Meta tags. Just the term makes them sound complicated and highly technical.
So, when it comes to writing or reviewing them, you may not know where to start.
Fortunately, the basics are easy to learn. Here I’ll cover the two meta tags that get the most use and attention: title and description.
I’ll share exactly how they are used. And then I’ll share elements to look for.
I’ve included a cheat sheet for those who don’t want to dive deep in the details. I recommend reading through “why they matter” first, but you can always skip straight to that cheat sheet if you’d like.
Why Do These Meta Tags Matter?
Title tags are a ranking factor for SEO. That means Google considers them when determining where to show your site in results.
Google has said that meta descriptions are NOT a ranking signal. However, descriptions will still impact your SEO.
Both of these meta tags are often shown to users in search results. Here’s an example…
So, how the meta tags are written will impact your click-through rate. And that is a ranking signal. An important one.
But if written incorrectly, Google won’t show your meta description. It will just grab random text from your page, which may not be descriptive of your content.
In short, these meta tags impact SEO. And they need to be written for both humans and the Googlebot.
What Should You Look for in Meta Tags?
Short on time? Just want an overview of what to look for? Here’s a cheat sheet.
A good meta title or description should…
- Contain relevant keywords.
- Be easy to read — for humans and Google.
- Be brief. (One to two sentences for descriptions. Around 10 words for titles.)
- Be accurate.
- Be free of spelling errors.
Want more info? Here’s a deep dive into all of the elements a good meta tag should have.
A Good Meta Title or Description Should…
Contain relevant keywords
These are words or phrases that users might search for and then come across your content.
If your description lacks these keywords, Google may grab random text from your page that does contain these keywords and show that instead. This may work out in your favor… or it might not.
By including keywords in your description, you increase the odds that you have control over what Google displays for users.
Be easy to read
In the bad ol’ days, SEO experts just crammed title and description tags with keywords.
“Yellow shoes, blue shoes, orange shoes, purple shoes…”
You get the picture. It wasn’t pretty.
Today, you should write tags that are easy to read for both Google and the end user.
Because real people will see these. And a keyword-stuffed description that’s just written for the search engine is likely to turn off humans.
But Google still needs certain types of information, or it will just ignore the tag. And a description that’s too cute or clever won’t provide the info search engines need.
Go for balance.
Don’t add keywords that the page doesn’t cover. Don’t describe content the page doesn’t deliver.
Or you’ll risk angering both humans and the Googlebot.
Your meta tags don’t need to cover every detail or possible search term within your text. Just make sure the main idea comes across.
Both titles and descriptions should have correct spelling and punctuation.
A meta title should be written in Title Case. But a meta description does not need to be written in full sentences.
And they should make use of conjunctions.
Space is limited. Why waste valuable pixels writing out “do not” when “don’t” gives you more room for valuable content?
You’ll hear many ranges for the number of characters to aim for. Not over 156. Between 155 and 160. Why all the variation?
There are two main reasons.
For one, Google doesn’t display a particular number of characters. It displays a certain number of pixels.
And a capital W is made up of more pixels than a lowercase i.
But it gets even more complicated, because Google doesn’t always display the same amount of pixels.
Desktop searches show 920 pixels for descriptions. Mobile searches show 680 pixels. (And even that may vary depending on screen size.) Titles come in at 580 pixels for either.
Of course, Google isn’t the only search engine in the game. Bing and Yahoo provide a few more pixels, stopping at 980.
So, forget counting characters. Just aim for around the 155-character mark. Or, if you want to be really precise, use a pixel counter.