Thursday, February 4, 2016

SEO 101: How to Optimize Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

SEO is part technical, part creative. When optimizing a website, we focus on technical aspects first, but the real the work of SEO is in content marketing--creating and sharing your message.

Even then, however, the technical work of SEO never really ends. Each piece of content stands to benefit from SEO technical know-how. Without this technical know-how, in fact, any new content--no matter the quality--will likely fail to rank.

Today we will speak about two crucial technical strategies for optimizing each and every page on your website. Before you publish any new page to your website, make sure you optimize your title tags and meta-descriptions.

Optimize Your Title Tags

Title tags can work as both a page title and a description of the content of a page. On search engines, the title tag is displayed in search results as the title of any given web page. Once you click on the page, the title tag may or may not be displayed at the top of the browser (Firefox does this; Chrome does not).

In the image below--the top two results for a Google search of "title tags"--the title tags are:

Title Tag - Learn SEO - Moz

How to Write Title Tags For Search Engine Optimization.

Title Tag Examples from Google

These two websites, Moz and Search Engine Watch, utilize two different approaches to writing tags. Moz prefers a bare-bones approach: keyword phrases separated by dashes.

This title falls well within Moz's advice to keep titles under 55 characters. Beyond a certain (variable) number of characters, your title might get cut off. Yet, as Moz notes in its "Title Tag Guide," "a cut-off title isn't the kiss of death." Google ranks keywords beyond the cut-off.

That said, the SEO proverb, "write for people, not search engines," applies here, too. If your title is too long, and not specific, the cut-off might repel potential visitors.

Contrary to Moz's bare-bones approach, Search Engine Watch prefers a descriptive sentence. For some readers, a descriptive sentence might feel more attractive. The Search Engine Watch title jives with their advice to "write title tags for humans; format them for search engines."

In both cases, the title tag accurately describes the content of the page, and both titles include similar keywords.

Optimize Your Meta Descriptions

The meta description is the text that falls below the title tag in search engine results. In the example above, the meta description for Search Engine Watch begins "Properly written title tags are critical to your SEO strategy."

Actually, that's not entirely true. The Search Engine Watch meta description really begins at: "December, 31, 2012." By stating the date first, Search Engine Watch is hoping to impart relevance--although, this particular piece of content would ideally benefit from a "refresh."

Although the title tag should be fairly descriptive of the page content, the meta description is an opportunity to provide a more detailed description of the page itself.

Google claims that meta-descriptions do not effect search engine ranking, but they're vitally important to attracting a click-through to your page--and your click-through rate (CLR) certainly does effect search engine ranking.

Beyond your title, which is often self evident for any particular search, the meta description is an opportunity to stand out from other results. Write a description that will inspire browsers to click.

Like title tags, you're likely to see a variety of opinions on how to write an effective meta description. We happen to prefer the Search Engine Watch example above, which details information about the page. The Moz description, on the other hand, offers the beginning of the page's content (which is also descriptive).

In any case, meta descriptions should be relevant to the page, intriguing, and unique. And you want to make sure you limit your description to 156 characters--16 more characters than Twitter's famous 140 limit.

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