One of the most important lessons I learned as a young, eager marketer was this:
You have to know what you don’t know.
This came after witnessing dozens of marketers and small business owners act with authority on topics that they truthfully had very limited experience in (or none at all). The outcome was never good.
In contrast, I also witnessed the power of asking questions and relying on the niche expertise of others. It might go without saying, but the outcome in those situations was always better.
Until it was thrust upon me, I tried to stay away from matters of SEO. I knew I didn’t know. I knew there was a lot to know. I figured I didn’t need to know. I was wrong.
SEO is a vast and detailed field, at once very important and very foreign to marketers. Those who realize the limitations of their expertise often shy away from it, because it is big, constantly evolving… and a little intimidating.
But there is one important aspect of SEO that most marketers, writers and small business owners will encounter – and that’s meta data.
Thankfully, meta data development doesn’t require years of experience or an in-depth understanding of Google’s algorithms. An understanding of the basics will help you craft meta data for your website or blog without turning to (or turning into) an SEO expert.
Read on to turn meta data development from something you don’t know into something you do.
What it is: A short description of the page’s content – just like how this blog post’s title sums up the information you will find within this post.
Where it appears: The page title shows up in three significant places.
(I’ll use a search for Crock-Pot recipes as an example, because a slow cooker is this hard-working momma’s secret weapon and I’m looking for a little more ammunition.)
At the top of your browser window and in browser tabs:
In search results, like this:
On social networks when a link to the page is used, like this example from Facebook:
Ideal length: As a general rule, aim for about 55 characters. Google typically shows 50-60, but this is based on pixels (512 pixels, to be exact) rather than an exact character count.
When I’m close to the limit and don’t have much wiggle room, I love this little tool from Moz that shows exactly how titles appear in a Google search.
How to write a page title: Consider the three places where it will be shown. When seen in a browser tab, it helps the user know what page they have open. In search results, the page title can help a searcher determine if the page’s content is what they are looking for. On social networks, it can also help determine if the link is interesting enough to click.
Your page title needs to be equally compelling in all three circumstances. It needs to accurately convey the topic of the page and should contain keywords whenever possible.
Develop page titles using the same convention across your entire website. A common convention (and one that we use) is:
Page Descriptor with Keyword | Company Name
Including the company name in the title is helpful in all three instances where the page title will appear—it can help lend greater authority to the relevance of a link and helps the user who sees it in the browser tab (especially if, like I often do, they typically have a dozen tabs open).
What it is: The meta description provides a brief description of the content on a given page.
Where it appears: In search results. It’s the description you see below the page title and URL; the thing you read to determine if you want to click through.
Ideal length: Between 150-160 characters (search engines will cut off your descriptions if they are any longer).
How to write a meta description: Think of a meta description as both a summary of the content found on the page AND a call to action. It needs to provide an explanation of what the page is about and compel searchers to click through to read the content.
A great meta description might already exist within the page, and it’s ok to pull directly from the copy. It might need a little bit of tweaking to add a CTA and ensure it fits within the character count.
Take a look at the results from my “crock pot recipes” search in the screenshot above. Food.com has a short, clear, compelling description (Flavorful? Fuss-free? Yes, please.) that doesn’t get truncated.
What they are: Something you really don’t need to worry about anymore (isn’t that a relief?). Keywords matter; meta keywords don’t.
Where they appear: Nowhere.
Ideal length: 0 characters. Don’t write them.
How to NOT write meta keywords: The original purpose of meta keywords was to serve as an indicator to search engines about a page’s topic. Search engines used keywords to help deliver search results. But then people started keyword stuffing, and search engines adjusted.
Today, Google doesn’t use them; Bing uses them as one of many, many indicators they look at. The really, really smart SEO people at places like Moz and Search Engine Land have said that meta keywords are no longer necessary. Take it off your to-do list.
Do not confuse the passé status of meta keywords with the development of keywords used in content. It is still important to do keyword research as you develop web content to ensure you are using the words and phrases that will drive traffic to your page. This is an entirely different practice, one that is unrelated to meta keyword development.
You don’t need to be an SEO expert to craft valuable meta data for your website or blog. An understanding of what each element is used for and how to use it to your advantage is enough to write meta titles and meta descriptions that help increase the visibility and findability of your content.
For more SEO insight, check out SEO Basics for Pages and Posts.