Title tags and meta descriptions: all you need to know

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Title tags and meta descriptions: all you need to know

While we’ve long been told not to judge a book by its cover, the same can’t be said with websites. Although some SEO professionals will argue that meta title tags and descriptions are an outdated way to optimise your site, they still contain a huge amount of value and shouldn’t be ignored. As far as search engines are concerned, title tags and metas are a way of judging your site within an indexed library before even opening it. In order to do this, they need a summary of what your site contains. If you’re not optimising this crucial area of your site, you could be damaging your chances of climbing the rankings. Here are some tips on how to create the perfect title tag and meta description.

What are title tags and meta descriptions?

Title tags and metas are two sections of code which are inserted into the header of the HTML of a web page, helping search engines to establish what the context of the page is and what content it contains. They’re not invisible to a reader though – they also appear in the search engine results to help users understand what a result contains, so they can differentiate between different sites. The title tag is the text that contains the link and the meta description is the text that sits below it.

A useful way to consider the title tag is as the title of a book, or the title of a chapter if it’s a category page. You want to think of how this area of your site is represented – what is it about? Is it an engaging topic? Is it funny? Serious? If you were a prospective customer or reader, would you want to click on it to learn more? Bear in mind that your title tag doesn’t just show up in the SERPs, but also on other sites such as social channels, so make sure your title tag is relevant and suitable for all sites.

When writing your meta description, think of it as the blurb on the back of a book. You want it to summarise what the page is about, including vital information that you can’t fit into your title tag. The meta description should entice users to want to click through and visit your site over any competitors that have shown up in the search results.

Why are they so valuable?

Title tags and meta descriptions are important for creating a great user experience as they help guide the user to the right information. They also improve the click-through rate (CTR) for your site and help search engines and crawl bots determine how valuable your site is to users searching for terms of relevance. Sites that don’t have these sections included will be at the mercy of whatever Google decides to pull out from existing content, leaving you at risk of your page being misrepresented. This can result in poor user experience and can also lead to copy being duplicated which can have a negative impact on your PageRank.

Writing titles and metas

Title tags

To write your title tag, begin by determining what the page’s content is about. Summarise this into a single word or phrase – brevity is key with title tags as you’ll find more limits on character counts than with the meta description. If there are important keywords or phrases you want to include, these should be factored in here towards the front of the title to grab the attention of the user and crawl bots alike.

To optimise your title tag, put yourself in your prospective customer’s shoes. Make the title tag as compelling as possible but also as useful, providing as much information as you can to help a user quickly understand what your page is about. This means including relevant keywords without saturating it or over-stuffing the title with repetitive wording.

Meta descriptions

Meta descriptions should be written in a similar way, but here you have a bit more room to play with. Descriptions that are too long will get cut off and the additional text replaced with an ellipsis. But don’t be tempted to just copy the text on the page itself word for word, as this not only leads to duplicate content but also results in a missed opportunity to include relevant keywords.

Aim to summarise the page in a couple of sentences that gives enough information to be useful and attention-grabbing without giving everything away – leave your reader wanting more. Your meta description should also have a call to action where possible. Phrases such as ‘Buy Now’, ‘Learn More’ or ‘Order Today’ pique a user’s interest and provide an action that encourages them to click through to your page. If a CTA isn’t the right tactic for your page, you can use structured content instead which is a great alternative. For example, delivering technical information about your product to your user can encourage them to click through to buy.

A checklist for creating titles and meta descriptions

It can be easy to skip over important details when you’re creating title tags and meta descriptions, especially if you’re writing them for multiple pages of your site. Here’s a summary of what you need to remember before you hit publish:

✅ Is the title tag less than 60 characters?
✅ Is the meta description less than 160 characters?
✅ Are the most vital keywords for the page included in both sections?
✅ Does the meta description make sense, is it grammatically correct and is it relevant to the page?
✅ Is there a CTA included or technical information to encourage users to click through?