SEO Blog > Making Sense of Metadata
In my last blog, we talked about the technical aspects of SEO, and Metadata is a big part of that. Now let’s look at the HTML code. Don’t worry; I’ll focus only on what you need to know to modify the tags for SEO.
In the page’s HTML code are two sections: the HEAD and the BODY. The HEAD section contains information about the page; the BODY section holds the text for the page. The HEAD section contains several tags, including TITLE, DESCRIPTION, and KEYWORD. In the following sections, I’ll show you how to edit these tags.
The TITLE Tag
The TITLE tag is in the HTML’s HEAD section. The text in the TITLE tag is displayed in the browser.
Here’s a screenshot of a TITLE tag:
Above: The TITLE tag appears at the top of the browser, and expands when hovered over.
For SEO purposes, the TITLE is also used in the heading that appears in the search engine. This is what the user sees in the search engine results list. Just as with the URL name, the point isn’t to feed keywords to the search engines. It’s to let visitors know that you have what they are seeking.
Here are examples of TITLE tags in a search for koi pond:
Above: The text that appears in the heading of each search result is taken from the webpage’s TITLE tag.
An Enquiro study found that a match between the user’s search term and the text in the TITLE tag was the single most important item in attracting a click. Look at the TITLE as a short ad for your product.
Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Write a TITLE tag that encourages visitors to come to your webpage. The TITLE tag states the benefits to your visitors. Use the keyword first and then the name of the webpage.
- Search engines have a limit to the number of characters they fetch from the TITLE tag. This varies according to the search engine. In general, use no more than 66 characters (including spaces). To find the number of characters, paste the text into Word and use Tools | Word Count.
Here’s an example of a TITLE tag:
<TITLE>New York Koi Store – Kodama Koi Garden</TITLE>
You can use Google Analytics to test the TITLE tags. In Google Analytics, go to Content | Content by Title. That web analytics report shows the page’s traffic. Try different TITLE tags, based on top keywords from analytics and PPC, and see if the traffic improves.
You can also use PPC (Pay-Per-Click advertising) to test the TITLE tags. Create PPC ads with different TITLE tags and then select the one with the highest click-through rate.
By the way, it’s a convention to write “TITLE” in capital letters so it stands out. It doesn’t matter for HTML if this is uppercase or lowercase.
The DESCRIPTION Tag
The DESCRIPTION tag is also in the HEAD section. Search engines display the content of the DESCRIPTION tag to the visitor in the search engine results page.
Let’s look at those results again. The search engine fetches the content for the two lines of descriptive text from the webpage’s DESCRIPTION tag. In the following example, the second entry has complete sentences. But the first description is cut off, and the third is made up of fragments of sentences.
Above: The text that appears in the body of each search result is taken from the webpage’s DESCRIPTION tag.
When an item has ellipses (three dots…), either the tags are too long, or missing, or for some reason, the search engine chose to ignore them. If the tag is too long, it gets cut off. If the tag is missing, the search engine is fetching text from the body of the webpage. It ignores marketing text (such as “We’re the best in the world!”) and chooses sentence fragments that indicate information (such as archive, news, health care, and so on).
To write your DESCRIPTION tag, follow these guidelines:
- Use your top two or three keywords and write a complete sentence. Put the top two or three keywords first, then the description, and finally your organization’s name.
- Look at other descriptions in the search engine and notice what it considers important, such as the words archive, FAQ, news, health care, information, tips, guide, reviews, comparisons, and similar.
- Use up to 155 characters (including spaces) in the DESCRIPTION tag. Paste the text into Word and use Tools | Word Count to count the number of characters.
Here’s an example of a DESCRIPTION tag:
<meta name=“DESCRIPTION” content=“Kodama’s Long Island location offers highest quality live Japanese koi fish for sale, pond supplies and variety of food and care items imported from Japan.”>
Here’s how the webpage will appear in the search engine listing.
Above: The heading comes from the TITLE tag. The two lines of body text come from the DESCRIPTION tag.
Check Your TITLE and DESCRIPTION Tags
You can use Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) to check your TITLE and DESCRIPTION tags. If tags are missing, you can add them. If pages have duplicate tags, the search engines can’t distinguish the pages. Write unique tags for each page. If tags are too long or too short, the Google Search Console can alert you so you can write better tags. Search Console can even tell you if the TITLE tags are uninformative so you can write informative, descriptive ones.
Google Search Console is free. Search for Google Search Console or Google Webmaster Tools.
The TITLE and DESCRIPTION tag are not for the search engines. They don’t care what you put in there. The point of these is to write text that will appear in the search results page and get people to click on your link.
The KEYWORD Tag
Once upon a time in a galaxy far away, the KEYWORD tag told the search engine what the webpage’s main keywords were.
Here’s an example of a KEYWORD tag:
<meta name=”KEYWORD” content=”japanese koi, japanese goldfish, japanese fish, koromo koi, ornamental ponds, backyard ponds, koi planet.”>
But spammers abused this, so search engines gave up on the meta-keyword tag. They ignore it. You can either put a few keywords there to fill the space or just not use it.
Read my last blog on Technical SEO.
In my next blog, I show you how to effectively tag your headings, links, and images.
Visit my guide: Content Marketing Central, full of insight and actionable tips to improve your content marketing strategy.