For most people focusing on Organic SEO traffic, having your keywords in your meta titles and descriptions is a no brainer. But there’s a lot more that goes into effectively using meta titles and descriptions on your sites, and I want to take a little time to go into the theory behind how to make effective meta titles and descriptions that can turn into more traffic and conversions for your sites.
According to SEOMoz, having your keywords in your meta title (and description) is the 4th most important thing you can do to help with your rankings. This is something I definitely agree with, but there is also the human side of why you should focus on these elements that I really want to cover. Your meta tags are your mini sales force on Google, and you need more than just keywords to get increased traffic.
First, just to clarify things, your meta title and description are what show up on the Google Search Results pages. Your meta title is the blue link, your description is the block of text underneath. For this post, I’ll continue on with the sunflower seeds keyword from before.
Here’s an example of a meta title and description in use on the SERPS for that keyword:
Nothing crazy or new here, the meta title is the blue hyperlink, and the meta description is the short block of black text underneath.
So what’s the big deal?
There’s two main things that you need to focus on with your meta information.
- As has been mentioned above, is that you must absolutely have your exact keyword in both your title and description. That doesn’t mean you can have all the right words there, in different order or with words in between. It needs to be exactly what you’re targeting if someone were to type it into Google. Sometimes that can be tricky to form a coherent phrase around, but put your brain into it and you’ll get something.
- There are humans seeing (and presumably, clicking) on your meta title. There needs to be sales copy in both of those spots. You have a little over 200 characters to convince someone that your link is the best one on the page. I think this is something a lot of marketers forget about and it can definitely start to impact your Click Through Rate if you neglect it too much.
Ok, so the two big main points for these elements are out in the open. Now what?
Meta Titles and Descriptions from the SEO Side of Things
There’s no need to go into too much detail here, it’s relatively simple. I’ll just lay out some bullet points for clarity though:
- Use your exact-match keyword
- Meta titles should be no more than 67 characters long (Search Engines won’t show more than that)
- Meta Descriptions should be no more than 160 characters long
- You should never use a meta title or description more than one time throughout your site. Every page needs it own unique set of meta information. There will be overlap for keywords and content, but you should never have duplicates
Meta Titles and Descriptions from the Sales Side of Things
Now, from the sales side, some other considerations need to be taken into account. Most people fail to realize that when you’re targeting Organic SEO Traffic (meaning, the search engines are sending you visitors), your Meta Title and Description are the single thing standing between you and a new user. User’s don’t care that you have the exact keyword in the title and description (other than for checking the relevance of the result, at least), they will click on what they see that tells them to click.
You absolutely need to focus on making your meta titles and descriptions into Calls To Action. What does that mean? It means making the user want to click on your Search Result hyperlink because of compelling copy in both the title and description.
Your meta title needs to be the driving force. Everyone has been conditioned to read that blue text, so you have 67 characters to convince them to click your link. You need to target action words and draw them in with that title tag.
For your meta description, you need to use it as a support for your call to action meta title. It needs to prop up your meta title and give the user even more of a reason to click through to your site.
From that sunflower seeds page, here is an example of a good title and description pair versus a bad one:
You’ll notice in the first title tag (GIANT), they have their company name, the type of product, and a little sales copy (Giant Taste). Their meta description then quickly goes into summing up what the site is and why you would want to go there (to buy sunflower seed products).
For the Bad example, all they have listed in the title is the company name, with no details on why they are the best sunflower seeds company. For their description, this is actually a perfect example of what happens when you don’t list one. Google will try and guess what should go there, which in this case, they chose what seems to be their drop down menu. No CTA support, no reasons given as to why I as a user should care.
How to Put These Concepts into Action While Doing Niche Research
So Google provides a pretty nice site of Search Tools that you can use to get less obvious information about a site. One thing that is useful is the site: operator, which allows you to return only results for that specified site. There are a lot of uses for that, but one of the best ones is to check on the quality of both your own meta titles and descriptions as well as your competitor’s.
When you run a site: check on your competitor’s site, you can pull a few pieces of useful information out. The first is just to get an idea of what kinds of keywords they are targeting across all of their pages. That’s pretty simple and easy to figure out on your own.
But the other thing you can do is much more powerful. When you do that site: search, you get to take a peek at how hard they are trying to optimize their pages for ranking in the Search Engines. If you do that search and you see a bunch of similar or identical meta titles and descriptions, you know that they aren’t trying that hard and you can probably give them a run for their money simply by focusing on making very targeted and effective titles and descriptions.
Here is Bigs.com’s (the Bad example from before) site: search:
Having seen that, you now know that they have a weakness you can attack by writing keyword targeted meta titles and descriptions that are full of compelling ad copy. These things take a little bit of effort to do well, but they can really pay off in the end.
Where to Go From Here
Hopefully this helped explain some less discussed aspects of Meta Titles and Descriptions and make things a bit clearer in terms of what you should focus on to do them correctly. As you start researching niches, start paying attention to these things to try and get a sense for how your potential competitors are focusing their efforts.
PPC Advertisers spend a lot of time and money writing out high quality ad copy, so it’s worth taking a look at what they are doing as well. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t put as much effort into your meta information as they do.