18 Simple Tweaks To Get More Clicks From Your Organic Rankings

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How To Create The Perfect Page Titles & Meta Descriptions

If you’ve been working in search optimisation for any length of time you’ll have heard how important it is to properly optimise your page title tag. Chances are you’ll also have heard that the meta description is also important, but on a lesser scale.

I agree wholeheartedly: getting your onpage SEO dialed in is critical. It’s much easier to rank a site that ticks all the onpage boxes, but that’s not to say it is impossible to rank a poorly optimised site through sheer brute force. However, I would rather make a job easier in the long run and so before I start trying to build links into a site I like to get the basics sorted.

Getting your titles and meta descriptions done properly is a painstaking and at times arduous task, which is something I can attest to. However, when you see the fruits of your labour, ie. ranking higher, then it can actually be a rewarding endeavour. So here we are: 18 tips to help you optimise your page title and meta description.

Gathering Data

It’s possible to create decent titles and meta descriptions from a hunch, or what you perceive to be popular search phrases based on your own knowledge and experience. But really good titles and description tags are built on one thing, and one thing only: good data.

Here’s 4 ways to gather good data that can be used to form the backbone of an optimised title tag and meta description.

  1. Google AdWords Keyword Tool: use this tool to get the estimated volume of searches for keyphrases and uncover related phrases with high volume. It’s worth bearing in mind that some keyphrases are highly seasonal: who in their right mind searches for ‘Christmas trees’ in June?
  2. Google AdWords Traffic Estimator: I like to use this tool to corroborate estimated volumes found in the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.
  3. Analytics: there’s a world of data in your stats package, whether it be Google Analytics, Clicky or something a little more high end such as Omniture. Again, use keyword data from your analytics package to determine trends and guide you towards choosing what keyphrases to optimise for.
  4. PPC Campaign Data: you can get a good idea of what people search for when you run a broadly targeted AdWords campaign for a couple of weeks.

What Keyphrases Convert Into Leads & Sales?

By now you’ll have more data than you can shake a big stick at. But now you need to quality it, and you do that by finding out what keyphrases actually generate revenue. To do this, you’ll need to have some form of goal tracking integrated between your web analytics package of choice and your website.

First of all, let me go slightly off topic for a brief moment to reiterate something you’ll probably already know. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of ranking for vanity phrases, the highly searched for two word keyphrases that your competitors are probably targeting. My point is this: it is very rarely the case that these vanity phrases actually pay for themselves. And there’s little point deluding yourself that if you can rank first for a given range of vanity phrases then you’ll make bank: there’s a big glass ceiling waiting for you in that case.

Here’s a couple of tips to help you find keyphrases that will pay you to rank.

  1. Consider the effect of PPC traffic: while PPC is really useful for keyword research bear in mind that broadmatch keyphrases can really confuse the issue.
  2. Per visit value: track down phrases where there is good search volume and you earn a decent amount per visit. Don’t rule out keyphrases with below average per visit values: it may be that the data is skewed because you don’t rank very high.

Compiling Your Optimised Title Tag

Once you have researched the data on what people actually search for and buy, then you can work on the title itself. When writing title tags I like to have some structure with the most important keyphrase at the start, backed up with a longer variation.

  1. Structure: put your main keyphrase at the start of the title, eg. Blue Widgets
  2. Variety, it’s the spice of life (and titles): try and fit in a longer variation in the title with more keywords (note the singular variation), eg. Find The Cheapest Sky Blue Widget Deal Online Today!
  3. Break it up: use a non alphanumeric character between your main keyphrase and before your longer variation to break them up. You can use anything such as a pipe, hyphen, colon or an arrow.
  4. Include a call to action: real people actually read SERPs and are scanning down that list to see something that appeals to them. So why not include a call to action in your title? Not only will it help differentiate you from your competition, but it also increases your CTR.
  5. Don’t go over 65 – 68 characters max: if your title is long and unwieldy it gets cut off in the SERPs and looks crap. Use this tool to check how many characters are in your title.
  6. Meld it all together: Blue Widgets | Find The Cheapest Sky Blue Widget Deal Online Today!

Customising The Meta Description

The meta description has been widely ignored in SEO circles. In fact, good onpage optimisation is arguably missing from the toolbox of many search marketers now because we rightly or wrongly focus almost entirely on building backlinks.

However, in my own tests in various competitive niches I have seen excellent ROI from optimised meta descriptions. They should read well, like an advertisement designed to appeal to searchers looking for the product or service you offer.

  1. Re-examine data: take another look at the data you gathered earlier and identify variations on your main keyphrase and secondary keyphrases.
  2. Sprinkle in your long tail keyhrases: the meta description is an ideal place to drop in those long tail keyphrases that actually generate revenue.
  3. Work in singular and plural variations: lots of people in the buying cycle search using a singular keyword, eg. unique blue widget for women. In fact in some verticals, like hotels, the majority of searches are singular. I also think that someone searching with a singular keyphrase is further along in the buying cycle: they know what they want, now they just want to find a place to buy it. So don’t miss out on the traffic!
  4. Use the description to sell the sizzle: appeal to prospects in the buying cycle by mentioning your USP: free home delivery, 1 year guarantee, industry leading warranty, 24hr telephone support etc.
  5. Aim for 165 – 170 characters: this is a contentious one, but I’ve seen great results when you treat the meta description like an advertisement with a set number of characters available. Maybe SEOs should start using Twitter more to help get into this mindset of limited character usage! ;)
  6. Put it all together: Find great deals on a cheap small light blue widget for women @ your site. Buy low cost small sized blue widgets with purple accessories today & get free home delivery!

Ideally you would optimise each page on your site in this way, but that’s difficult when you’re working with thousands of products in hundreds of categories. Choose what to optimise for first based on what would give the highest ROI for your business.

13 comments ↓

#1 23 on 10.21.08 at 6:27 am

Honestly this is all pretty basic writing skills extrapolated somewhat for multi-media. The meta-description tag is essentially a thesis statement – and the title needs to be descriptive but not overly wordy.

what I’m surprised by is the lack of detail regarding keyword specificity and density. Personally I believe that the individual posts or pages or articles need to be about one key word specifically, which relates in some fashion to two secondary keywords, and that the keyword density for the primary word should never exceed 2 percent for the overall body of mudkips.

What do you think?

#2 Luke Eales on 10.23.08 at 2:48 pm

Keyword density is an old-school SEO term and I’m surprised to still hear it being used, especially in such a definite, scientific manner as you have.

#3 Ben McKay on 10.23.08 at 3:28 pm

…sorry, disagree with that last comment. You lost me on ‘keyword density’…

#4 Fat Belly on 10.23.08 at 9:00 pm

I think that people should pay more attention to the title and description: SEM experts spend hours tweaking single letters and re-arranging the text to maximize CTR. SEO should give at least some attention to the fact that your SERP result is in fact an advertisement, and it should be adjusted to get the best result.

I think it’s an interesting idea to control the topic of your page in such a way that it has a very narrow focus. However, if that is the case, then what about your index/home page? If your site is fractured into narrowly focused sections, how do you fragement your visitors without diluting your keyword relevance?

#5 Andy Boyd on 10.23.08 at 9:11 pm

@23 – While there may be a role for keyword density, it doesn’t seem to carry as much weight as it once did. In fact, repeating the same phrase over and over on a single page could end with you getting penalised for being over optimised.

@Luke Eales & Ben McKay – I agree, in my opinion it’s now much less about keyword density and more about semantic relevancy. Anyway, why would you want to optimise a single page for just a single phrase like ‘blue widgets’ when you could get it ranking for lots of other related phrases like ‘cheap blue widget’ and ‘light blue mens widget’? That’s the problem with an approach like this: you can end up creating lots of content that actually has very little inherent value that nobody will ever link to, is obviously designed to rank and at the heels of the hunt runs the risk of getting slapped with one of Google’s infamous OOPs.

#6 dan on 10.24.08 at 4:31 pm

i think 23 was joking, guys. (mudkips?)

#7 RedEvo on 10.24.08 at 8:43 pm

If you make your title ELEMENT up to but not more than 70 characters it will all be displayed. If you have to make it bigger make it cut off nicely at 66 chars. Yahoo displays 120 chars.

However, you will see pages ranking for phrases outside 70 chars so to what extent is this curtailing hurting you? Perhaps not at all, but perhaps otherwise.

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#8 Link Love - Monday 03/11/2008 on 11.03.08 at 12:53 am

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#9 Andy Boyd on 11.03.08 at 12:11 pm

@RedEvo – There are lots of sites ranking for high traffic keyphrases with titles longer than 70 characters. But my thinking is that if there are people scanning down the results then what are they going to find more appealing: a well-written title & concise snippet, or a title & snippet that doesn’t read or look well because it’s really nothing more than a long comma separated list of keywords?

If positions in the organic results were paid for, I bet you’d see webmasters caring a lot more about titles. ;)

#10 Bharath Reddy on 11.07.08 at 7:09 pm

PERFECT!!!

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#12 Manchester SEO on 05.23.10 at 9:52 pm

Great tips. Another one I would add is to try and mould your titles so that they have a few exact match phrases in them, for example…

“Blue Widgets | Cheap Blue Widget Deals Online Today!”

Has both “blue widgets cheap” and “cheap blue widgets” in. Obviously this isn’t the best example but it illustrates my point and I feel it is an easy to implement tip that is often overlooked

#13 Google Gurus SEO on 06.05.10 at 3:58 pm

Great tips! I often see keyword stuffed titles ranking well in the SERPs, which of course is great, but I bet their CTR is much lower than it could be with a well written title tag!

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