Meta title and description

Overview: What are they? Do they matter?

When you do a web search, look at the listings. Each will contain a title for the page it links to, and a brief description of that page.A good title is the name of the company or website and maybe brief information about what you’ll find on that particular page. (Like YourPet.com: Pet Supplies for Dogs, Cats, and more.) A good description includes your location, and what you do, who you serve, and if you have space, why someone should choose you. “A Pampered Pooch, Bellevue, WA. We provide dog daycare, boarding, and grooming. Your dog deserves the best in individualized care.”

But not all titles and descriptions are great. I’m sure you’ve noticed that sometimes descriptions are very odd and nonsensical… like strings of keywords, or an odd phrase that seems to have been snipped at random from a page. Or the description says something terribly out of date.

For example, I just did a search for “dog” and one of the page titles says “Your Dog Supplies Store. Warning: save 87% on”. Not an inspiring title that makes me want to do business with the store… On descriptions, one says “Related Boards… Prairie Dog Sounds. Prairie dog is a burrowing rodent that lives in western North America. The animal gets its name from”. it’s useful because it tells me the site is about prairie dogs, not dogs, but otherwise I’m not sure what the point of the site is. Or this description: “Navigate: Home; Grooming Services; Frequently Asked Questions; Groomer Bios; Testimonials; About Us;” where I can tell it just took the names of the tabs on the page. Or another problematic description: this summer I discovered a description that said “2008 Summer Camps being offered for 3 – 5 year olds.” Not a reassuring description if I’m looking for a preschool in 2014.

You really want a good title. You especially want a good description. Something that will inspire people to click on your listing.

Depending on what web design tool you use, you may or may not have control over exactly what your title and description say. However, even if you can’t write them yourself, you can influence them. (For example, on Word Press.com, it auto-populates, but you have good control over what it says.) Read on to learn how:

Title

Every webpage has a “title” in the HTML code. It’s what appears in google/bing search results as the name of the site, and it shows in the tab at the top of a page on your web browser. This is not necessarily something that appears at the top of your page content when you view your site!

To see your current page title, go to your webpage, right click, and choose “view source”. You’re looking for something that looks like this <title>Your Title here</title>)

If you can edit this in your code, and write your own title, do!

If it auto-populates, figure out where it gets the words from and put the words you want there. (See my Word Press example for how this works in one web design tool.)

Content of an effective title: It’s a good idea to put thought into your title – it needs to include your name – I think it needs to include your location, although some places choose to put a tagline or “motto” instead of location. Titles are limited to 64 characters. So an example would be: “Joe Bob’s Co-op Preschool: play-based learning in Bellevue, WA.” With some software, you can put a unique title on each page. Most people do things like the page name followed by the general site title, so the “About Us” page would be “About Us – Joe Bob’s Co-op Preschool in Bellevue, WA.”

WordPress.com notes: WordPress auto-populates this. (On WordPress.org, I think you can get a plug-in to edit this…) Your home page title will be the site title and tagline that you enter on the “Settings: General” page. (So, on my blog, it’s “More Good Days – Parenting Blog | Research, Resources & Realistic Recommendations for Parents of Kids age 1 to 5.” Now, that’s way more than 64 characters, so it doesn’t all display. On this site, it’s “Janelle Durham / Childbirth & Parent Educator, Social Worker, Author & Mom”). So, be sure that title and tagline are exactly what you want.

On all your other pages, it lists the page title followed by your site title. (So, my page “resources for educators” has the title “Resources for Educators | More Good Days – Parenting Blog.” This page you’re reading is titled “Meta title and description / Janelle Durham.”) You control the name of your page or post. When you write a post, you’ll see right below the title where it says “Permalink” then displays a URL, then offers a button to edit. Edit that down to a really nice short tidy page title.

Description

Webpages also have meta descriptions that are in the HTML code. In the search results, this is the short description that shows under the name of the web page. Again, the words in the description may not actually appear in the content of the page that readers see.

It’s important to have a good description, as this is what helps someone decide whether they want to bother clicking through to your page at all. They have pages and pages of search results to choose from, so you want to make sure that your description sells your site as something they want to look at.

To see your current description, go to your web page, right click, choose view source. You’re looking for something like <meta id=”Description” content=”Dog.com is your source  … at great low prices!”></meta> or <meta name=”description” content=”Dogchannel.com, a comprehensive dog resource center … and dog tips.” />

What if your site doesn’t have a description? Look at your search listing. Google will just make its best guess, and select some random words off the page – sometimes this makes for a good description – sometimes it doesn’t. It may also choose different words based on what the person searched for. Like if I searched for “coop preschool Bellevue” it will look for a phrase like that and use that as a description. If I looked for “play-based preschool” it might choose a different phrase.

If you have the ability to write your own descriptions, you want to!  You could choose to have one description that appears for all pages on your site, or you have the option of making a unique one for each page, which takes a little time, but can be worth doing to make your site that much more appealing and easier to find in searches.

If you can’t write your own description, then do what you can to influence it. Take a look at the description Google found for you. Where did they pull it from on your page? They may have taken your first 160 characters on the page (see WordPress note below) or they may have chosen something that was formatted specially – like as a “Heading” format, or written in bold or underlined… something that says “this is the important text”. So, only use those formats on the important text on a page!

Content of a good description: They should include important keywords that people would search for (examples: cooperative, preschool, parent, your location, ages served, “low cost”, play-based) and they want to sound appealing – this is your “sales pitch” in a handful of words. Descriptions are limited to 160 characters long generally. You can go to 265 – but only the first 160 display. So, most appealing stuff is in first 160 characters, and Identifying information can come after that. Sample with first 160 characters in bold: “Joe Bob’s coop preschool – play-based discovery & hands-on exploration for kids, age 3 – 5. Education and support for parents. Come join our learning community! Located in Bellevue, WA near Factoria Mall.”

Notes for WordPress.com: They auto-populate descriptions, using the first 160 characters that appear in a page’s content. I don’t think there’s any possible way to edit them. So, re-write your content as needed to make sure that the first few lines of each page are a really good summary, and will stand alone as a representation of the page and your school. Then you can put all the details down and philosophical thoughts about your program down below.

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