How to Create SEO-Friendly Meta Tags: Titles, Descriptions, and More

Although the meta keywords tag is no longer recognized by the major search engines, some sites still use it, and it is worth checking if your site does. The keywords tag should be used as it was in the early days of search engine optimization, to tell search engines what the page is about, so the page can be correctly classified. Although the keywords tag has no real impact on search engine rankings, using it will attract webmasters to utilize the tag.

The only difference between tags you can see (on a blog post, say) and tags you can’t see is purely that meta tags only exist in HTML, usually in the head of the page, and so are only visible to the search engines. The part of meta tags that is visible to the visitor of your site is the title and description tags. These too are in the head section of your page’s code and should describe the content of the page, so they too can be seen in the search engine results.

Meta tags are snippets of text that describe the content of the page. The meta tags don’t appear on the page itself, but only in the page’s code. We all know tags from blog culture, and meta tags are more or less the same thing – little content descriptors that help tell search engines what a web page is about.

Importance of SEO-friendly meta tags

Remember, your website is directed at a target audience, and therefore you need to research what your target audience is searching for. The obvious way to do this is to simply ask them what search phrases they might use. You can also have a look at the statistics on your website. You may find free tracking tools such as StatCounter can be more detailed than Webalizer in telling you the search phrases that led people to your site. A more flexible approach is to explore the search phrases using a search engine. You can then compare competitors’ websites that rank highly using those search phrases and see what they have done.

Now, some meta tag tutorials would just tell you that there are various different types of meta tags, with the most common being the keyword and description tags. They then go on to explain that there is a right and wrong way to make meta tags and simply provide examples. This is not always helpful because you may have your own ideas on what you want to include in meta tags. Unfortunately, though, you must consider the implications of your choices. For example, the choice of words in meta tags can directly affect search engine rankings, and the readability of meta tags can reflect the readability of your site.

Essentially, the trick to crafting effective meta tags is recognizing the fact that search engines are essentially trying to serve their clients, who are the web surfers.

There’s no denying the importance of meta tags. Put simply, they are key in getting high rankings in the search engines. That, of course, leads to the question of how meta tags can be made so that they are attractive to search engines. This shouldn’t be taken lightly because many companies that offer online business have lost a lot of money through changes in search engine rankings. This walkthrough should put a stop to that happening to you.

Creating SEO-friendly titles

Though it won’t directly impact your rank in search results, a compelling title can still prove to be the make-or-break factor for whether a user clicks on your listing, so it’s still crucial to devote extra time to this step in the process. Lure the user in with a compelling title that both piques their interest and accurately portrays the content of the page. This is a fine art. A good exercise is to imagine if Google never existed, how will this title convince a user to visit this page from another website?

Make use of the “meta keywords” tag, but don’t go overboard. We recommend using it for misspellings, synonyms, regional spellings, and abbreviations, but not as a “stuffing” tactic.

People and robots alike prefer it when titles accurately represent the content of a page. Write title tags that describe what is on the page, using keywords whenever possible. It is one of the most important things you can do to make your page more accessible to search engines.

Choosing relevant keywords

Google surely pays a great deal of attention to the keywords present in the title. In addition, the topic of the page will heavily influence the choice of keywords. For instance, consider a web page about the cost of college education. Hence, it would be most effective if the title contained a phrase such as “cost of college education”, rather than just “cost”. Think about all the words that a user might use to describe the page. What will they be searching for? Be sure to include those keywords in the title. In the case of the college education example, the author might choose to avoid including a specific location in the keyword phrase. This would limit the effectiveness of the title since the page is most likely relevant to college education costs in various locations around the world. Finally, you should try to use the most important keywords early. According to research by Moz, the first 50-60 characters of a title are weighted most heavily, while the middle or last part of the title may have less prominence in the search results. This is the logic behind the “brand name” principle, which will be discussed in section 2.3. By using the college education example, a great title might be “Cost of College Education | Educational Cost in United States”.

Keeping titles concise and descriptive

An example of an overambitious tag would be changing a title from “tips on buying a new set of golf clubs” to something like “purchasing golf equipment: a how-to guide on buying the latest technology and equipment to shave a few strokes off of your game”.

Remember that a user can always click through to the page, but with a search engine results page (SERP) being so cluttered nowadays, a user is unlikely to engage in guesswork of what a URL might lead to. A concise and descriptive article title is the first step to getting the user to the right location.

Now there are times when the best way of describing a page is with a long phrase. In this case, it is alright to write a title tag that is longer than the 70 character recommended limit, but still attempt to keep the title concise. Once the longer title has been used, it can then be shortened in other areas of the site step.

Many companies make the mistake of trying to keyword-stuff title tags with hopes of better relevancy in search rankings. In addition to potential search engine penalty for over-optimization, this method produces titles that are not descriptive to users, often irrelevant, and sometimes just nonsensical. A title tag like “golf clubs golf equipment golf bags golf balls” would be considered keyword rich, but it does little to describe what the page is really about.

A good exercise for a firm is to take a sample of current website title tags and evaluate them based on these two factors. Ask whether or not the title is descriptive enough to give a firm understanding of what the page content is about, and also if each part of the title adds value and is not just filler.

Accuracy is extremely important in order to inform consumers about the topic of the page and entice the correct clickthrough rate. Accuracy is directly related to brevity. If there are too many words in a title or it is too long, it could be difficult to quickly decipher what the page is about and thus which click will lead to the desired information.

Incorporating brand name

As a brand name can be an important part of the keyword phrase for which you want to be found, using the brand name in the title tag generally has value. This can help to reinforce the title tag with the search term used, and as search terms are used as anchor text in links from other sites, having the right keywords contained in the title can help to increase the click-through rate from the search results to the site. Brand names that are well known often have more click-through from search results whether the brand name is contained in the title tag or not. In a study conducted by Ahrefs, it was found that a meager 47% of clicks coming from SERP use the brand name in the title tag or meta description. This percentage increased to 59% when the brand name was not used in the title tag or meta description. Brand awareness plays a big part in how often a user may click on your link when it appears in the search results, and thus the need to have the brand name in the title tag is not as important as in the ad.

Crafting effective meta descriptions

A meta description is the summary of the content shown below the title on a search results page. An engaging meta description can draw the reader to the website from the SERP. An effective description is concise, compelling, and utilizes call to action language. Using adjectives helps a lot. Instead of saying improvement or effective, say something like amazing or life-changing. This can make your description stand out even more to the reader. Consider the description as a mini-ad for the webpage, it should be unique for each page to avoid duplication. It is recommended to stay in the range of 150-160 characters. Anything longer than this may be cut off in the search results page. If the meta description is not specified, search engines will display the first part of the main body text. This is not ideal, since the best part of the content may not be displayed.

Writing compelling and concise descriptions

Now to the technical side. The meta description is typically always placed in the head tag of the page’s HTML and is most commonly done using a meta tag or XHTML. Here is a simple example of a meta description:

When writing the meta description, think of it as a short advertisement for the page. The goal here is to write a description that is enticing enough that people will want to click through to the page from the search results. Emphasize the benefits of the content and the solutions that it offers. Mention any special offers, product features, or timeliness of the content. A good way to approach the content is to pose the idea that the page has the best solution or the best information to satisfy the searcher’s query. A good meta description will typically be in the 150-160 character range and should not sound like a sales pitch. Ideally, you want tailored descriptions for different pages. In reality, it’s worth maintaining an efficient process for writing meta descriptions quickly. Over time, you may find this task is an easy one to outsource.

Including relevant keywords naturally

As time progresses towards the semantic web it will become less and less necessary to use exact keyword matches to attract visitors. Major search engines are working day and night to better understand content and to match it with user searches. At this point well written content that covers a subject in depth is the best way to attract search engine traffic. This however is not an excuse to ignore basic SEO for text content. Using keywords in titles and headers is still a powerful optimization method when used with finesse. Titling a page “Guitar information and advice” will not be as effective as a title like “Guitar resources, how-tos and information on all aspects of the art”. Choosing the right topics for headers can also break up content and improve page comprehension. A header like “Steps to changing guitar strings” is a clear and concise path to the content that will follow it.

Heavy keyword usage often stresses the reader and detracts from the overall user experience on the page. This often comes across as forced – as an attempt to manipulate the search engine and not a sincere effort to help the user find the information he/she is looking for. Overuse of keywords can also cause search engines to label your page as spam. This is a dangerous label and can mean the difference between first and 50th page search results. Spam labels are also very hard to shake. Even after you have removed the offending material the search engine may still harbor resentment.

Include your target keywords while still keeping the reader in mind. Usability and user experience must always be a corollary to SEO.

Utilizing call-to-action language

Language has the ability to evoke emotion, and emotion has the power to make an experience more memorable. This is an important principle to remember when creating meta tags. Utilizing call-to-action language in your descriptions can affect clickthrough rates. Although using this method may not directly affect search engine rankings, it may have an impact on the amount of traffic you get from the rankings. This is a common SEO service, using one tactic to affect another. Call-to-action language provides very direct and clear instructions, and it is often speaking to the reader using the imperative voice. An example of a call to action would be “Try our product today for a healthier tomorrow” or “Click here to save now!” This method could increase sales and conversion rates on a landing page, and is likely to have a similar effect when used in a meta description. This is important for e-commerce websites, but can also be applied to any website that is trying to sell a product, or convince the reader to take a particular action. Be careful not to overdo it with call-to-action language, as it only works in the right context. It may be more suitable for some websites than others. Furthermore, we know that searchers may be in different phases of the buying cycle when they are searching for the same thing. They may be browsing, doing research, ready to purchase, etc. Changing the language and message of your meta descriptions to suit the intent of the searcher is a good practice. A student who is doing research for an assignment on home solar panels may have typed “advantages of renewable energy” into Google. An appropriate call-to-action for this would be “Click here to learn how solar energy can benefit you!” Although still providing information, this can lead the user to a site that will further convince them to look into solar energy for their home. An example of a more direct sales approach would be a description containing “buy discounted ___ here”. This could be suitable for someone looking to replace a lost or broken item.

Other considerations for SEO-friendly meta tags

Meta descriptions have a 155 character limit, so it’s important to consider the message you wish to convey. If there are important keywords that cannot fit into the specified limit, then you should consider revising the meta tag content. High-end mobile phones such as the iPhone or Android devices will display a maximum of about 120 characters of the meta description. This is due to the increased pixel width of these phones. It is extremely important to consider the message you want to convey within this limit. Often, it will make sense to create custom meta tags specifically for mobile phones as they will display more of the content.

When creating meta tags, it is important to consider that they will be used for mobile devices. Titles have a maximum length in the search results of about 50-60 characters, including spaces. We will never know the exact limit for the title tag because this limit is based on a 600 pixel container. With mobile search becoming more and more popular, it’s best to keep the length of titles in mind. Google will display text from the title tag that doesn’t fit within the specified limit, and the rest will be cut off. Webmasters should therefore consider the width of the title tag. In some cases, where the title is cut off, it may not make sense.

Optimizing meta tags for mobile devices

With the increased usage of mobile devices, ascertaining compatibility across devices has become an important part of SEO. Meta tags are no exception. In the past, we have shown you Google’s guidelines for mobile SEO and how to create a mobile-friendly website. Now we will specifically discuss meta tags for mobile devices. According to which devices the URL is serving, the snippet in the search results may differ from the desktop result. If there is no mobile version of a URL, or if the mobile version is a responsive design, Google’s algorithms will show the desktop version of the URL in the search results. This is relevant to meta tags in that, when Googlebot smartphone looks for meta tags, it will be looking for the mobile version of the content. If the meta tags are serving a different title and/or description than what is on the content page, searches will not be able to see the tags when the content is crawled and indexed. For this reason, it is recommended to serve the same meta tags for both desktop and mobile content to make sure there is no confusion. This is called “equivalent meta tags,” and they should be placed as close as possible to the default `<head>` of the page in `<link>` and/or `<meta>` tags. In the scenario of different URLs serving different content (i.e. m dot sites, trans-coded articles), there are a number of things to know and consider. For configuration, it is important to use `<link rel=”alternate”>` in the desktop page and `<link rel=”canonical”>` in the mobile page. This will help Google understand the location of content and consolidate indexing properties, as well as forwarding the accumulated ranking. If you are serving meta tags that vary dependent on the device, it is crucial to use the `vary HTTP header` to let Googlebot smartphone know that the content may vary from the requested URL. This will prevent any errors or miscommunications concerning the tags and where they should be fetched. In letting Google understand your content and preventing errors, the `hreflang attribute` will also be useful when using language or regional URLs.

Utilizing schema markup for enhanced visibility

Schema markup has been recognized by many search engines as an important factor towards helping with rich snippets. Schema refers to structured data which is added to webpages to help search engines provide more informative results for users. Implementing schema won’t have a direct impact on the rankings of the webpage, but it will help search engines understand the content on the page – and this can only benefit the site. Schema markup enables webmasters to influence the way their pages are presented and interpreted by search engines in a much more direct way. Here are some potential examples of schema: ‘Article’ (for news), ‘Review’ (for professional ratings of any product/service), ‘Event’, ‘People’ and ‘Product’. Although it certainly can be argued that certain types of business are better suited for schema markup – an implementation of any kind is likely to see some positive effect. Bear in mind that due to the varying types of content which schema can assist with, it’s not uncommon to need assistance from multiple members of a digital marketing team; copywriters, developers, designers and SEO’s may all be required to help implement schema markup on different areas of a website to really take advantage of all possibilities.

Regularly monitoring and updating meta tags

The Meta Tags data in On-Page Elements has long allowed PRO customers to track and store the metadata for important landing pages in their campaigns. Now this page will also store data for the tag and will trigger a ranking event in the Search Engine Rankings report for the URL and term with which the tag is associated. This is useful for tracking changes in ranking for the page over time.

For pages, you can always tweak your tags to improve these results. In addition, a newly released feature shows a ‘change column’ to make it easier to see if the tag is the cause of significant changes in click-through data. This data will be stored for up to 90 days so changes can be monitored over time. Click-through data from before the implemented tag can be compared to the data after the tag was taken into account.

With changing algorithms and the fact that search engines are continuously evolving, it’s important to regularly monitor and update meta tags. Now that you’ve crafted high-quality meta tags, with time and continued SEO analysis, you should analyze the performance of your meta tags based on traffic and rankings. If you notice a drop in rankings or traffic for particular pages that appear as a result of a ‘trigger’, in this case the tag, will be available for monitoring in GWT. Webmasters can take note of the number of times the URL appeared in search results, the average position, and the click-through rate. These can be improved upon with further optimization of the tag, however changes will not be immediately noticeable. The algorithm needs to re-crawl and re-index the page to affect the changes, and it can take some time, depending on the site, for Google to re-read the tag and then old index data will be displayed for the searcher so it would be unwise to change the tag again in this case.

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