Titles and meta descriptions

You've been spending hours optimizing your pages, but your site's performance in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) isn't improving. Is it because you're not targeting the right keywords? Or is the overall usability of your site severely lacking, in comparison to those taking the top spots?

Maybe. But it's possible for a well-optimized page to still perform poorly due to two easy-to-fix problems that are commonly forgotten about: meta titles and descriptions.

In this guide, we'll share how you can edit your meta titles and descriptions for organic search success. It'll help to bolster your click-through rate, and split-test your content for the best results.

Meta titles

The meta title of your page tells both Google, and a human searcher, what your page is about. It's the blue section that you see in the SERPs, making it one of the first things that a user sees when greeted with their list of results.

Meta titles are crucial for SEO. That's because they explain the topic of your page to search engine spiders. Google uses this information field to determine what term you should rank for. Without them, a search engine wouldn't have any idea about the topic of your page, and you'd struggle to rank for any keyword.

These information tags are also beneficial for social media, as you can tailor the pre-filled detail that's shared with the URL.

Optimizing the title won't directly boost your ranking positions. They're one of many ranking factors that affect a page's position. But, crafting ones with a strategy in-mind will boost other powerful ranking factors, such as click-through rate (CTR) and bounce rate.

You can find the current meta title for your page by conducting a site search.

An example of a meta title in the search result

How to optimize your meta title

Now that we understand the importance of meta titles, we'll need to optimize them. After all, we can't give a page true ranking power if it's not got an SEO strategy in mind.

Include your brand name

Your meta title should always include your brand name. It helps searchers to become familiar with your business, and build your brand on Google.

Just take a look at this example for our checklist to launching a website:

Our brand name in the title

Our brand name is the first thing mentioned in this meta title. So, if a previous user is shown this in their list of results, they'll recognize our name. That gives us a major bonus, especially considering that 59% of consumers worldwide prefer to buy products from brands that are familiar to them.

Use your keywords first

When it comes to crafting your meta title for a product or category page, be wary about your use of keywords. Always try to use your primary keyword as the first word in your meta title, as this has the strongest ranking power.

Here's a fantastic example of this by GoDaddy:

An example of a search result with an important keyword

Their primary keyword for this page is 'web hosting'. However, instead of just using the keyword to populate the URL, they've given it pride of place in their meta title. And, guess what? It ranks on Page One for that keyword!

Be aware of the character limit

Unlike a traditional webpage that allows thousands of characters to be used, meta titles have a limit of 70. Anything that exceeds this limit will be replaced with an ellipsis (…):

Example of a title that doesn't fit

Going over the character limit won't spell SEO disaster for your page. It doesn't look pretty, but will run the risk of cutting your brand name out of sight.

Backlinko published an extensive study about click-through rates in organic search, and the effect of page titles on it. Be sure to read it when optimizing your page titles.

Meta descriptions 

We've talked about the importance of your meta title, and how that affects your SEO. But there's still work to be done to improve your appearance in the SERPs, in the form of meta descriptions.

Example of our meta description in the search result

Although meta descriptions have been proven to have no direct impact on SEO, a well-optimized one has the power to boost other metrics that do impact SEO – including click-through rate (CTR).

Remember that a good CTR can help to push your site up the ranks. Just take a look at this data collected by Wordstream:

Graph from Wordstream showing the relation between CTR and position

Similar to their title alternative, meta descriptions tells users – and search engines – what the page is about. The main difference is that you've got more room to play with… Use that as your opportunity to encourage a searcher to click your site, over the competitors listed beside you.

In short, you need to ensure that your meta descriptions are just as good as your titles… If not, better!

How to optimize your meta description

Because meta descriptions give you more opportunity to 'sell' your webpage, you might feel overwhelmed when thinking about writing content for it. These three tips will point you in the right direction.

Use keywords sensibly

Remember how we said that keywords are crucial for meta tags? Although that is true for the description field, be cautious about when – and how often – they're used.

Keyword stuffing is a black hat SEO practice that could cause your site to be penalized. It happens when you force multiple keywords into the meta description to the point where it becomes illegible, like this:

“Our car insurance company provides car insurance for everyone. We have third-party car insurance policies, and car insurance policies for older drivers.”

Instead of stuffing keywords, craft a sentence that mentions a few, naturally. Google rewards sites that have great user experience with increased rankings, so make your content readable for a human - not a software.

Give a reason to click

Think of your site's meta descriptions as mini advertisements that influence a searcher to visit your page. One of the most effective ways to do that is to give a user a reason to click your site, over any of the others shown next to you.

An easy route to doing this is to use your business' unique selling propositions (USPs). What makes your brand different? Do you offer a better service, have a 2-year warranty on your product or give customers free insured delivery?

Whatever you offer, let people know about it before they visit your site, through this meta tag.

Here's a great example of QuickBooks' USP – a free 30-day trial – highlighted in their meta description:

Using USPs in your meta description

Don't duplicate!

Another rookie mistake that you should be cautious of when optimizing meta descriptions is duplicate content. This happens when you copy and paste the same content into the meta descriptions of several pages.

Google hates duplicate content. Plus, the ranking power of your page is divided. Instead of having one unique meta title with 100% of the SEO juice, you're splitting that juice between multiple pages. How will a search engine know which page is more accurate for a search term?

You can avoid this by simply crafting a unique meta description for each page.

How to measure success

To create a great strategy, you'll need to measure your results. After all, you may discover that a few tweaks to your meta tags see your average ranking position rise from Page 14 to Page One. Tracking and measuring your changes will allow you to see exactly what caused the jump, so that you can replicate it and see the same success on other pages sitewide.

But which metrics do you track? And how do you know which results are 'good'?

There are tonnes of SEO software that can track your ranking position. However, we recommend that you go directly to the source itself: Google.

Google offer a Search Console for site owners, that gives detail on their organic search performance. You can see which page is ranking in the SERPs, and more importantly, the CTR of each page. This is how we'll measure the results.

Screenshot of Google Search Console

Split-testing your content

Once you've installed Google Search Console and connected your site, avoid changing your meta tags instantly. You'll want to record how your current meta tags are converting, and this initial figure will be our benchmark.

After 3-6 months, you should have collected enough data to get an accurate CTR.

Now, it's time to play around! Use the techniques above and craft new meta titles and descriptions for a handful of pages on your site. Then, wait another 3-6 months and record your results again.

If your page's average keyword position or CTR has increased, congratulations – you're onto a winning formula, and your meta tags have made a difference! If not, don't worry. Simply go back and make a few changes, and record your results in a few months' time.

Split-testing your meta tags will allow you to find the best formula for your business, based on real data from a source that matters… Google!

The meta title and description field of any webpage should be thought-out carefully.

Be wary of keyword positioning, character limits and USPs. Remember that the greatest success comes from content optimized for humans – not search engine spiders!

Granted, the process takes patience, but it's worth the rewards if you get it right.