptions, though not important to search engine rankings, are extremely important for providing valuable click through from search engine results pages to your website. Whilst Google officially tell us that meta descriptions don't affect SEO, click through rate definitely does, so it's useful (albeit not essential) to have meta descriptions for every page on your site.
Meta description length
Meta descriptions can essentially be any length, although most search engines will truncate anything longer than 144 characters. This means that anything you write after this point will never be read. Some argue that any additional characters could be viewed as an attempt at spamming, so best advice is stick to less than 144 and you'll be fine.
Another tip is to try to keep your key information within the first 60 words. On occasion Google may display big site-links which may truncate your description even further.
Unique meta descriptions for every page
We recommend that you have a unique meta description for every page on your site. If you don't have unique descriptions you're actually better off having none at all; or least have unique descriptions for your important pages and nothing on your less important ones. Never duplicate descriptions.
Matt Cutts, who leads Google's Web Spam team and is considered to be the foremost authority on search engine optimisation issues advises:
"The way I think of it is you can either have a unique meta tag description, or you can choose to have no meta tag description, but I wouldn't have duplicate meta tag descriptions."
Meta descriptions display with searched keywords highlighted in bold, so incorporating your targeted keywords into the meta description can help to further highlight your search result to potential visitors.
Local telephone numbers
Using a local telephone number in your meta description can very useful as it enables users to contact you without even loading your website. Particularly useful if you're a tradesman who offers an emergency service and your main call to action is contact by phone and also means your bounce rate won't be negatively impacted. Also useful for existing customers that need to call you but don't need to visit your site.
As mentioned in some of our previous blog posts it's really important to think about how a typical user reads the information set out in front of them on the screen. Most of us quickly scan the page and decide in a matter of seconds (or quicker in many cases) whether or not we're interested in the content.
There's no need to get all flowery and verbose here, say what you need to say as concisely as you can. Make sure the searcher wants to visit your website before they go off elsewhere.
Write interesting copy
You need to clearly explain why a user should want to visit your site. Your meta description is essentially a marketing message and you need to make sure that it communicates the value the customer will get by visiting your site.
Incorporate a clear call to action
By including a call to action in your meta description you are advising the user exactly what you would like them to do; this is more likely to elicit the response you want.
An example here would simply be to include the term 'give us a call' or 'contact us today'.
Asking people to do something often results in readers taking the action you’ve requested. Other possible calls to action for your meta descriptions include “Discover how,” “Read more about,” “Click here,” or other related variations.
When not to include a meta description
There are some occasions when it is not necessary to include a meta description on some of your web pages. Google will automatically add a description using copy from your page content, so If your page is targeting long tail keywords you might be better off omitting the meta description and allowing Google to decide what it feels is the relevant text.
- meta descriptions should be 160 characters long or less
- try to incorporate unique meta descriptions for all pages
- ensure you include your researched keywords
- include a telephone number or clear call or action
- be concise
- write interesting copy
Maximising your online presence
If you want to rank higher in search engine results, you have to comply with Google’s set of rules and recommendations. Google has provided a series of guidelines on how to write compelling meta tags and descriptions and regularly updates its content to keep users up to date.
Try implementing these tips and the strategies described above on your website. The difference in both your site’s overall SEO valuation and natural search click-through rate should be significant!
Titles and meta descriptions alone aren't going to get you to the top of the competitive terms but making sure you tick the basic SEO boxes is essential to your long term SEO strategy.
If you don’t know what the SEO title and meta description are, go ahead and read points #17 and #18 from my SEO guide for photographers.
In short, they are text values (you can customize) which don’t show up on the site but which end up in search results:
What you usually learn is to do keyword research and then “craft” the SEO titles and meta-descriptions to include your target keywords/phrases as much as possible.
Let me introduce you to the concept of “click-through rate”
In technical terms, it’s the percentage of search engine users that click on your site’s link after seeing it in search results.
In plain English: how appealing your SEO title and meta-description are to users.
Too many photographers are over-doing SEO, only thinking about “tricking” Google into ranking high for certain words.
Instead, you should focus a lot more on humans and how they understand your SEO tags when seeing them in search results. That’s why “fake” keyword-rich phrases perform badly these days.
So, how do you write the SEO fields?
If you hate SEO (because you’d rather be shooting pictures) and you’re overwhelmed by “keyword research”, you’ll definitely find some comfort in this simpler approach:
Write your SEO titles & meta-descriptions as if you were describing the website to an acquaintance over dinner (using natural language).
Why “dinner” in particular you ask? Because after enjoying a glass of wine, you loosen up and speak more naturally, instead of being over-anxious to describe all the details of your site :-)
Let’s take the meta-description for example. After finishing the main dinner course and enjoying your glass of wine, you wouldn’t be telling your friend that your website is about:
“Your stock photography source for Austin, Texas Lifestyle, Skyline, People, Family, Travel, Sports, Business & Landscape stock images.”
That sounds a little fake when spoken out loud, the enumeration of the keywords is too long. Also notice how “stock” is placed there twice in an effort to rank higher for it.
Instead you’d naturally tell the person that the site is about this:
“Professional stock photography agency based in Austin, Texas, providing a wide range of stock images for commercial and editorial use.”
This way, you still repeat the word “stock”, but it all sounds more natural.
So the goal is to make your website look appealing in search results. You won’t do that by cramming comma-separated keywords in there in a desperate attempt to rank higher, it will instead have the opposite effect and Google will take notice.
Here are some more examples of naturally-sounding SEO meta-descriptions as seen in Google search results (I’ve anonymized them):
“African landscape and wildlife photography by award-winning Botswana based nature photographer Jane Doe.”
“ProfessionalNYC based photography agency specialized in babies, children, teens and school photography.”
“Jane Doe Images is a sports photo agency, providing top quality, striking images with impact from the world of rugby union & other sports.”
“We love making imaginative photos of individuals, couples, families and weddings. We’re based in the beautiful, leafy suburb of Croydon, Melbourne.”
“New Jersey advertising photographer specialized in creating inspired imagery for commercial and editorial photography clients.”
“Jane Doe is an international award-winning photographer from Brisbane, specializing in location shoots for commercial and editorial clients across southeast Queensland.”
Notice how they can all be spoken out loud and still sound natural.
Back to the dinner party metaphor: don’t assume your friend knows too much about you or your site. If it helps, imagine they’re a complete stranger. When describing your page, you’d then make sure you include all the important and relevant things (like your location and your main specialties, awards, featured publications, etc.)
So try to describe your site out loud, using natural language. Then write it all on a piece of paper and then edit it down till you can extract the SEO title and meta-description from it.
Is it true that I need to include the most important keywords at the beginning of the SEO title & meta-description?
Technically, yes, but you’re over-thinking SEO again. Try to keep it simple.
How long should the SEO title and meta-description be?
Title < 50-55 characters (including spaces).
Meta-description < 300-320 characters (including spaces) (limit increased in early 2018).
Test them out here and make sure they don’t get truncated with an ellipsis.
How can I know what my site’s click-through rates are?
To test things out, you can measure you click-through rates in Google Search Console (formerly called Google Webmaster Tools).
You need to go to: Status > Performance and then enable “CTR”, here’s how it looks like:
You can even filter by “Pages” and that will allow you to compare the different click-through rates for your most popular pages. If you spot one that’s performing bad (like page3 in the example below), you know you need to improve its SEO title and meta-description:
SEO is an overwhelming topic, so I’m regularly trying to break it down into edible pieces. Hope this article has given you a little more clarity.