Meta tags can be found on every web page. The two most important ones are the Title and Description Tags. They are, literally, the title and description of how that specific webpage will appear when someone does a search online.
Here’s an example of how tags show up on a search engine results page (SERP). I searched for ‘Tucson bacon’ and my favorite breakfast spot in Arizona (and the entire West!) came up: Oink.
The title tag shows up as the title of the page: “The Oink Cafe – breakfast. lunch. bacon. In Tucson Az.” Also notice how the description tag shows up below the title.
Think of it this way: if your website were a brick-and-mortar store, the title and description tags are the signs in your windows. They tell your customers what they’ll find if they come inside.
Don’t leave this to chance! If you don’t set the description tag for every one of your web pages, Google will automatically extract part of your web page that it thinks is most relevant… and use that instead of the message that you want to give.
Best Practices for the Title Meta Tags
Search engines, including Google, will cut off page titles that are too long. So, the best practice is to keep your title tag 55 characters or less, including spaces.
For your home page, be sure to start with the name of your business. You can then add other keywords. . . such as what you do and your location, to fill out the remaining 55 characters.
For other pages on your site, use a title that is most appropriate for the content on that page. Use appropriate keywords (things and locations that people would search for) and make sure the titles are easily readable and make sense.
Best Practices for the Description Meta Tags
Search engines will also cut off descriptions that are too long. The best practice here is to keep your description tag 155 characters or less, including spaces.
Your description should expand upon the title of your page. This is your opportunity to really entice someone to click through to your website. Be sure to use the keywords that you are targeting and re-emphasize the keywords you’ve used in your title.
If you sell cupcakes, be sure to use “cupcakes” in your title and description tags. If you’ve decided to focus on “artisan cupcakes” or “homemade cupcakes” then use that specific verbiage.
Final Thoughts on Meta Tags
No matter what, look at your title and description tags as if you knew nothing about your business. Would they make sense to someone looking at them on Google? Would they entice someone to click through to your website? That’s the end goal, after all.
Also, don’t overuse keywords in your title and description meta tags. For a long time, spammers “stuffed” keywords into meta tags to rank well in Google. But Google now recognizes this practice and can actually penalize sites who stuff too many keywords in meta tags.
Target specific keywords to specific pages. Use the most relevant keyword on each page and try not to repeat the same keyword on multiple pages. For some very broad keywords that is fine (for instance, “cupcakes”) but not for more specific keyword phrases (“cupcakes for weddings”.)
Use keywords that are also used in the on-page copy. For instance, if you have targeted the keyword phrase “wedding cupcakes” in the title and description tag, be sure that the phrase also occurs on the page. You don’t want to falsely advertise what is on the page, as both Google and visitors will be left feeling deceived.
So get out there and polish the meta tags on your website … the signs on your online storefront! People will see them and know exactly where you are and what you do!