Are you struggling to drive traffic from Google and other search engines?
Two simple SEO improvements will make your listings so irresistible that searchers will want to click through to your site: title tags and meta descriptions.
Improving title tags and meta descriptions drives traffic in three ways. First, because using keywords in title tags correlates with higher search engine rankings, a properly composed title tag can move your page closer to the top of the results. The closer to the top of page 1 you are, the more likely you are to attract traffic.
- According to data from Smart Insights, 42 percent of searchers click on the first search result they see.
- The next 12 percent click on the second, and the next 8 percent click on the third, with the remaining seven or so listings divided among 32 percent of searchers.
Second, using compelling title tags and meta descriptions increases the appeal of your search listing. They take the humans reading your search listing into account, and they try to appeal to their emotions. When you write content, eight out of 10 people read your headlines; only two out of 10 read the actual content. In addition to helping with SEO, the title tag is a headline and the meta description is a teaser that makes users act by clicking your link.
Third, search engines like Google follow algorithms that are constantly adjusted thanks to machine learning. These computers that manage search engines work every day to learn what searchers want when they type in a query. “When users click on your content more often, search engines see this as a potentially positive user signal,” says Ryan Schuster of Digital Current, a Phoenix-based digital marketing agency. “The more people visit your pages, the more search engines think they’re good places to visit — and the more they recommend them in response to queries.”
What Are Title Tags and Meta Descriptions, Anyway?
Title tags and meta descriptions don’t appear on your web pages, but they’re tucked into the code. They’re sentences surrounded by two HTML tags designed to explain to search engines what the content on your page is about.
Remember the ridiculously popular Pokémon Go game from 2016? Let’s use its site to understand what title tags and meta descriptions are.
Hidden within its code is this:
< title >Pokémon Go: Homepage</ title >
< meta >Catch Pokémon in the Real World with Pokémon GO!</ meta >
This text doesn’t show up on the home page, but it becomes this in the Google listing:
Why It’s Important to Have Them
If you don’t create a title tag or meta description within your code, Google uses the title of your content as its headline and the first few sentences of your post as its summary. Unfortunately, the headline is often incomplete, and the summary isn’t effective.
Let’s take a look at two newspaper stories related to Pokémon Go. One didn’t create a customized title tag and meta description, and the other one did. Can you spot the difference?
The second listing has a succinct title tag that tells you what’s in the story and which television channel it’s from. Then, a concise meta description gives you a snapshot of what the article is about.
In the first listing, because the publisher didn’t prepare a separate title tag and meta description, the headline is incomplete, and you can’t see the name of the publisher. In the meta description, you get an incomplete summary of what happened.
Now that you’ve seen the difference, which link do you think most people are more likely to click? And which listing do you think Google is more likely to prioritize? Even if the second article followed the first in the search rankings, there’s a good chance users would click the second article.
In the moment it takes users to decide which listing to click, title tags and meta descriptions become deciding factors.
How to Build Irresistible Title Tags
Your title tag should convey how your content fulfills a searcher’s query. It may differ slightly from the headline of your content, but it should have the same kind of impact. If you add your title tag to your page’s code, format it like this:
< title >Amazing Click-worthy Headline</ title >
You may also use an SEO plug-in for a content management system like WordPress. If you do, you’ll see a field for your title tag. Don’t worry about the HTML code; just type in the text.
As you compose your title tag, keep these things in mind:
- Keep it short. Keep your title tag within 55 characters or it will get truncated.
- Choose a keyword phrase. The keyword phrase is the query for which you’re trying to earn higher rankings. For instance, if someone types “Pokémon Go robbers” into the search field, the keyword phrase is “Pokémon Go robbers.”
- Put the keyword phrase close to the front. “Pokémon Go Robbers Charged in Court” is better than “Criminals Charged in Court; Pokémon Go Robbers Plead Not Guilty.”
It’s also important to make your headline so good that the reader can’t help but click. Check out these 10 suggestions for building better headlines:
|1. Use a “how to” headline.
Example: Pokémon Go: How to Catch ‘Em All
2. Make a list.
Example: 7 Pokémon Go Secrets for Winning Epic Gym Battles
3. Add a statistic.
Example: 82% of Gym Teachers Say Kids Who Play Pokémon Go Get More Exercise
4. Explain the best way to do something – or at least a better way.
Example: The Best Pokémon Go Hotspots in Your Area
5. Ask a question.
Example: Which Pokémon Go Character Is Your Spirit Pokémon?
|6. Attempt to persuade.
Example: Why You Should Use Pokémon Go to Get Your Kids Outside
7. Appeal to an authority.
Example: Researchers Say AR Games Great for Families
8. Make it personal.
Example: What I Learned Playing Pokémon Go With My Kids
9. Solve a problem.
Example: Kids Not Going Outside? Here’s How Pokémon Go Helps.
10. Build anticipation.
Example: This App Will Convert Your Kid Into a Nonstop Adventurer
Once you’ve created a headline you like, put it into CoSchedule’s free Headline Analyzer tool. The tool will grade your headlines effectiveness and give suggestions for improving it.
Create Meta Descriptions That Earn the Click
Once you’ve created an unforgettable title tag, it’s time to craft a great meta description. The meta description doesn’t directly affect the search algorithm the way titles do, but it can increase or decrease click-through rate, a user signal that indirectly impacts your search rankings.
Meta descriptions have a format similar to that of a title tag:
< meta >Irresistible description of your content</ meta >
Alternatively, you can type them into your SEO module or plug-in, without the HTML tags.
When you’re writing your meta descriptions, follow these tips:
- Keep them succinct. Use no more than 155 characters.
- Mention your brand. Don’t use title tag space to mention your brand if you need the room for the rest of your headline. Instead, mention it in the meta description.
- Differentiate. Do you have competitors who’ve created content on the same subject? Use the meta description to show readers how your content is different — and better.
Econsultancy suggests a formula for writing standout meta descriptions:
Search term relevant to page – why us – why now? Our name – why we’re the best
Perfect Your Skills
To preview your new Google listings before you publish them, use SEO Mofo’s Google SERP Snippet Optimization Tool. In addition to providing a character count that helps you stay within recommendations, it shows a preview of your listing so you can see how it will look.
Remember: You can follow all the rules given here to create stronger title tags and meta descriptions, but results are what matter. Try changing the title tags and descriptions on some of your existing content. Then, see what happens.
- Did you get more visitors?
- Did your search results improve?
- Did someone contact you after seeing your new and improved listing?
If you don’t have initial success, don’t give up. Experiment to find a winning formula that works. You can set up A/B tests in Google Analytics that allow you to deploy two versions of a title tag or meta description — only test one element at a time, not both at once — to see which gets more engagement. Important metrics that grade their effectiveness include:
- Click-through rate. How many people clicked one version compared to the other?
- Bounce rate. Once visitors clicked over to your page, did they read your content or navigate away quickly? If they’re navigating away quickly, they may feel that your title tag or meta description didn’t deliver the content either promised.
If you’re still getting low click-through rates, or you’re seeing high click-through rates followed by high bounce rates, better title tags or meta descriptions may not be enough to fix your SEO challenges. An SEO audit can help identify factors that may be hurting your search rankings.
Audits can also explain why users who click through to your page don’t stay – and what you can do to fix it. After all, it does no good to drive traffic to your site if visitors don’t stick around.
Screenshots by Jacqueline Lee