A quick post answering a common conundrum: What are title and description best practices? UPDATED for 2020.
Google already has a guide for this stuff. You should check it out. Seriously. That’s step one.
1. Read what Google has to say about writing good titles and descriptions.
2. Step two: Google is slowly scrubbing its former SEO guru Matt Cutts from its pages. Until new guru John Mueller (no relation) gets a new video on that page, here’s the video that used to be there. Watch it. If you don’t want to watch that first 8-minute video from Cutts, here’s his 3-minute version. Sure, Cutts himself admits (sheepishly) to not using a meta description on all of his personal blog posts, but that doesn’t mean you should be lazy, too.
3. Step three: Some guy on the internet (me) has this to add:
Be mindful of your keywords while crafting titles and descriptions. Use a verbatim or synonym keyword instance or two when appropriate, but don’t keyword-stuff and don’t use keywords unrelated to the content. On larger sites, many of your titles and descrips will NOT contain keywords.
Meta descriptions are ideally between 120 and 156 characters (not words!) including spaces. They can be longer (but should not be shorter) from time to time as long as the “important” stuff occurs in the beginning. Use regular old sentences most of the time in a description.
Titles should be 30 to 65 characters (not words!) including spaces. They can be longer (but should not be shorter) from time to time as long as the “important” stuff occurs in the beginning. Try to get closer to the top end of characters. Use Title/Headline Case for Titles.
Why do we care about titles and descriptions?
Remember, titles and descriptions have two audiences:
- Googlebot/SEO: We want Google to rank us well. Google pays attention to titles and descriptions.
- Humans/UX: We see titles and descriptions in the SERP, where great language will influence us to click on the listing. (See image below.)
While I’m not suggesting you directly instruct people to click on your listing; you should write something engaging, using your keyword concepts when appropriate. …without telling them to “click”.
“Learn” – “discover” – “find out how…” – are okay, but writing something interesting w/out a CTA is okay, too. If you’re not a fan of click-baity titles, (I loathe them,) avoid that
Regardless, don’t neglect these important opportunities to communicate with your human and robot audiences. The content in these crucial content pieces should be unique; don’t just parrot something you wrote in the body text.
Your Company Name in Titles / Descriptions?
Unless your site doesn’t rank well for your brand name, you should almost never use the client/website name in descriptions or titles, because it would be a redundant waste of precious SEO space. As much as you should omit the website/client name from almost all titles/descriptions, if a page is about a person or a thing, you should probably mention the person or thing in the description. The only other reason to stuff your brand in every title: the brand manual mandates it. (Consider rewriting the manual!)
Should I auto-append anything to my titles, site-wide?
As long as you don’t go overboard and don’t get lazy because of it, sure. Why not? Keep it short and classy. Or don’t do it. …This is more of an opinion than a well vetted SEO fact. Good luck.
PS – New logo for my fficient.com consulting biz is above. I’m going to do a post on the logo process some day. …This postscript is mostly to force me to write it up.
PPS – It strikes me that I should explain why I don’t use title/description best practices on this blog; I can’t. Well, I could, but it would be a pain in my ass. This site is on wordpress.com. If I leave it there and want to edit titles/descriptions, that’s another $20/mo in hosting to upgrade to the business plan. Worth it to a business, but my sales are all word of mouth. I could switch to self-hosted WordPress, but that’s annoying, too. Please add this to the (growing) list of: Please do as I say and not as I do.
PPPS – I’m pretty sure something like the image below used to be on the Google titles/descrips guide. Here’s an image showing where title and description usually appear in SERPs, and how sometimes they don’t.
Dan Dreifort consults on search and usability. To the dismay of his wife and cats, he makes sounds with iCurd.com, synthBand.com, and gurtrudeStein.com.