Meta (noun, Me-tuh)
EX: “That new meta will really help improve their site traffic!”
Meta tags are the title and description of any URL which make up the Google snippet which is displayed in search results for any query. Properly written meta can not only increase click through, but makes any URL that pops up for a Query search look great. In essence, it tells Google (and searchers) that the URL they’ve found is the right one because it contains a certain keyword incorporated in readable, relevant blurbs. Google also favors meta that adheres to Google’s rules. The better these rules are followed, the more likely the meta will be successful in attracting visitors to your site. When rules are disregarded, Google can and will penalize the URL, popping it somewhere far away from page one of search results.
Here is some poorly written meta for the search Query “Walrus"
This is incorrect for the following reasons:
- The title doesn’t contain the keyword. In fact, if you didn’t already know about walruses, you might disregard this site suggestion all together, because the title doesn’t indicate what the page is about, and most people only read the title.
- The description is just duplicate text from the body copy. Even if you plan to say something similar, the key is to make it similar, not the same. Google frowns on duplicate phrasing.
- The first word of the title is the name of the source, which isn’t good practice, even if you’re super famous. If you ARE in fact notable enough to mention in meta, keep your company or author name somewhere in the description. It’s a waste of the limited characters in the title.
Here is a GREAT example of meta for the same keyword, which if you forgot is “WALRUS”
This is why it’s HOT
- It begins with the keyword, so you know you’ve found a link pertaining to what you’re searching for! The keyword is followed by some credibility, which is totally fine because Wikipedia is SUPER well known and goes on to explain that they are, in fact an encyclopedia. If you’re an encyclopedia, by all means mention it in the title. If you aren’t, don’t mention your company name, add credibility with a qualifier like “from the sea mammal experts”
- The description uses the keyword in the first sentence, and then gives us that handy genus and species incase we were nerdy enough to search that first. It then defines it so nicely. Large flippered mammal etc.
- The description ends with the last word of a sentence so it reads cleanly and doesn’t leave you hanging. If there wasn’t enough information to fill the description cleanly, I’d suggest a call to action, like “read more”
SO how do we make our meta look like example #2?
Easy! We follow some simple rules:
- After conducting a keyword audit, we look at all the pages we want to optimize and assign each a “focus” keyword which lives in the body copy too. For example, if the page is about baseball stadium architecture, and “sports stadium design” is the most relevant and viable keyword, just make sure that somewhere in the copy the exact phrase “sports stadium design” exists.
- We want to make sure we aren’t targeting the same keyword on multiple pages. It makes it near impossible for Google to choose which URL it should suggest to someone searching that term. It may take additional keyword research to find a variation that will work, but usually a simple change like making the word plural will work. One exception to this rule is branded keywords. Utilizing a company’s name (as long as it has search volume) on multiple pages is fine, if you aren’t able to find a unique keyword for them. This shouldn’t be common practice, but instead used for clients who sell obscure products whose names have no search volume, multiple product pages could target the company’s name if no better word can be found. When we do this, we would use the company’s name as the first word of the title, within the description, and also make mention of the specific product the URL connects to, so searchers can be easily guided to what they want.
- We adhere to Google’s snippet length guidelines. Title should be between 50 and 60 characters, but ideally 55 or 56. This length is actually based on pixel width, so if you keep it at 55 or 56 characters you’re guaranteed to see the whole title. It’s been said that Google will change, edit, or crop meta tags at its leisure, but this is only when they don’t adhere to length guidelines. Conversely, a title that’s too short (only the keyword) is also frowned upon and master Goog may add a few words from the body copy to supplement this stubby title. The first word of the title should be the keyword, which can be followed by a dash or pipe if it doesn’t flow easily into a sentence. ie:
Walrus- Learn More About This Fat Mammal
Description length matters too! Description can be up to 156 characters, and I’ve always been told that using as much of that as possible is best, but don’t go over or you end up with a description that ends mid-sentence, which is ugly. The description should contain the keyword in its first sentence, but it doesn’t have to be the first word. ie:
Learn about the walrus from the experts at Sealand. These mammals can weigh up to 2,000 lbs and eat mostly fishsticks. Like I said before, mentioning your company’s name is fine, but it’s best to do so in the description rather than the title. Using the company name in the title is permissible if you genuinely have no other information or call to action to use in the title. This practice works best on “Contact Us” pages, or other pages that don’t have obvious keywords.
- DO NOT DUPE: As we know, Master Goog hates any duplicate content. This is the same for meta. Don’t grab a phrase from the body copy on the page, or use the meta title within the description or Goog will shun you.
- Yoast is your friend. Yoast is set up to make meta easy. It gives you a spot to plug in your focus keyword, it counts characters for your title and description, and it examines body copy to make sure the keyword exists within the page. It then gives you a score in the form of a color. Green is great, yellow is fine. Orange is meh, and Red is not good at all. If you end up with Red or Orange for a score, don’t fret, Yoast tells you why with its handy checklist. A Blue score means the page isn’t indexed, so don’t worry about it.
By following these tips and guidelines, anyone can create meta that acts as an informative, attractive gateway to any URL. If the URL is the front door, the meta is an attractive welcome mat.