Title and meta description tags are one of those things that are set up when a website is first built, and then no one ever thinks about them again. Before I got involved in search engine optimization, I didn’t pay much attention to them either, but now I’m the pain in the you-know-what who makes sure they’re the right number of characters, the right words in the right order, and they tell users—and search engines—what the heck a particular page is all about.
They’re really just strings of words among all the other words and characters that magically create more words, colors, and pictures on a screen—but they present a major opportunity to separate yourself from the riff-raff and convince searchers that your page is worth navigating to. And to help inspire a reassessment of your website's SEO, we've put together six reasons why you should start caring about your titles and descriptions.
1. Your Visitors See Your Title
The contents of the title shows up on users’ browser window or tab, and often in their SERPs (which, by the way, stands for search engine results page). Make it a true title that identifies the content.
2. Your Title Defines the Content of Each Web Page
The title defines a page’s content to search engines. It’s pretty simple, and Google loves simply. The title often shows up in your search results snippet—unless the title tag is empty, or Google determines it’s:
- not descriptive (e.g., “Home”)
- duplicated on more than one page
- unnecessarily long
- hard to read
3. Search Engines “Read” Your Description
Search engines read your meta description. According to Google, “We frequently prefer to display meta descriptions of pages,” [Source] but they may use other resources, such as on-page content, or public sites like the Open Directory Project, if the meta description tag is missing, or:
- does not accurately describe a specific page
- does not provide enough detail
And though we don’t know for sure, if Google flags it to instead use a description other than what you provided (or didn’t provide at all), that can’t be good.
4. Humans Read Your Description
The contents of the meta description tag provide a clear, human-readable summary of the page contents. It is also sometimes used in your search results snippets along with your title, where it also cuts if off after a certain pixel width. So be strategic with wording and keywords, but remember to write for your (human) audience. For example, these are two of the top results for keywords “identify human teeth.”
From the user perspective, there are things to like about both results. The title of the second one works for me slightly more than the first because it’s straightforward, and the use of “cheat sheet” makes me feel like it will be easy for a novice like me to ID teeth. They both contain most of the keywords you’d expect to see, but the first one is clearly more human-readable. The second one starts off by repeating the title (a waste of valuable real estate!), and is followed up by more words that mean very little, really.
(Note: Based on the keywords in the search query, Google truncated the first part of the description so as to include the word “identify” that was pulled from a sentence elsewhere on the page.)
5. They Are Two (of Many) Important Ingredients
Google reads them as part of the whole ball of wax that is their algorithm that determines which web pages to serve up to users. Write titles and descriptions that inform, along with all the other best practices you should be following as part of your overall SEO strategy.
6. You Will Attract More High-Value Visitors
Snippets help users decide whether or not to click-through, so be truthful as well as informative. There’s nothing to gain by trying to pull people in with promises you can’t keep. Your visits may increase, but your bounce rate will increase exponentially.
You can’t always know what Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) will serve up for the title and meta description—even if you do everything right—but you should seize what little control you do have.
And though I’ve listed the many ways search engines may react to or use your titles and descriptions, if you think of your user first, you can’t go wrong. After all the content creation, keyword research, Google Analytics . . . it all comes down to a human choosing where they want to go next, and all they have to go by is three lines of text and a URL.
Please don’t spend all that time creating a knock-out website, only to remain hidden among the final frontier of the SERP (which, by the way, stands for search engine results page). It’s time to start caring.
Learn about the 18 SEO myths you need to leave behind in 2015, with our free guide.