Post by Hayley Wolfcale, Senior Specialist
The heavyweight of META tags, <TITLE> tags are arguably the trickiest of the three types of tags we’ll discuss here. What’s so tricky about them? They’re short – much shorter than they used to be. Although once-upon-a-time the limit was roughly 70 characters, nowadays about 60-65 is as far as you’ll get before Google will truncate your <TITLE> tag.
It’s true that there are exceptions to this rule. According to Screaming Frog, length has less to do with characters and more to do with how many will fit in the available pixel display on Google’s results page. But, characters are much easier to count than pixels when you’re writing copy. Although it is possible your <TITLE> tag will squeak by with more than 60-65 characters, playing it safe is probably the better bet.
One of the hallmarks of old-school SEO was keyword stuffing. You can still find lots of <TITLE> tags out there with several repetitive phrases stacked up in nonsensical ways. Here’s a hypothetical example:
Leopard Print Slippers: Slippers in Leopard Print, Leopard Slippers, Leopard House Shoes | Slippers for All
Google doesn’t like this and let’s be honest, neither do you. If you were looking at search results would you click the above, which would be truncated, or something definitive? Like:
Leopard Print Slippers | Slippers for All
Of course, this makes choosing keywords all the more important. What’s the most accurate term for your page’s content? Does it already appear on the page more than once? Is your business using a proprietary term that searchers don’t use?
Let’s say your company sells slippers in addition to other clothing items and accessories, but in order to “differentiate” the brand from competitors, someone decides to call all of your slippers “moccasins” or “slippies” a la Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation. You may laugh, but I’ve personally seen such nonsensical brand terms. People searching for slippers are probably looking for indoor-only, lounge footwear, while “moccasins” can obviously be applied to both indoor and outdoor shoe styles. Your page will miss out on ranking for all the slipper-related searches and probably won’t rank well for moccasins given that it isn’t an accurate term for the product.
And made-up words, like “slippies?” No one will search for those until your brand is so successful that everyone already knows that you call them that. Until that happens, your site could be missing out on a lot of sales.
Convincing decision makers to change their terminology can be tough. Show them the search volume of the keywords they could be using versus what’s currently in the <TITLE> tag to paint a simple picture of the untapped organic opportunity that exists.
I think of the <H1> tag as the flashier cousin of the <TITLE> tag: it says similar things, but the <H1> has unlimited space in which to do it. If your company’s blog writers enjoy creating witty titles for their posts, perhaps with puns and metaphors, they might need to tone down their humor in order to fit a primary keyword into a <TITLE> tag. But an <H1> tag can fit the keywords and the puns.
<H1> tags can be short and sweet, perhaps simply the <TITLE> tag minus the pipe and brand. This is especially true of retail category pages, like “Blue Slippers.” They can also serve up a creative title for a more in-depth, informational piece: “The History of Slippers & House Shoes around the World.” Perhaps your brand prefers to include a more informal voice and the extra verbiage didn’t fit in the <TITLE> tag – the <H1> tag is the perfect place to add it back in and make sure that your brand’s tone is consistent on the page.
So long as they include the primary keyword, preferably as close to the beginning as possible, your <H1> tags should be the easiest META tag to write.
META descriptions are your chance to entice a searcher to click through to your site from the search engine results page. I like to use the following format:
Use a call to action word first, followed closely by the primary keyword. Mention the brand name and the secondary keyword, or if there isn’t one, the primary again.
This example happens to also be exactly 165 characters, which is generally the maximum character length I recommend. In fact, 150 or 155 might be a safer bet. Like <TITLE> tags, the length of a META description that Google will display without truncating has shrunk over the years. This is one reason I prefer to put the primary keyword as close to the front as possible – to ensure it won’t be cut off. Another is that Google will bold queries that appear in your copy: putting them at the front of your <TITLE> tag and the META description can help them grab the searcher’s attention even more.
Calls-to-action can vary widely, but inviting the searcher to take action immediately is the ideal. Here are some other examples:
Improve, Optimize, Find, Explore, Reduce, Eliminate, Read, Develop, Enhance, Increase, Update, Invest…
Starting with a call-to-action and including the brand name at least once are ways to ensure that your META descriptions cover all the grounds they can. You’ve invited the searcher to take an action that’s precluded by clicking through to your site. You’ve included their search query (or something very similar) in your META and you reminded them who you are, in case it wasn’t clear in your <TITLE> tag (which may have been truncated!) or in your domain name (which searchers don’t always examine closely anyway).
Here’s what our slipper example might look like:
Explore our selection of slippers at Slippers for All. Browse a wide variety of house shoes and different styles of slippers for men, women and kids.
If a given page of your site is optimized for mobile users or if you have a separate mobile site, your <TITLE> tags and META descriptions will need to be even shorter than usual in order to avoid truncation on those small screens. Just like regular <TITLE> tags and META descriptions, there are no definitive rules, but you may want to cut META descriptions down to about 115 characters. <TITLE> tags at 60 characters or less will probably be okay, but if you’re worried about how they’ll display in mobile, cut them down to 55. And if you simply can’t get your tags that short (for example, if your brand name is several words long), don’t sweat it too much. Just keep your primary keywords at the front, where the searcher is sure to see them.
Why META Tags Matter
META tags are one of your best avenues to:
- Tell search engines what your page is about
- Grab the attention of searchers
Make sure that your META tags follow Google’s new character length guidelines so that searchers can read them in full. Include strong and relevant keywords so that search engines will serve your page for certain queries, to entice searchers and to ensure that they engage with your content once they’ve clicked through to your site. META tags that help searchers reach the content they desire are what will help your pages rank, especially when both long and short-form content are optimized across your site to offer value to visitors.
META tags are similar to paid ads and even traditional print ads: they’re a brief but important opportunity to introduce consumers to your brand and invite them to interact with your business in some way (get a quote, make a purchase, etc.). Neglecting this copy means your pages are less likely to show up in search engine results and searchers are less likely to click through to them when they do. You wouldn’t pay for ad space and then put slap-dash (or blank!) copy into it. Don’t put time and money into your site and then ignore these important elements.
To Summarize the SEO Copywriting Series:
- Use long-tail keywords that are accurate and relevant to craft engaging and interesting blog posts or articles
- Consider share-worthy topics and formats (infographics, timelines, etc.)
- Use long content to establish your brand as a trusted and authoritative source on industry topics
- Use broad keywords on Category pages and more specific keywords on Product or Service pages
- Don’t be afraid of terms with little or no search volume. Even if a brand’s product base is obscure, its copy can still be edited for accuracy and consistency across the site
- Use short content to give visitors the facts they need on one convenient page
- Keep <TITLE> tags and META descriptions within their recommended character lengths, and place keywords as close to the front as possible.
- Optimize <TITLE> tags, <H1> tags and META descriptions to gain search engine visibility
- Use <TITLE> tag and META description copy to entice consumers to click through to your site
SEO copywriting isn’t terribly different from other types of copywriting. You want to provide the most relevant and useful information in an engaging way. To do this, you need the Google AdWords Keyword Planner and skilled copywriters who understand your brand guidelines and voice. All of the above points should help you craft an approach to your site’s copy that will help you achieve better rankings, improve user experience and develop your brand’s reputation as an industry thought leader.