One of the crucial components of SEO and content work is understanding how on-page SEO affects your search engine optimisation strategy. Working with metadata and ensuring that your metadata can be easily read by Google is one of the best ways to optimise your pages to rank on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Whether this is your first time finding out about metadata or you’re a seasoned expert, it’s always great to brush up your knowledge and find new ways to improve our SEO skills – our guide will take you through what metadata is and how it works, as well as meta titles and meta descriptions are, and how to write them effectively.
What is metadata and how does it work?
Metadata is defined as “data that provides information about other data” and there are lots of different types of metadata you can find online, from legal metadata to statistical metadata. The type of metadata SEO writers and strategists are concerned with is descriptive metadata.
Descriptive metadata is primarily used for the identification of what a website page is trying to show us – it gives a description of the content of a page, as well as who wrote it and why they wrote it. Metadata is added to a document’s HTML code when uploaded to a website.
Metadata can be created manually or automatically, however, usually manual creation is more accurate because it allows the author to include information that they think is most relevant, like including extra keywords to help Google find the page easily.
Its primary function is to help web crawlers and search engines like Google find the page in question and apply their ranking algorithm to it – this enables search engines to show it to the right people when they search for similar content.
Is metadata still relevant for search engine optimisation?
Metadata used to be used by search engines for ranking content, but it quickly became a way for us sneaky SEO writers and strategists to manipulate the ranking algorithms to bump our content higher up the SERP rankings. Many search engines no longer use metadata as part of their ranking algorithm thanks to plenty of updates.
However, metadata is still crucial for your interactions with web users. It’s necessary to inform users of your page’s content, and users are more likely to click on your website link if the meta-data fulfils their search intent. This has a knock-on effect on Google rankings, as they DO use click-through rate as a ranking factor. If you can show both Google and web users that your website has both quality and considered content, it will show up in more SERPs.
It’s worth noting that if you fail to provide any metadata at all, Google will scan your content to pull through the information that it thinks is most relevant and create metadata for you automatically – so it’s much better to create your own so you can be in charge of how your website is presented on SERPs!
You can see metadata on search engine results pages as a summary or overview of the page that the search engine thinks are relevant to your search. Descriptive metadata in the SEO sense is generally made up of two parts – a meta title and a meta description.
What is a meta title?
The meta title is the main title of a web page. For example, the title of a blog, a “contact us” page, or even a category of clothing on a fashion website could all be used as a meta title. This typically includes key information like the name of the website or the company that runs the website, as well as crucial keywords that Google can use to show your content to the right audience.
How to write a meta title
There are four key pieces of information you need to remember when writing your meta titles:
- Meta title length should be between 50 and 60 characters
- End your meta titles with the name of your brand/company
- Include the title of your page which should be your main keyword
- Separate the segments of your meta title so they don’t all run together
You can use different types of symbols and punctuation, such as dashes, hyphens, bullet points, or a pipe. For example, Instagram currently uses bullet points, while we at connective3 prefer to use pipes.
If you follow this format, your meta titles will look similar to this:
Blog Title | Additional Keyword | Company/Brand Name
Guide to Metadata | How to Write Meta Titles | connective3
It’s really important to make sure you’re writing your metadata for humans to read – yes, it’s used by Google to help you rank, but if it doesn’t make any sense, then real users with search intent won’t be interested in clicking on it. Similarly, make sure you keep your meta title and meta description relevant to the topic you cover on that webpage, as you can be penalised by Google for misleading content!
You could also be penalised for duplicate content too, and this can be difficult to avoid when perhaps you sell multiple products under one umbrella term. Finding alternative keywords to use will help your pages reach more users using long-tail keywords. You can find out more about long-tail keywords and how to find the right keywords in our guide to keyword research.
You don’t want users to have less trust in your site – you want them to believe your site will be comprehensive, trustworthy, and informative. And the best way to get that across is in your meta description.
What is a meta description?
The meta description describes what your page is going to provide for website users, whether it’s showing them a product or service, or providing information or entertainment. This sits underneath the meta description, so if your meta title has caught a user’s attention, they may read your meta description to find out if your content truly matches their search intent and what they want to find.
This content should be compelling, calling the user to click on your website link and providing a good balance of keywords to encourage users to find out more without keyword stuffing.
How to write a meta description
To create a meta description that is both compelling and reads well, there are three points to follow:
- Keep your character limit under 155 characters – Google often changes how much of your meta description is shown, so keeping your meta description to this length ensures that it can always be read.
- Consider starting with a question that echoes that of the user intent e.g., if you’ve written a blog on the benefits of moisturiser, you could start your meta description with “Looking for a fix for your dry skin?” This will hook the reader by mirroring their concern and hints at the fact that you might have the answer in your content.
- Including a call to action such as “read our blog” or “find out more here” is a great way of encouraging users to click through to your website.
Keeping your meta description short and snappy is crucial if you want it to be read on most devices. A good way to check if your meta description is the right length is by using online character counter tools or even the character counter tool on Word.
It’s really important with your meta description that you are telling the reader exactly what you’ll be talking about in your content – don’t promise to tell them something that you can’t deliver on. Google’s ‘Helpful Content’ update in August 2022 ensures that websites that are found to have misleading content will be penalised, and these penalties can affect how all of your content is viewed on search engines. We’ve got a great blog on how to write blogs for SEO which gives a lot more insights on how to keep your content relevant. You can also read more about the implications of the update in our “Google’s ‘Helpful Content’ update” blog.
Meta data tips
Now that you have the basics of metadata down, it’s worth knowing a couple of extra tips to ensure that your metadata is polished every time you write it:
- Keep your content concise
- Check to see if your metadata could be improved using Google Search Console – if you rank highly but don’t have a matching click-through rate, then you may need to alter your metadata.
- Make sure your metadata says exactly what you’re going to cover in your content – you don’t your metadata to be misleading or you could be penalised by Google.
- If your keywords don’t fit, don’t worry about including them in your meta description – your top priority is letting the reader know what they will find out from your content.
Your metadata may only be a small component of your content, but it carries a lot of weight as it’s what search engine users will first encounter of your website, so selling your content, your site and your products are all done with this first impression of fewer than 160 characters.
If you find that you’re still struggling to wrap your head around metadata, why not reach out to our team here at connective3, and check out our SEO and Organic Content services for all the different ways we can help you with online content? Our knowledgeable content and SEO strategists can help bring the A-game to your metadata and digital content. We’ve also got plenty of helpful advice and insights from our industry experts in our blog, which cover everything from PR to Paid Media and Marketing.