Title and meta description tags are part of your website’s initial build (or should be), and often no one ever thinks about them again.
Before I got involved in SEO, I didn’t pay much attention to them either, but now I’m the pain in the you-know-what who makes sure they’re the right number of characters, the right words in the right order, and that they’re informing users — and search engines — about what the heck a particular page is all about.
They’re really just strings of words among all the other words and characters that magically create more words, colors, and pictures on a screen — but they present a major opportunity to separate yourself from the riff-raff and convince searchers that your page is worth navigating to.
To help inspire a reassessment of your website's SEO, we’ve put together six reasons why you should start caring about your titles and descriptions. We’ll start by asking: If they’re hidden to the average user when viewing a web page, why are they important?
1. Your Visitors Do See Your Title and Description
The title is not on the actual web page, but often appears on a users’ browser window or tab once they’ve clicked through to your site. And they see the title and the description in SERPs (which, by the way, stands for search engine results page).
The title and meta description also appear when sharing a link, which can be by sharing in a messenger app (e.g., Slack), or via social media. (There’s even more you can do to control how your URL looks when shared on social media, but the first step toward that is the title and description.)
Be sure to write a true title and description, meaning they identify and inform the reader (and the search engine) about the content.
2. Search Engines Read Your Title and Description
The title and description defines a page’s content to search engines. It’s pretty simple, and Google loves simple. You are helping Google learn and understand your site, its content, structure, and mostly its usefulness to searchers.
3. Creating Your Own Puts You in Control
According to Google,
Google’s generation of page titles and descriptions (or ‟snippets”) is completely automated and takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the web. The goal of the snippet and title is to best represent and describe each result and explain how it relates to the user's query.” [Source]
If you don’t provide the proper tags (or they’re not representative of your content), Google will get it from other sources, usually from other on-page content. And while this works too, it’s not as nicely presented in the search results.
You can’t always know what Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) will serve up for the title and meta description — even if you do everything right — but you should seize what little control you do have.
4. Humans Read Your Title and Description
The contents of the meta description tag provide a clear, human-readable summary of the page contents. It is also often used in your search results snippets along with your title— where it also cuts if off after a certain pixel width, so be strategic with wording and length.
But do remember to write for your (human) audience first. For example, these are two of the top results for keywords “identify human teeth.”
From the user perspective — in this case, me — there are things to like about both results. The title of the second one works slightly better than the first because it’s straightforward, and the use of “cheat sheet” makes me feel like it will be easy for a novice like me to ID teeth. They both contain most of the keywords you’d expect to see, but the first one is clearly more human-readable. The second one starts off by repeating the title (a waste of valuable real estate?), and is followed up by more words that mean very little, really.
5. They Are Two — of Many— Important Ingredients
Google reads them as part of the whole ball of wax that makes up their algorithm to determine which web pages to serve up to users. Write titles and descriptions that inform, along with all the other best practices you should be following as part of your overall SEO strategy.
6. You Will Attract More High-Value Visitors
Snippets help users decide whether or not to click-through, so be truthful as well as informative. There’s nothing to gain by trying to pull people in with promises you can’t keep, or trying to widen your net to too many different audience types. Your visits may increase, but your bounce rate will increase exponentially.
Though I’ve listed the many ways search engines may react to or use your titles and descriptions, if you think of your user first, you can’t go wrong. After all the content creation, keyword research, Google Analytics . . . it all comes down to a human choosing where they want to go next, and all they have to go by is three lines of text and a URL.
Please don’t spend all that time creating a knock-out website, only to remain hidden among the final frontier of the SERP (which, again, stands for search engine results page). It’s time to start caring.