SEO Basics: How You Can Write Better Page Titles and Descriptions
Writing great SEO titles and descriptions for page content is one of the most important ways to optimize your pages. It should require at least as much thought, planning, and research as the content it’s attached to, but it’s often left for last, done wrong, or completely overlooked.
In Google’s world, the point is always to get the right results for the right query, and every tweak they make to the algorithm, and even the search results page (SERP) design, is intended to improve that delivery. Your goal and mission as a content marketer is to make the job of search engines easier, and help your content stand out among other results. Here are some recommendations for truly great headlines and descriptions that will soar up the ranks.
Realize You’re Working with Limited Real Estate
For a long time, marketers and SEOs could fit up to 70, and sometimes 71 characters into their titles before those titles would display with an ellipsis, depending on how many pixels are required. To get your full title to show up since the recent redesign, you now need to keep it to 60 characters or less, but that doesn’t mean your titles have to be shorter.
Google will still “read” the first 70 or 60 characters, even if they aren’t all displayed. That said, the best way to ensure important information remains visible to actual people, use a SERP snippet optimization tool like SEOmofo to see exactly where your text will trail off.
Descriptions still get up to 156 characters, and will also show an ellipsis if you exceed that count. Brevity is always a best practice on the web, so write titles that pack maximum information in the fewest number of characters and words.
Keep Your Keywords in the Front
Because your titles will have a cutoff point, make sure that relevant keywords appear early in the title. Here are two examples of a possible title for an article on dog training.
The first example is great click-bait, but those words will be lost on Google. You can only hope the relevant keywords will show up in the description where the user can view it—on the 27th page of results. That kind of headline is best reserved when sharing your content on social media.
The example below is optimized for displaying all the characters and letting the world’s largest search engine know exactly what the content will be about.
This phrasing also is more likely to perform in queries that include and build on “train your dog” such as “how to train your dog”, “train your dog like a professional”, or “train your dog like a trainer” or “tips to train your dog.”
Understand your keywords, how you can build on them, and then leading with them will help your content get search visibility.
Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
Your description is a promise you make to site visitors, and you have to deliver on it. It’s common to craft descriptions after the page content is complete, but starting with the description can help you state the summary and intention of your page content and give you a guideline for what you actually need to write.
You want people to stay on your website after clicking through, and that means telling them what to expect after clicking. Google is not paying attention to your description, but readers will, and if they’re not happy, your site will be penalized.
Please Tell Everyone What to Do
You’ve reiterated the relevance of your content, summed up what can be expected, and now, make sure you ask readers to take action. Depending on your page content, purpose, and audience, you could ask them to:
- Learn more
- Read more on our blog
- Download our research report
- Take our survey
- Get your free sample
Whatever profitable customer action you would like your readers to take, encourage them to do so in your description.
Where Do SEO Titles and Descriptions Go?
This information doesn’t display on your page, but lives in the meta data that gets scanned by search engines. For static HTML websites, you have to add these as snippets of code, but if you have a web content management system, you can use the built in SEO fields to add this text.
Making your site and content more SEO friendly is all about making it easy to gauge its quality and relevance. When you optimize for SEO, and when you train your content contributors, encourage them to think about how to present their content with maximum relevance and minimum word count.
This blog is part of a new series on SEO basics. To make sure you don’t miss these or other future posts, you can follow us on Twitter at @Percussion.
Karo was born in Poland, and learned to speak English by watching "Saved by the Bell" reruns during her first summer in the U.S., which has left her unable to go through life without occasionally breaking the fourth wall. As Percussion's content marketing manager, she oversees and creates content that drives website traffic, engages followers, and helps fill the marketing and sales funnel. She writes about content management, content marketing, SEO, social media and web design, and how to make it all less complicated.