The title and description of each webpage is an integral part of your SEO strategy. Not only does Google use this information to categorize and prioritize your page, but users read this information to decide on their own if search results are relevant. Thus, these lines of description could be some of the most important parts of your entire webpage. So put some thought into these and don’t just fill these out quickly!
Where do users see meta data?
Meta information summarizes your website, however it is shared or found. The meta title (also known as the title tag) and a meta description appear…
On search engine results:
On web browsers:
And on social media posts when a page is shared:
Are users my only audience?
As with anything on your website, you are writing for readers – but also for scanning bots. Your title and descriptions need to sound good to your readers but also be relevant and helpful for Google as it scans your page. Google prefers sites where the meta information matches what is on the page (literally, where words are the same). You are rewarded for clarity and relevance. You are also rewarded for specificity. Say exactly what is on your page for best search results.
Length matters – sorta
The industry best practices say:
- Keep meta titles under 60 characters.
- Keep meta descriptions at 120-158 characters.
That said, there actually isn’t an exact character limit on these lines. You’re just trying to ensure that your titles and descriptions can be fully read on any device (some screens will show more words than others). Often, Google cuts them off at the above limits, but other times, Google will show entire paragraphs of descriptions. So feel free to go beyond the character limits, but ensure the title and description still make sense if they are cut off at 60 or 150.
Meta Title Guidelines
Meta titles are critical ranking factors in organic search, which means it's worth putting time and effort into them. At the very least, you want to make sure every page of your website has a unique meta title, but here are some additional tips to further optimize them.
For many clients, geo-targeting is a key component of SEO. If your clients are local, you need to be found by local customers. So include location terms whenever possible in both meta titles and meta descriptions. For example:
Title: SEO Best Practices in Spartanburg | ALINE
Description: ALINE, A Marketing Company, provides search engine optimization (SEO) services and content strategy development to businesses in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Sneak in keywords (but not too many)
It can be tempting to be sleek and simple when naming your pages: About, Location, etc. That policy is great for website navigation but not so great for meta information. Adding important keywords can help improve search since meta titles are important ranking factors.
For example, if you have a Services page, don’t give it the title “Services” without explaining what kind of services you offer. You can add quite a few relevant keywords in to explain your services. You’ll also want to put the most important keywords first or close to the beginning of the meta title. For example:
Don’t: Services | ALINE
Do: Marketing and Website Design Services | ALINE Spartanburg
Try not to go overboard with the keywords in your meta title (keyword-stuffing is generally never a good idea). Just the most important one for each page will be enough.
Clean and Organized: A suggested format
An easy way to include information but also help your site look organized and helpful is to follow a standard and use visual cues. At ALINE, we often use the line key to separate titles from company names. For example, this title has the page name, followed by company:
Meta Data Best Practices | ALINE Marketing
To follow this format, simply put a detailed name of the site (instead of “About,” say “About our marketing company,” then use the “|” key, followed by the name of your company. If your company name can be shortened, use the full name in some pages and the shortened name in others. Don’t feel like you have to use your company’s name in every title, though. It’s ok to leave it out if you have a longer title.
Meta Description Guidelines
We’ve emphasized that meta titles are critical ranking factors in search results. Meta descriptions, on the other hand, don’t have a direct impact on your page’s ranking. This means you don’t have to worry too much about using the perfect keyword phrases in your descriptions. However, you still want to write quality meta descriptions because they can impact whether users actually click on your page from the search results. In short, meta titles are important ranking factors; meta descriptions are important conversion factors.
It’s OK to be a bit salesy or include a CTA (but be authentic!)
When users read meta descriptions, they’re often scanning several search results. So how can you make your meta description stand out? Feel free to write descriptions that have a slight sales pitch, or a call to action (CTA). For example, which one of these would you rather click?
ALINE offers tips for writing effective meta titles and meta data for a variety of websites. This page provides suggestions for writing good content for SEO and readers.
Need help writing great meta titles and meta descriptions? Read our latest blog for ALINE’s tips to maximize search results and appeal to website readers.
That said, any content stuffed with keywords or a strong sales pitch may turn off readers. A meta description should be written in your company's voice. This will help users know the type of site they're about to click on and what to expect. Push too hard, and no one will want to go to a page to learn more. Bring them in with your authentic voice and persuasive, helpful suggestions to learn more.
Google likes to micromanage
While it’s important to be strategic with your meta descriptions, you should also be aware that Google will sometimes create its own snippet for your content in the search results. Even if you have a meta description, Google might decide to pull text from the web page for the search results snippet instead. This is what Google says about snippets in search results:
Snippets are automatically created from page content. Snippets are designed to emphasize and preview the page content that best relates to a user's specific search. This means that Google Search might show different snippets for different searches.
So essentially, Google might use your well-crafted meta description…or it might not.
On the other hand, Google says that you can influence the content for your search result snippets by adding structured data to your site and/or using meta descriptions.
Google recommends these best practices for meta descriptions:
- Make sure every page on your site has a meta description
- Create unique descriptions for each page
- Include relevant information about the content in the description
- Programmatically generate descriptions (on database-driven sites)
- Use quality descriptions
So where does that leave us? Meta descriptions are important and you should aim to have one for every page of your website, but you also don’t want to spend too much time writing the perfect description for pages with a low SEO priority.
A good rule of thumb is: the less text on the page, the more important the meta description. You can use your own discretion about which pages on your website really need them, but we recommend always writing a strategic meta description for your home page and any other important pages that you want to rank for in search results (ex. services or product pages).
Find the right balance
As with all writing for websites, you need to strike that delicate balance between providing search engine optimized information (location, keywords) with sounding helpful and persuasive to an actual human reader. Follow these steps whenever possible, but always think of the reader as your top audience. As always, if you'd like some help implementing these best practices, don't hesitate to give us a call.
Note: This post was originally published in February 2020 and was updated in March 2022 for accuracy.