There’s plenty of jargon surrounding online visibility, from SERPs to meta descriptions and CTRs, if you’re not a marketer these terms can mean very little to you. Your online visibility and web traffic are important so now is the time to get on top of what this all means and how to make it work for your business.
Let’s break it down!
- SERPs – Search engine results pages, this is where your business can appear in Google, Bing or other search engines when people search for your brand or keywords that match your content
- Meta Title and Description - The title and short description that appears in the SERPs
- CTR – Click-through rate, it’s measured by a number of times web users click-through on one of your links to a web page, blog post, article, offer, or advert
- Ranking – The position at which your brand appears in search results
- Semantic Search - Understanding the searcher's intent and the contextual meaning of keywords
- Bounce Rate - The percentage of visitors who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page
- Dwell Time – The amount of time spent on a page after coming from search
- CTA – Call-to-action, a word of phrase encouraging people to take action, to click, copy or share
Obviously, as marketers, we want to have some control over the way our brand is displayed on the most popular platforms and increase our CTRs for more traffic, conversions and revenue.
Let’s talk about how we can do this with metadata!
The clickable title, URL and descriptions that appear in search results are very much under your control.
Here’s an example:
These elements should relate clearly to the content on the page, it’s important for your visitors and the search engines that you deliver what you promise. Titles and meta descriptions help people to determine what your web page or article is all about. More importantly, they should grab attention and help to persuade people to click on the link. You can include a call-to-action or benefit for the web user to encourage them to click.
Does metadata have an effect on search engine ranking?
Yes, but in a different way than they used to. Google’s shift towards semantic search means that your title and description tags do not necessarily need to contain the exact keyword you rank for. In fact, it’s likely that 40% of search results will not contain the exact keyword you typed into search. Computer learning and more precisely something called Rankbrain (Google’s machine learning artificial intelligence algorithm), has made it easier for Google to understand what words and phrases mean similar things and to better understand searcher intent.
Search engines will still compare your title and description tags to other content on your page and use this to understand what the content is about. So rather than being one of the top ranking signals for search engines, these tags are an important part of the signals they use to determine rank and relevance.
Another factor that makes these tags important in terms of ranking well in SERPs is their impact on click-through rate. It’s clear that Google is paying attention to how many people click on links in search and what they do once they reach your page. CTR, dwell time and bounce rate are official ranking factors and performing well in these areas will help you rank well to begin with and retain good rankings over time.
Improving your meta titles and descriptions will improve your CTR, and your improved CTR improves your search ranking. Ensuring these elements are relevant and descriptive of what your page offers will help to increase page dwell time and your website’s navigation and calls-to-action will help combat a poor bounce rate. Furthermore, a lot of marketers still ignore these opportunities, which opens up a competitive window that you can exploit to stay ahead of the competition.
What happens if you don’t add metadata to your pages and posts?
Not including metadata or worse, restricting access from your robot.txt file can have a significant impact on how your brand appears in search. Google will most likely pull a snippet from your first paragraph of content, ending the snippet with …
This not only eliminates the opportunity to pitch your content to searchers but leaves unfinished sentences and just looks plain bad!
Limiting your metadata through a poorly thought out robots.txt file (used by search engines to understand what parts of your content to index) is likely to result in no description being displayed or a snippet advising that you’ve limited it from this file. It’s hardly likely to encourage anyone to click through to your content!
Google is displaying a different title and description, what happened?
Sometimes when you have a page with a lot of information your content relates well to a searcher's query but your chosen metadata doesn’t. If your content is giving other good signals, then Google may decide to present a relevant snippet from your page content instead of your metadata.
How to supercharge your website’s metadata
Keep your meta tags the right length
While there’s no limit on how many characters your meta title or description can or should be, Google only shows around 55 characters for a title and 160 characters for a description. The actual limit is based on pixels and some other elements effect the length too. For example, if your content is an article and the date is specified in search then your description is likely to be between 136 and 146 characters.
Some CMS (content management systems) give guidance on appropriate lengths of these tags but if not we recommend a great tool from SEO Mofo. Take a look at their Google SERP Snippet Optimization Tool, it also allows you to add a date and other snippet info to see how this affects the display.
Check spelling and grammar
We use Grammarly to ensure all our copy is perfect and metadata is no different. See the little green and red circles on our snippet optimiser? This is Grammarly at work! The plugin for Chrome and Firefox browsers checks our emails, blog posts and any other text areas we complete and alerts us to potential spelling and grammar errors.
Set realistic expectations
Play fair with your website visitors and it’ll increase your dwell time, helping you maintain those hard earned rankings. Make sure that your metadata explains what’s in your content, the benefits to the reader and doesn’t make false promises. Avoid overselling your content and instead, deliver what the searcher expects.
Make your metadata a CTA
When we talk about calls-to-action we’re usually trying to encourage an audience to do something; click, share, buy etc. In terms of metadata, we want people to click so we need to offer a positive outcome as a reward for taking this action. Ask searchers to learn, discover or gain insight and tell them what their reward will be.
You can play on a person’s pleasure and pain responses by showing them what they can achieve or what they might be missing out on, here’s a good example:
“Discover the digital marketing must-haves infographic for 2017, with our favourite tools and services to make sure you're at the top of your game”
Include the focus keyword
While we don’t speak in terms of optimising content for a particular keyword anymore, finding a relevant keyword from your keyword group is a good idea. Google will highlight searches that match your keyword (or a phrase that has a similar meaning) in bold type in the search results. This can help convince searchers that your page contains content relevant to their search.
Be concise, realistic and focused on the content you’re offering. Like all good digital marketing techniques, the trick is to be relevant. Your metadata is part of your content so make sure it’s all great quality and offers what your target audience is interested in.