Website metadata is a crucial part of any SEO plan.
Page title and meta description optimization is a fundamental piece of the on-page SEO puzzle. Search engines look for your keywords here. These elements are also what organic search users see on Google when your page comes up.
They need to be optimized for search engines and users.
In this SEO Metadata Guide to End All Metadata Guides, we’ll cover:
- What is Website Metadata?
- The Importance of Metadata
- SEO Metadata Best Practices
- Advanced Metadata Optimization
As always, we start with the basics.
The Truth about “SEO Titles and Descriptions”
This is an SEO fundamental.
Page titles and meta descriptions have been a search ranking factor since forever.
Optimizing them has long been one of the easiest high-ROI tasks in SEO.
Today I optimize <title> tags.
Some consider it a lowly task. A job for interns.
On the contrary. It is—in fact—one of my most rewarding, happiest, + highest ROI jobs as an SEO 💥
— Cyrus (@CyrusShepard) January 21, 2019
You often hear page titles called “SEO titles,” “title tags,” or “meta titles.” Similarly, meta descriptions are sometimes referred to as “SEO descriptions.”
This ambiguity can cause some confusion. It’s no surprise then that many webmasters believe titles and meta descriptions are only for SEO. In truth, they are web design elements with their own specific functions. Certainly, they are crucial for SEO. But that isn’t their only purpose.
We talk about it more in this video:
We like to make a distinction between website metadata and SEO metadata.
What is website metadata?
“Website metadata” is information on your website about other information. On individual webpages, it refers to data contained in the <head> section (that typically isn’t visible to users). This information is used by web browsers, search engines, and other technology to identify, understand, and interpret your content.
What is SEO metadata?
“SEO Metadata” typically refers to webpage Title and Meta Description elements, sometimes called the SEO Title and SEO Description. Advanced definitions might include other webpage metadata that may have some bearing on search engine rankings—such as social media tags and script elements.
Think of SEO metadata as website metadata that can affect SEO.
This is a nuanced but important distinction. There are many types of website metadata with many different uses. It isn’t just an SEO thing. Your browser uses metadata. Social media sites use metadata. And various other web services do as well.
Why is this important?
First, that means metadata has its own value.
Second, this understanding can help you get the most out of it.
SEO Metadata Best Practices
Optimizing titles and meta descriptions is fairly straightforward.
Why is SEO metadata important for SEO?
Google and other search engines use title tags and meta descriptions on their results pages to represent answers to your query. Therefore, it’s the first impression users get about your content. When properly optimized, SEO metadata informs your users about your content and encourages them to click through to read it.
It’s easy to understand why SEO metadata is an important place for keywords:
If I search for “emergency plumber” on Google, I’m more likely to choose a result that says “emergency plumber” in the title and description.
Moz considers title tags the #2 seo ranking factor, after content. That makes sense. They also show up as the title of the tab in your web browser. Links to the page from other places often pull this title as well. Small as it may seem, it sends big signals.
Both titles and meta descriptions are a page-level ranking factor. This means you need to optimize them on every page you are trying to rank. That’s basic SEO advice.
Everyone seems to understand these basics.
Still, few seem to get it all the way right.
How to Use Keywords in Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
Inject keywords into your SEO metadata.
You have a limited amount of space.
Make it count.
Here’s how we optimize metadata for keywords:
Try to include your top two or three keyword variations.
Try to move them to the beginning of your title and description.
Try to include local and your top keyword modifiers.
If you don’t understand what all of that means…
Take some time to learn about keyword stuffing:
Obviously, you don’t have enough room to include all your keywords.
Use your space wisely.
There is no hard limit on the length of page titles or meta descriptions. However, search engines only give you so much real estate on their results page.
That is to say:
You can create page titles and meta descriptions that are as long as you want.
But users will only see up to a certain number of characters or pixels.
For title tags, Google’s current limit is 580 pixels or about 60 characters.
For meta descriptions, Google’s current limit is 920 pixels or about 160 characters.
Technically, these limits are dynamic and Google chooses to show what it wants. The limits also change from time to time. And because title tags and meta descriptions have other functions across the Web, it may make sense to extend your metadata beyond Google’s current display settings.
Here’s Google displaying an extended version for our company LinkedIn profile:
Still, it makes the most sense to include your top keywords closer to the beginning, where users are most likely to see them.
Moreover, we coordinate our H1 with our metadata to make sure we hit as many of our keywords as possible.
Metadata affects search rankings for individual pages. So prioritize your most important keywords on a page-by-page basis.
Focus on keywords until your content is on page one.
This is where most SEOs focus—and rightfully so.
Unless you’re on page one or two already, keywords should be your top priority.
Even when you make it to the first page, you should never totally disregard them.
However, there’s another level that many miss.
How to Optimize SEO Metadata for Conversions
This is the kind of thing that distinguishes good SEO from great SEO.
Once you’re on the first page of Google, click through rate becomes much more important.
In layman’s terms:
On the first page, it becomes a battle of sales skills.
If you’re at number seven in the results but get clicked on more than four, five, and six, Google’s algorithms with test you higher. If you continue to do well, you’ll stay there. This is simplified. But it is an effective way to think about it. It’s also a strong case for including keywords in your metadata.
Just think. Your customer Googles your industry and sees you using the same words they just used to search.
It screams out:
“We are your solution!”
However, there are other, even more powerful ways to trigger that feeling.
Think about your title and meta description as a little advertisement.
Here’s how we do it:
Consider all the weapons in your arsenal and cram it into your 200-odd characters.
- Increase Urgency
- Build Credibility
- Qualify Traffic
- Highlight Benefits
- Hit Pain Points
- Social Proof
Your job is to prove you’re the best answer in two sentences or less.
The best advice:
Take inspiration from advertisers.
Your competition is paying for clicks on Google everyday. Thus, you can learn a lot from looking at Google Ads in your industry. The search ads model is auction based. It rewards advertisements that attract clicks.
Well-done search ads tested and retested to maximize conversions.
Luckily for you:
Search ads on Google have a very similar format to the listing you get for organic search. The rules are different; advertisers get a few extra perks. But the size is very similar and the sales principles are the same.
Once you’re on the first page, local advertisers offer plenty of material to steal from. If you don’t find any on your local searches, try similar searches for larger cities. Your Industry + New York is likely to provide ample information about what works best. Otherwise, you might use a resource like swiped.co to brush up on your sales chops.
You can’t completely disregard keywords or you may lose your spot on the first page.
But if you want to continue the climb, optimize your metadata for sales.
Editing Titles & Adding Meta Descriptions in WordPress
Modern content management systems make editing metadata easy.
Most have editing options built right in.
Website-in-a-box platforms like WiX and Weebly are a little clunky but offer adequate options. On WordPress, you typically have to rely on your theme or plugins to provide the option. But with that extra step you also get more choices and functionality.
Our favorite WordPress theme, Divi, has built-in options for title tags and meta descriptions.
Still, we opt to use Yoast SEO Plugin’s metadata editor instead.
It makes getting it right easy:
Yoast SEO has an ultra-convenient SERP preview tool. This helps you see what your metadata will look like on Google. It also does little things like provide sizing guidance and remind you to move your keywords to the front.
For those not using Yoast:
There are a variety of SEO metadata editor tools like this one that offer similar functionality. Full-service SEO tools like SEMRush can help you analyze your existing metadata in bulk as well.
The main thing is that you get it done every page you are trying to rank in Google.
Where Metadata Fits in the SEO Puzzle
In summary, metadata optimization is an SEO fundamental.
There is no end all be all strategy in SEO. But if you aren’t optimizing your website metadata you’re sabotaging yourself.
It’s one of the most powerful on-page ranking favorite there is. It’s also one of the things the Google algorithms seem to respond fastest to.
If you want to win in SEO, you need to do what your competition is doing, better than they are. Then, you need to find what your competition isn’t doing and do that too.
When it comes to metadata:
Most of your competition is probably neglecting it completely. A few may be getting the keyword stuffing right. But virtually no one is looking at it like an advertiser.
This can give you a tremendous advantage.
Not only will you climb to the first page, but you’ll get more clicks once you do.
We see it all the time.
It might not be glamorous, but metadata optimization is effective.
Have questions or comments? Please drop them below. We know how difficult SEO can be to grasp. We are also constantly refining our training. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated! Or, if you’d like a customized analysis of your digital footprint, apply for a free SEO audit. Finally, we know we left some metadata optimization tips on the table. Before long, we’ll be sure to come back to this post. Please bookmark, subscribe, share with a colleague, or whatever would help you stay up to date. SEO changes everyday. We’ll always be here to help you adapt.