The topic of this week’s SEO for Small Business series is discussing some of the ways you can optimize your web pages to increase their impact with the search engines. Specifically, I will be talking about title tags and meta descriptions. What they are, why they are so important, and how to write effective ones that draw your reader in, boost your rankings in the search engines and get you more traffic.
What are Title Tags?
Title tags, also called title elements, are one of the more important on-page SEO optimization factors. They are quite simple, very important, and one of the most cost effective things to optimize on any site. As such you can find a ton of great resources out there if you do a search for them, and I will include a couple that good ones that I found at the end of this post. They are just what they sound like, the title for your webpage or blog post. The title element can be assigned/changed using the < title > html code or with various plug-ins and shortcuts depending on the CMS (content management system) you are using. For WordPress, one of the more popular CMS out there, I recommend using Yoast’s SEO plugin. It allows you to easily change the title element and has a whole bunch of other useful tools that allow you to analyze your copy for some SEO best practices like keyword density.
Title tags show up in three important places. The first is on top of a browser window and/or tab, depending on your browser of choice. The second is in the search engine results. Lastly, they are often used for the anchor text of a link from an external website.
Why Are Title Tags Important?
Title tags are important to both the user experience and to the search engines, who aim to make their search results more relevant for its users. They are one of the best places to optimize your page for your desired keywords, after the page content itself. Each page on your website should have its own separate and unique title. Title tags are also the first thing a searcher scans over when they see your listing in front of them. As such you want to make sure you have a title that will grab the reader’s attention. Think of it like a hook that will get the reader to read the rest of your search result, or, better yet, get them to click-through to your website.
How to Write a Good Title Tag
Search engines limit titles to 70 visible characters and that is the maximum length you should shoot for. I would aim for 65 characters, just to be safe. A title should contain one or two descriptive keywords or keyword phrases and your company name or brand. If you are a small business that serves a specific geographic location then you should include that location in the title as well.
The beginning of you title is going to have the highest impact with your readers so write your title accordingly. For small businesses that are not widely known I would put the keywords and location first then follow with your company name. For larger, more well-known businesses it might sense to have your business name or brand first then followed by your keyword phrases.
You have to balance search engine keywords with the readability of the title. You do not want to keyword stuff your title, make sure it makes sense! While a title can certainly affect your rankings in the search engines, it should also grab the reader and make them want to read more. If you rank high for your keywords, but your title doesn’t properly entice the reader then you are losing valuable traffic. Remember: each page on your website should have its own unique title tag!
The two results pictured above both have good title tags (and I’m not just saying that because they are for coffee shops, one of my fav places). The first title includes the company name “Caffe Fiore,” followed by a keyword phrase, “Organic Coffee Shop,” and followed up with location the business serves “Seattle USA.” All three elements required for an effective title tag. The second title demonstrates another take on it, with a more natural looking prose. It still contains the company name first and what looks like a tagline with some keywords. There is no location mentioned in the second title, but there is also no more room for it without first getting rid of the established tagline. This is perfectly reasonable, although it might be worth testing a second title tag to find out which copy converts best.
Example of a poorly written Title tag
This search result is a prime example of a default title tag with no optimization.
Why is this a poor title?
- This is an example of an un-optimized title. It is displaying a default title of “pagename” |”website name”. If you are going to go default page titles (not recommended) at least come up with more descriptive page names. Common pages like Home, Contact, Services, could be talking about any company. In this example they should have renamed their homepage to something that tells the reader, and the search engines more, like “Seattle Coffee Shop.”
- They didn’t use the full 70 characters allotted for the title. You don’t always have to use the full allotment, but because of the impact the title has on your rankings and conversions you want to have a good reason for not doing so.
- Where is the hook? Why would I want to read more or click-through to the website? “Home” tells me nothing about what they are selling, or who they are, and it is a wasted opportunity.
The other element we are going to look at today is the Meta Description tag. This refers to the text underneath the title tag in a search result. You want to think about the same things with your meta descriptions as you did when you wrote your title tags except this time your main concern is with the readability and relevance to your readers and you now have 140 characters to do it.
I would include a concise descriptive sentence that tells the reader what they will find if they click on your listing. Think of it as a mini advertisement for your webpage. Including your phone number for a local business can be a good idea, if you have the space, as it makes that much easier for them to get a hold of you. Make sure you have a unique meta description for each page, and try to include an appropriate keyword or keyword phrase in your copy.
More resources on Title tags:
A good write up on Title tags by SEOmoz
An awesome list of guidelines about writing good title tags
A slightly dated but still very relevant video with Matt Cutts explaining all about title tags and meta descriptions
Title tags and meta descriptions are super important elements that are easily optimized for both the search engines and your potential customers. If you have not optimized your site yet, put the task on the top of your list. Here are some of the essential points distilled down:
- each page should have its own unique title and description
- remember to include business name, relevant keywords, and location (if you serve a local area) in your title tags. I would list them in order of importance for your readers
- Make it readable: write both elements with the end user in mind. You want to try in pull the reader in with your copy, not annoy them with four different iterations of the same keyword
- experiment to find out what works
- no spelling errors
Please let me know if you liked the article. If you think I got it right or missed something let me know in the comments! If you would like some help optimizing the title tags and meta descriptions for your website you can contact me for more information. Cheers!