Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Meta data, such as meta tag titles and meta descriptions, is essential for SEO and getting people to click through to your website from search engines.
And while it may sound terribly technical, meta data isn't as scary as you might think...
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about meta data, including what it is, and how to write meta title tags and descriptions that search engines (like Google) love!
What is meta data and why is it important for SEO?
When you type a query into a search engine, such as typing ‘best restaurants near me’ into Google, you will get a page of results that look like this:
Each result has a website URL at the top, followed by a blue title/heading, and a short description. Each of these aspects are related to SEO, and can be added by you, the webmaster.
When referring to all of these areas together, they are known as a website's meta data.
Every single page of a website contains meta data, which is made up of individual meta tags.
The term ‘meta data’ pretty much means ‘data that describes other data’.
Techies like their fancy techie words don’t they…
So, that means the meta data is meant to accurately describe what’s on a web page. This is useful for search engines to understand what your web page is about so they can show it for relevant search queries, and it’s also useful for the people doing the searching, so they can decide whether they want to click through and read your content.
You’ll want to get very familiar with the meta data of a web page, and understand how to write great titles and descriptions to boost your SEO efforts and get more visitors to your website.
Here’s how to do it well.
What is a meta title tag?
A meta title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages as the clickable headline for a given result, and are important for usability, SEO, and social sharing.
You can update this in your website’s content management system (CMS) – such as Squarespace, Worpress and Wix.
The title tag, which is in blue in the example above, is one of the most important parts of your on-page SEO strategy (second to the actual content of the page), and is important to get right.
The title tag not only displays in the search results, but will also display at the top of your browser tab when viewing the page.
How do you write a great meta title tag?
To write a great meta title tag, your title tag needs to accurately and concisely describe your page, while containing the keyword/phrase you want your web page to be found for.
To learn about keywords for SEO and how to find them, read: How To Do Keyword Research.
Your meta title should tell search engines and people exactly what your page is about, and be both accurate and compelling.
It shouldn’t exceed 60 characters in length (including spaces) or any characters after the 60th will be chopped off, which doesn't look appealing to users and may affect click through to your website.
Ironically, the meta title example above has been chopped off for an article explaining how to write meta title tags. I'm still trying to decide whether it's a joke or not...
A tip is to include the keyword you want the web page to be found for as close to the beginning of the title as possible. Much experimentation has shown that placing keywords closer to the start of your title tag gives a better boost to rankings.
In addition, from a user experience standpoint, the information describing your page is the first thing a user will read and can lead to an improved click through from search results, so always have the most important info first.
If you want to include your brand name in the title, this should be added at the end of the title tag, using a hyphen or the pipe symbol to separate the title from the brand name. Try to shorten the name if you can so it doesn’t get chopped off.
Here’s an example of a brand name used at the end of a meta title tag:
You can also use individual keywords rather than a descriptive phrase. This is more common for product or service pages.
Here are some examples of good meta title tags:
Using dates in the meta titles makes the content appear up to date, which has been proven to improve click through rates. Keep in mind that if you include a date in your title tag you’ll need to update it regularly, or it will have a negative effect on click through if it's not updated.
Now that we’ve covered meta title tags, it’s time to cover the summary that sits below them – the meta description.
What is a meta description?
A meta description is a snippet of up to about 155 characters (a tag in HTML) which summarises a web page's content and is displayed directly underneath the meta title in search engine results.
Unlike the title tag, the meta description cannot be seen on the page or within the browser. It only displays publicly in the search results.
Another key difference between the meta title and the meta description is that keywords within the meta description will not help the site rank better for those keywords. Due to this, some people think that meta descriptions aren’t helpful to their SEO strategy, but I disagree.
Firstly, keywords used in the meta description that were used in the search query are bolded in the meta description, which helps to draw the person’s eye to the result.
Closely related keywords can also be bolded in search results, as well as plural versions, which helps to communicate to the searcher that your page is highly relevant, and contains exactly what they’re searching for.
Secondly, a well crafted meta description has been found to increase click through to your website. That means it influences how likely a user is to click on your result instead of a competitors.
You can have fun with your meta description and entice people to click through, like KFC’s meta description here:
Remember: SEO is about optimising your website for search engines, but we’re doing this so we can get REAL PEOPLE to our website. Therefore, you need to do what’s best for your ideal customer, and that includes writing great meta descriptions for your web pages.
How do you write a great meta description?
Your meta description should contain information about the page that entices a user to click. It should accurately describe the content, and naturally incorporate keywords they might use while performing a search.
The meta description should include a variation of your main targeted keyword and be a compelling, yet accurate, summary of what your blog post is about.
Keyword stuffing your meta description won’t do anything other than prevent people from clicking through to your website because it look spammy and untrustworthy. Don't do it.
The meta description has a 150-160 character limit (including spaces), which means you only have one short sentence available, so make it count! Keep it super short, concise, descriptive and give the viewer a reason to click through.
In the example below, you can see how the meta description is cut off, indicating that there is more to read that didn't fit within the space provided. It looks like Google has created its own meta description for this page by taking two snippets from the content and merging them together:
An important thing to note is that Google may not choose to display your written meta description in search results for relevant queries, and instead may show its own pulled extract. This is out of our control, but it’s still good practice to provide your own meta description.
Including a call to action in a meta description has also been proven to increase click through rates for websites. So including phrases like: Find out, learn more, discover, see, watch, etc, will help to entice people to visit your website.
Meta description SEO checklist:
Between 150 and 160 characters
Accurately describes the web page
Contains relevant keywords/phrases people are likely to search for
Contains a call to action.
If you struggle with copywriting and need help from an expert to write your meta titles and descriptions, hire a freelance SEO copywriter and editor to check over your content and make sure it ticks all the boxes for Google.
How to add a meta title tag and meta description to a web page
To add a meta title and description to your website, you need to access the back-end of your website using your content management system.
When editing the page you wish to add the meta title to, find the SEO settings for that page.
The meta description is added in the same area of your content management system where you added your meta title.
I'm using WiX, and this is what the SEO section looks like for my website:
And that's it!
Have a question about meta titles or descriptions?
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If you want to learn more about optimising your website for search, be sure to check out my Beginner’s Guide to SEO: What SEO is and how it works, and join my mailing list (sign up box at the end of this article) to get SEO tips and tricks delivered directly to your inbox each month.
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