Take control of your search results08 Jun, 2016 Read time: 4 minutes
Controlling your listings in the search results is an essential element of SEO. It’s easy to focus on ways to increase rankings but how are your titles and meta descriptions impacting your click through rates?
One of the first things I discuss with delegates on our SEO courses is the way the Google SERPs have changed over the years. Knowledge graph cards, answer boxes, news results, rich snippets and maps have all changed the appearance of the search results dramatically since the days searches triggered a simple list of 10 blue links.
Throughout all this change there been two constants within the organic results - the clickable title and the description snippet. Other than the decline in their number due to the increase in the other elements mentioned, the format of these have remained pretty much unchanged for several years.
This could be about to change as Google is currently testing expanded titles and description snippets in order to make use of some of the space made available by the removal of paid search ads from the right hand side of the desktop SERPS. A full discussion of these changes can be found here but this potential increase in the length of these elements provides an ideal opportunity to revisit their importance of within your site’s SEO campaign.
HTML page titles and meta descriptions
The organic search title and description snippets are one of the few elements we have (almost) complete control over. As long as they are formatted correctly, and relevant to the content on the page, then the HTML page title and meta description on our pages should directly influence what Google chooses to display here.
These are easy to edit on almost all CMS platforms so there’s no excuse for them not being fully optimised, however it’s surprising how often these most basic of SEO elements are ignored.
Optimising page titles for organic search
Your page titles should always be written with the user in mind rather than search engines (more on that later). However, title tags are still an important ranking factor and optimising them to target the most important keyword for each page can directly impact your rankings.
The following are essential considerations for optimising page titles for search.
Currently your page title should be no longer than 512 pixels in width, although Google is currently experimenting with 600 pixel wide titles within the SERPs. Jellyfish has a preview tool that will help you to determine the correct length. Too long title tags will be truncated in the results pages, reducing their effectiveness.
Make them unique
Every page on your website should have a unique title tag. Duplicated titles across multiple pages make it less likely that Google will be able to make the correct choice as to which of your pages to return for related search queries.
Include your brand
If you don’t include your brand name then Google is likely to do it for you, meaning you lose control on the length and format of the all-important title within the SERPs.
Keep them natural
The page title should include your webpage’s core keywords naturally, but should not be stuffed with unnatural repetitions.
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Start with your main keyword
Weight core keywords towards the start of the page title, leaving brand words to occupy the latter part of the title. The exception here would normally be your homepage, where you brand name should come first.
Your page title and the keywords within it should accurately represent the content of the page and should tell users what they can expect to find when they land there.
Optimising for clicks
While the guidelines above are important for SEO there’s little benefit to appearing higher in the rankings if searchers do not click through to your page. For that reason, it is critical to optimise your page titles and meta descriptions for users in a way that encourages clicks.
When optimising your HTML page descriptions always consider the following.
Include USPs and CTAs
If your page title tells a user what they will find on your page then the meta description should also tell them why to visit or how it will help them. A good structure to remember for your descriptions is what it is, why it’s awesome plus a call to action.
Learn from your PPC campaigns
If you’re running Google Ads campaigns targeting the same pages then use this data to optimise your meta descriptions. Working phrases and CTAs that have worked in paid search ads into your descriptions will increase your click through rates from the organic search results.
Although meta descriptions do not directly impact rankings in the same way as page titles our data from PPC campaigns shows us that including keywords in search ads positively effects click through rates.
As with page titles, Google is currently experimenting with increased description lengths within the SERPs. If this change becomes permanent then make sure you are making the most of the additional opportunity to sell your content to users.
Keep them unique
Using duplicated descriptions across multiple pages will mean Google is likely to create their own descriptions for search results meaning you lose control of your messaging.
And finally…test your key pages!
Testing ad copy is a routine part of optimising paid search campaigns so why not do the same for organic listings? Google Search Console provides click-through rates for your pages via the search analytics function.
Use this to your advantage for optimising your page titles and meta descriptions. Making a record of when you make changes will allow you to monitor their impact via changes to click through rate.