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SEO basics for businesses: what are title tags and meta descriptions?

Anthea England, a SEO Content Writer at McKenzie Partners, explains why title tags and meta descriptions are important for your company’s website.

Have you ever wondered why your site shows up the way it does in search results? Does it have a strange title in blue, like “New Home Page – Business Name Inc.”? You can put that down to something called “meta tags”. The good news is, they are an easy fix! You also don’t need to be a coding expert to get them right.

Meta tags are one of the many building blocks of SEO. Besides impacting the way you show up in search results, your tags can help you get found by Google and also entice customers to click through to your site. So, it’s worth getting them right! 

We get that SEO can be confusing – it’s not a simple equation, do this and get this rank. There are so many factors at play. But there are plenty of steps you can take to make your site more search friendly, so those clicks can start flooding in. One of those is fixing your title tags and meta descriptions. 

What is a title tag and meta description? 

Title tags and meta descriptions are types of meta tags. Meta tags provide extra information about your site to search engines – we call this information metadata. Meta tags are written into the code of a website, so you typically wouldn’t even know they are there.  

The title tag and meta description are particularly important tags to get right, as they are useful for both potential customers and for Google. Unlike many tags which you can’t really ‘see’, the title tag and meta description are visible in search results. 

Here’s an example from a major coffee chain in the UK. When you Google them, this is what appears at the top of the results. 

Title tag and meta description from a coffee chain

The title tag is the big copy in blue and the meta description is the smaller copy in grey. It essentially gives you a preview of what the page is about. Typically, you’d enter this information in the backend of your site when you’re creating each new page.

Getting title tags right is essential for your business 

It’s important to get your title tag right as it helps drive customers to your page and tells Google, or any search engine, what your page is about. 

Title tags make a good (or terrible!) first impression 

For potential customers, the title tag is often the first impression they get of your brand – so you want to make it a good one. That means a clear, compelling title that leaves no question about what you’re offering – this is not the time to be subtle. 

Often when people build websites, they forget to specify a title tag, so it will revert to a default like ‘Untitled Page – Brand Name’. When customers have pages of results to choose from, they’ll often skip by these kinds of pages. For example, what would you prefer to click on: a site that says: “Untitled Page – Tile Company Inc.” or “Tile Company Inc. | Affordable & Stylish Australian Flooring”? 

If a title tag is missing, Google sometimes crawls the site and fills in its own alternative, but it might not necessarily be an accurate reflection of what the site actually offers. That’s why it’s better to specify the tags for your main pages.

Title tags stop customers getting lost 

Anyone else guilty of having a million tabs open on their internet browser? Just us? Well, that’s another nifty use for title tags! The title tag text also appears at the top of the browser.  

Here’s the same coffee chain example from before:

Example of a title tag in a browser

You might have noticed that the order is switched, but the copy otherwise remains the same. So, if your customers have lots of tabs open, it helps them find their way back to your site again easily. 

They advertise your site when it’s shared on social 

The title tag and meta description often show up in all kinds of formats when your website is shared. It’s yet another reason why you want to make meta tags work for you. They can sell your business in search results and sell it via social, too. 

Here’s how the coffee chain example from before appears on Facebook when you share a link to the site. See how it has the same title tag and description?

An example of how a title tag and meta description appear on social

Fun fact: many sites do give you the option to customise a title and description for social shares only, but you can get onto that once you’ve got the basics right! 

They are important for search engines 

Title tags tell search engines like Google what your site is about. That’s why you want to ensure that it has appropriate keywords in it.  

Take our fictional tile example from before: “Tile Company Inc. | Affordable & Stylish Australian Flooring”. 

The main keywords are in there: Tile, Affordable, Stylish, Australian Flooring. However, it’s important to get the balance right – Google will penalise you if you stuff your title with keywords. I.e. “Tile Company Inc. – Quality Tiles | Cheap Tiles | Affordable Tiles | Great Tiles”. That kind of title is bad for Google and also bad for customers – it looks like spam! 

It’s also important to note that the title tag on your home page typically differs from the rest of your pages. For example, you might put your business name up front on your home page, while on other pages, you can leave it out or put it at the end, so you have more space for other keywords.

Why are meta descriptions important?

Meta descriptions are your opportunity to give customers a little more detail about each page and really sell them on your site! 

They get customers to click through to your business 

Typically, you would use a meta description to compel customers to click through to your site. That means a clear description of your offering and a call to action. 

Here’s an example from our fictional tile company.

Example of a title tag and meta description for a fictional tile company

We’ve included a clear call to action – to visit the showroom or browse online – and an offer – 10% off. Plus, we’ve incorporated a concise description of their offering – quality tiles at an incredible price. 

They’re less important for Google – kind of 

Unlike title tags, Google doesn’t actually crawl your meta descriptions for keywords, so they won’t directly impact your rank. This means you can be a little less clinical and a little more creative with how you write them! 

However, they can still impact your rank in a more subtle way. This is because if you have a really compelling meta description, you’ll get more people to click through, which will boost your click through rate… and help improve your ranking. It’s one big SEO cycle.

How do I get great title tags and meta descriptions on my site? 

Meta tags can be updated in the backend of any website. They’re usually pretty easy to locate on each page – there’s often a widget or a box marked ‘SEO’ where you can fill in the information.  

However, there are quite a few guidelines around length, format and keywords that you want to follow to get it right – it truly is an art! If you’re going to write them yourself, make sure you limit your title tag to around 50-60 characters and your meta descriptions to around 155 characters.

Also, just to complicate things, sometimes Google will override your title tag and meta description and serve up alternative copy in search results. There are a few ways around this, but it’s often not a bad thing – Google knows what people are searching for and that your site offers it, so it’s simply reflecting that back in the results. As you saw in the coffee chain example, Google might switch the order of the copy in results, too. For example, if people are searching for your brand and it’s listed at the end of the tag, it might swap it to the front so the right result is clear. Once again, this is more likely to help – not hinder – your business. It also only happens in search results – your specified copy will still show up the way you’ve written it at the top of the browser and when sharing links on social.

Ultimately, tags are important, but they’re just one piece in a really big SEO puzzle – and it can be a puzzle! Ideally they should be part of a wider SEO strategy to improve your rank and drive traffic to your site. However, adding clear, compelling and creative title tags and meta descriptions to your site is an excellent first step to SEO success. 

If you have further questions, if you want us to write your tags or if you’d like an obligation-free SEO audit for your business, get in touch with our team today.