Have you reviewed your site’s formula for creating your page titles and meta descriptions recently? If you have not, let me give you some reasons to give it a second look now. In recent years some search marketers have decried the devaluation for search rankings of metadata – most notably, the titles, descriptions and (let’s not forget) the keywords. It is my contention that the titles and descriptions are the two most undervalued elements of the page. In another post, I’ll take a fresh look at the lowly keyword meta tag and how it fits today. For large database–driven sites, the titles and descriptions are generated based on a formula that dynamically inserts the topical keywords for the page at specific places in the formula. This used to work just fine, but as with most search marketing tactics, those days are behind us.
Google does not like duplicate titles and descriptions and flags them in the Webmaster Tools (WMT). It is safe to say that if Google flags something in the WMT, search marketers should pay close attention to the message. Creating unique titles and descriptions for thousands of pages would not be so hard, except for the fact that Google has so greatly shortened the title that is visible in the search results that it is now a challenge to create a compelling, unique keyword-rich title that conforms to the character limits. The character limit problem is compounded when Google highlights the keywords in the search results. Searchers like that Google shows the keywords they queried in the search results so that they can look at the results and clearly see that the page contains the keywords they used in in their query. This is fine, but since Google uses proportionally spaced highlighting, a title that is slightly too long or even too complex will result in truncation. Mangled titles simply don’t work well for either the site or the searcher.
In the past, the second line in the search results was pulled from the meta description. These too could be created based on a formula and generated dynamically. Enter the land of the rich snippet – the description on steroids, if you will. Through structured data, site owners can now enhance what is shown in the snippet – the little piece of data that gives the searcher information about the page. This is in addition to the plain old description. Today, even if you are using the rich-snippet option, you cannot overlook the description, or worse yet leave it out, or the error of your ways will be shown to you in the WMT. You will be dinged.
Now, here comes the big finish, Google is currently measuring and demoting pages that perform poorly in either click through rates from the search results or have high bounce rates. That is to say, if the searcher does not find the search result compelling enough to click on it, or clicks on it and then finds that the page does not provide the desired information, you will be demoted sooner or later. Lots of effort goes into creating compelling page content, but unless the simple title and description provide a compelling package, the page will not rank well in the search results. In golfing terms, this is akin to driving the ball 250 plus yards and then not being able to chip or putt. Your title should clearly contain the most searched keywords for the page. Then, the description must include a clear call to action. Some retailers are now including wording similar to their PPC listings indicating they offer free shipping and similar customer incentives. If you are still using a tired formula for generating your meta information, you may very well be detracting from you site’s results. Take a look, now is the time to review your most basic search marketing elements, for they provide the firm foundation needed for top performance.