Page Title and Meta Description

There are only a few HTML head tags that are still relevant for search engine optimization today:

Page title and meta description shown in Google search results

The <title> tag that (who would have thought) contains the page title and the <meta description="" /> tag that contains a short textual, well, description of the main content on this page.

As mentioned before both are located in the <head> block and are therefore not directly visible in the browser viewport, though the title tag, of course, will be shown in the window title bar or as tab name.

There are some brilliant, official video statements from Google employees that I will summarize for you in the following.

The Page Title

  1. Make sure the title is accurate, it should describe the topic of the page.
  2. Don't stuff the title with (what you might think of being great SEO) keywords. Instead, only choose one or two keywords!
  3. Avoid generic names like "home" and "about. They don't help the search engines understand the page.
  4. Make sure every page of your website has a unique name.
  5. You only have about 70 characters for the title. When you think of human visitors, your page title should not even come close to this length since no one will recognize it as a title any more. My personal rule of thumb is to aim for a total of about 40 characters for the unique title, followed by the section this page belongs to and the domain of the website. E.g. "Page Title and Description - Blog -" (= 49 characters)

In case of Google, the page title will appear in as the first element of a search result. So it's going to be the first hook for your users, the first think they'll be looking at and decide whether to click, read the next part or move on to the next search result.

Page Description

  1. Be accurate. You're describing the content of this single web page. Don't mislead readers with this text.
  2. Don't be generic. Every page of a website serves a purpose and this is where you describe it.
  3. Don't just copy content from the page and paste it into the meta description. If Google thinks your description doesn't match the content it'll take a snippet from there anyway - and it's probably a part Google thinks is representing the page the best.
  4. Limit the description to 150 - 160 characters. If you an active twitter user it should not be a problem for you to condense contents into that length. If not, it'll be a great exercise for both, the page description and tweeting. Usually that's about 1 or 2 short sentences.
  5. Don't stuff too many keywords in. It's really about describing the page to a visitor, or better someone who is searching for something and needs to be convinced to visit YOUR site.

According to Matt Cutts, Google uses and shows your meta description "if we don't know what makes a good snippet". I interpret his statement in a way that Google prefers so find the best snippet on its own first. So the meta description is something you should offer but always keep in mind that it has to be even better than what is presented in your main content.

"If a meta description is well written and really compelling then a person who sees it might click through it more often."

Matt Cutts

So if you're interested in conversion and not only traffic you should test different meta descriptions over time to get different results (higher or lower conversion rates), maybe as part of an A/B test or on its own.

Also, when Google (or any other search engine for that matter) is not showing your meta description but some content snippet instead it might be a hint that you should rewrite that description!

In case of Google the description text will appear after the blue link, page title, and the green URL.

google search result screenshot

There are SEO plugins for Wordpress out there that will auto-generate those two elements for you. But I would suggest to take the time and write unique and sophisticated titles and descriptions for each page. In my experience it's worth spending the time and effort.

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