Ingredients. Preparation. Cooking time. Serving size…
These words probably make you think of your favourite recipe, perhaps some comfort food that your parents whipped up often when you were young.
But did you know that these common descriptions are actually part of your web pages’ metadata?
In the broadest sense of the word, the definition of “metadata” is simple: data about data.
Metadata is what we turn to when we want to learn more about the data (or in this case content) that we’re going to be consuming. It often comes in the form of categories, titles, or any other description used to sort information. The codes on the spine of the books in the intro image are another example of metadata.
From an SEO perspective, however, metadata is the information that we see on search results pages. It’s the title of the page as well as the brief block of text that appears directly below the page URL. Collectively, this text tells us (and Google) what the page we are reading is about.
Metadata won’t make or break your SEO efforts as inbound links are still the single most important factor in your site ranking well, but it’s still an essential factor if you want your on page SEO to be complete.
Here are three best practices for using metadata to improve your search ranking:
Include keywords in title tags, but don’t overdo it
Title tags are the phrases that describe the content on your website. For example, the title tag of most blog posts (like this one) will usually be the same as the title you see on the page.
If possible, try to include keywords that you want to rank for in your title tag, but don’t overdo it: your title tag should still read primarily for people. Search crawlers will read the keywords in the title, but Google could penalise your site if it is found that you are just stuffing keywords into your title tag metadata to rank more highly in search results pages.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure you only use a word once in your title. There’s not much point using it more than once anyway as it’s taking up room where you could use another word. Remember, you only have 50-60 characters to work with. Any longer and your title tag will be truncated.
If you have room, try to include the name of your brand as well as one primary keyword that’s relevant to your page and what it has to offer. And try to get that main keyword close to the beginning of the title tag.
Write meta descriptions for people, not robots
Your meta descriptions are a critical part of your metadata when it comes to improving your web traffic, but not for the reasons you may think.
In a post at the Google Webmaster blog from a few years back, it was announced that Google does not use metadescriptions to determine search rankings.
In other words, your metadescriptons have no impact on your search rankings.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the reason is actually a logical one. Back during the early days of search, when search optimisation was fairly lawless, many unethical SEOs stuffed keywords into their meta descriptions to rank higher in search results. Google got wise to this practice after a while and decided to completely remove metadescriptions as a rankings factor.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore them altogether.
So why do meta descriptions matter for search optimisation? A well-written meta description can help entice more traffic to your page, which has a significant influence on your overall web traffic. Also, an interesting meta description will make people more likely to share the page with others who have similar interests.
Another critical element of meta descriptions to keep in mind is its length. General guidelines state that your meta description should be around 130 – 140 characters: any longer and Google will cut your description off. This isn’t inherently bad, but it may have a negative impact on the way that people perceive your page.
Oh, and if you leave your metadescription blank, Google will usually display either the first couple of sentences of your page content, or it will find something on the page relevant to the person’s search term, which could be a good thing as it customises the results for the person. All in all though, it’s better to write a custom metadescription if you can, as this will also be the default sharing text on social media – a factor especially important for blog posts.
Don’t worry about meta keywords
Meta keywords are another form of metadata that can be used on websites, but they don’t matter very much.
Meta keywords are ignored by Google and other popular search engines these days, primarily for the same reason that meta descriptions are: misuse in the early days of SEO. If you do decide to fill out your meta keywords, don’t spend too much time worrying about what you decide to place there.
Metadata might seem like a technical SEO concept, but when you break it down it’s really not all that complicated. All of your metadata should be easy to read and understand for real people, but it’s also wise to make sure you abide by Google’s length and keyword density best practices.
By spending a few minutes optimising your metadata, you can give yourself a significant leg up on your competition when it comes to SEO.