When it comes to SEO, meta tags are one of the most important things to optimize. This is largely due to the direct effect they have on how search engines like Google will display information pertaining to your website. They can also affect how web browsers might display certain information to your website visitors as well.
Meta tags can be valuable opportunities for you to incorporate important keywords so how you write them will affect your SEO. Additionally, they can help give you greater control over your brand messaging. Failure to optimize your meta titles and meta descriptions will leave search engines to fill in the blanks. When this happens, both search engine crawlers and users may have trouble understanding the content of the web page in question. This can have adverse effects on:
- Your ability to rank for target keywords
- Your click-through rate (CTR) from the search engine results page (SERP)
- Your bounce rate when users arrive at your website
- Your ability to customize and control your brand messaging
While there are several meta tags that pertain to SEO, we’re going to focus on the two most important: meta titles and meta descriptions. With that in mind, let’s explore the best practices when it comes to writing meta tags for SEO.
How to write meta titles
Meta titles display as the title of your search engine listing. This is the title that users will see when your web page is served as a search result.
When it comes to keyword placement, your meta titles are perhaps the most valuable location to incorporate them. This is because search engines look to meta titles to understand what the page is about. Additionally, for search queries that closely match the same language of a particular meta title—it is more likely that Google will serve that result to searchers.
For example, if a user was to search for “innovative seo in kelowna”, the chances of us being displayed for this query are high because the search term that was used also matches the same language we’ve used for the meta title. If we didn’t use this search phrase in our title, we may not rank for this query at all.
So here we can see the importance that keywords play in regards to your meta titles.
How to use separators in meta titles
It is important to note the separator (we’ve used the “pipe” → | ) in the meta title. There are several to choose from, however, the most common is the pipe and the dash ( – ). These separators help to distinguish and organize the text in the title. It makes it easier for the user to see and understand the information and can also help structure and organize that information more effectively.
For example, the meta title for the service page of a vehicle repair shop might look something like this:
This might be a bit of an extreme example and we don’t necessarily advise trying to stuff too much into your meta title, however, this is a good example of how the separator in the meta title can help to break up the text. It also allows the incorporation of multiple keywords (company, location, etc.), while still making sense and reading in natural language.
A meta title like this essentially provides the searcher with all of the most important information regarding this particular page:
- The company (Dan’s Tire Service)
- The services they offer (Tire Dealers)
- Their geographical location (Kelowna)
- Which page this is in relation to their website (Home)
How long should meta titles be?
The optimal length for meta titles is between 50-60 characters but this is also dependent on the pixel width of each character. Currently, Google supports a maximum pixel width of 600 for meta titles. As different characters have varying pixel sizes, this will need to be factored in when striving for the optimal character length.
There are several reasons why you want to remain within the character and pixel limits of your meta titles:
- Using less than 50 characters means you’re missing out on valuable keyword real-estate for your meta title
- Over 60 characters means your meta title can become truncated in the search results
In the above example, this meta title is too long and as a result, is being truncated in the SERP. While this may not have a significant negative impact on your SEO, your brand messaging is cut off prematurely which means searchers may not have all the information they need to feel confident clicking on this search result.
So this can potentially have adverse effects in terms of your click-through rate from the search results, your brand messaging, and the keywords that you have chosen to prioritize in the title (in terms of what is visibility displayed).
How to write meta descriptions
Meta descriptions, like meta titles, work together to provide a snippet of information on the search engine results page that summarizes for viewers, what your web page is about. Meta descriptions don’t carry the same SEO weight as meta titles. Basically this means that meta descriptions are not a ranking signal or factor to Google so something like keyword placement here, will not help to boost your rankings directly.
Despite that, meta titles are still valuable opportunities for you to clearly communicate your brand messaging, assure the searcher this is the result they’re looking for, and add greater context to support the meta title keywords.
Ultimately meta descriptions should serve to accurately and concisely summarize the subject matter on that page. It’s a good idea to try and make the description as compelling as possible to help entice users to click from the search results.
A huge part of this is understanding the search intent of your audience and ultimately, what they are looking for. When you design your written copy, it should mirror the user’s search intent. When searchers see that reflection, they will feel more confident that this is the search result they are looking for.
Keywords in meta titles
While keywords in the meta description will not help improve rankings, they can help improve your CTR from the SERP by highlighting similarities between the user’s search query and the information contained within your meta description.
When a user performs a search query in Google, keywords that were used in the query will be bolded in the meta description of the search results. See the example below.
In this example, we can see Google has bolded all of the keywords that were used in the search query that appear in this meta description. While this website’s meta title and description are truncated, the bolded keywords here may help improve their CTR.
Imagine how nice this search result would look if they cleaned up their meta tags.
How long should meta descriptions be?
As with meta titles, meta descriptions have a maximum character limit which is usually between 150-180 characters and 920 pixels. While meta descriptions can hold up to 300 characters, exceeding 180 characters will usually truncate the description in the search results. In our experience, the optimal length for meta descriptions is usually between 150-160 characters.
Using the vehicle repair shop example again, we can see the meta description is truncated in the SERP. It gives the impression that the information is incomplete and as a searcher, it may be hard to determine if this is the result that best matches the query.
So similarly to meta titles, you’ll lose some control over your brand messaging, keyword placement, and the ability to accurately communicate the page content as effectively.
While truncated meta titles and descriptions probably won’t make or break your overall SEO, a clean-looking listing is an optimized listing. Avoiding truncation whenever possible, helps your search result listings stand out and present with more professionalism.
Additionally, incorporating keywords in your meta title can help you to rank for those terms so ensure you perform you keyword research and placement in the title strategically. While keywords may not hold the same weight in the meta description as they do in the title, including them in the meta description is still important and can impact your CTR from the SERP.
It’s important to note that Google can modify your meta title and description to fit more closely with a searcher’s query, however, this is less likely to happen when your meta tags are fully optimized by remaining concise, accurate, and relevant.
If you’d like to learn more about the importance of meta tags for SEO and other essential components of search engine optimization, reach out to our team. We’ve worked with local, provincial, and national brands to boost their rankings, website traffic, and revenue with a customized SEO strategy for their business.