Quick Guide to Meta Titles and Descriptions

Dan has a new logo. Is it a duck? A vomiting Pac-Man? A bulls-eye?

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 should be between 125 and 160 characters (not words!) including spaces. They should not be shorter, and if they’re longer Google will ignore, and people will never read what comes at the end. Try to get closer to the top end of character count. Use regular old sentences most of the time in a description.

Titles should be 40 to 70 characters (not words!) including spaces. They should not be shorter, and if they’re longer Google will ignore, and people will never read what comes after that. Try to get closer to the top end of character count. Use Title/Headline Case for Titles. Definitely avoid sing-songy language in titles. Be direct. Every word counts. Write tersely.

Why do we care about titles and descriptions?

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 snippets where great language will influence us to click on the listing. (See image below, and that first link in this post.)

While I’m not suggesting you directly instruct people to click on your listing; you should often write something engaging, or at least informative (regarding what’s on the page,) using your keyword concepts when appropriate. …without telling them to “click”.
“Learn” – “discover” – “find out how…” – or posing a question answered on the page are all okay, but writing something interesting without a call to action is okay, too, and usually a better use of your crucially limited space for messaging. Avoid vague, click-baity titles which bury the lead. Your title IS the lead.

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.

Google SERP title and description use
Example of Titles and Descriptions in SERPs. …And not. Click image to enlarge.

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.

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