Do Meta Titles and Descriptions Still Matter for SEO in 2022?
Long gone are the days when SEOs could really argue that Meta Titles or Descriptions held some kind of mystical 'ranking factor value' - but sat here right now in 2022, I do regularly argue with clients that Meta Titles and Descriptions hold great value.
Let me first start off by explaining what these two tags (meta tags) are, just for the avoidance of doubt - or indeed if you are new to the world of search engine optimisation.
The Meta Title, is the blue link in search results, here "The SEO Andy Podcast | iHeart"
It is in essence the call to action of a page and the main sentiment of a page.
The Meta Description is a short 145-character summary of the page. Here iHeart has taken the first sentence or so of the podcast entry for the syndication and used it for the meta tag.
Meta Titles and Descriptions back a few years ago (ok a good few years ago) could potentially be used to signal to search engines what phrases you'd like a page to rank for. However, as more sites became aware of this ability to (almost) manipulate search engines, such as Google, made moves to reduce/eliminate this.
Today, then what 'good' do these meta tags do if they do not directly affect rank?
So this is where my argument has been with several clients...
Meta tags may not affect the ranking in the same manner as say an inbound link or other ranking factors such as your on-page content quality may. However, good meta titles and descriptions are actual traffic drivers, they drive the clicks once you have achieved some kind of ranking.
In essence, you have two elements of ranking at play here; the inbound and content (ranking directly) and then the meta tags (CTR) and if the CTR is high enough and has a low enough bounce rate/or high enough engagement rate could increase your ranking further. So, my argument is clear that having good/great meta tags which drive traffic is a requirement for any website.
5 Best Practices for Writing Meta Titles
Writing meta titles is similar to writing headlines for articles, something we've spoken about before, only of course this is about getting clicks from search (not just about engaging readers or clicks from your users).
With this in mind, here are my 5 best practices for writing meta titles:
1) Ensure You Have a Title on Every Page (and that it is branded!)
This sounds like the most obvious piece of advice you will ever read, but whether you have a new website or an old and sprawling website it pays to double-check that every single page of your website has a meta title. - if a page doesn't have a title, search engines attempt to fill in the gaps and trust me when I say the results are ... dodgy.
As a bonus tip: always remember to BRAND up your pages, do something in a formula-style so you recall what to do ... for example most website I help stick to the "... | BRAND" or "...| category | brand" type formula perhaps with a dash or slash in place of the pipe - the brand also means you reinforce you are the official site of the brand incase anyone else is mentioning your name and so you are unlikely to get pushed out of that top spot.
2) Be Descriptive and Concise
You have a maximum of 70 characters for your meta title (do not exceed it, Google will truncate it). Being descriptive is paramount, if you are not (and use page titles such as "home) then you risk your meta title being re-written by search engines. Stick to short snappy titles that draw the eye, for example, "SEO Consulting | Get SEO Help | SEO Andy"
3) Avoid Repetition on the Majority of Pages
Whilst the page title isn't a ranking factor, you can find your website in trouble for using the same meta tag across a large number of pages (or very similar tags indeed). For instance, using the meta title "Cheap X in Manchester" on every page of a site would cause search engines to likely demote a site - as even though you ar changing a single word in that title, the remaining words are the same (it is why you often see large e-commerce or dropship sites struggle). So be careful to make descriptions unique.
4) Add an Action
Readers want to know they can achieve something. They want to know if something is easy, actionable, or interesting — by adding action words to a title you can grab that little coiled spring in someone's mind and get them to engage a little more with a post and title — you can earn that click. Some examples of this are: “5 clever ways to X” “7 easy ways to write Y”.
5) Avoid Keyword Stuffing
There is nothing worse for users (and less engaging, so it will drag down your CTR) than a meta tag that is stuffed with the same keyword or pluralised versions of the same keyword. Again this is something that in certain industries search engines can be quite hot on, so avoid this or you can find yourself being demoted.
4 Tips for SEO-Friendly Meta Descriptions
Writing Meta Descriptions is fairly easy once you get started, you just need to stick within certain limits (75 to 140 characters) be concise, and be informative - the other thing to note is that you should use the tone of your website content, otherwise it can be jarring for visitors who do click and you may get a bounce or two more than you expect.
1) Think of it as a business pitch!
Forget the 60 elevator pitch, you’ve got 20 or 30 seconds (if you are really lucky) to pitch your idea, page and selling point. You have around one tweet’s worth of content to explain everything, consider everything carefully - you’ve hours to figure out what will say in those few important seconds to make it perfect! Be Concise and informative.
2) No Repeating Yourself
Think of this a bit like the radio show "Just a minute" (a gameshow in which panelist are not allowed, among other things to repeat themselves or they get buzzed out). Repeating yourself once or twice across your entire website isn't going to get you in much trouble, though it may look a little odd to users, but if you did it across your entire blog or product catalog - search engines and users alike will simply ignore your input as spam. Also search engines will simply select their own text from your page - again its not a good luck and it could end really badly.
3) Be Keyword Rich and Relevant
Your meta tag should be keyword rich yet highly relevant and still pull your audience in. It is a sales pitch so don’t have 15 key words ... it won’t rank it will look ugly and people won’t click it. One sentence, max 2 keywords and a nice sell.
4) Iterate Iterate, Update
One thing people forget is that you can always update your meta tags. Google won’t always re-index them in a few days (like it may a new page) but it will eventually. So if you’ve a product page or 1000 of them update them on a regular basis. Meta tags can be living things, you just have to remember they are there and that these are the things which will get you an audience that will buy from you. Practice makes perfect.