Archive for October, 2011

How to Write Meta Tags

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

If you asked me “What is the #1 thing I can do to improve my website’s rankings?” I’d tell you to make sure it has meta tags that use the key phrases you want to rank for AND are compelling to potential customers.  In my last post I explained what meta tags are and how they work. In this post, I’m going to show you how to write them so they help your rankings and get visitors to your website.

Some Things You Need to Know Before You Start Writing

First things first. You’ve done your research, right?
Just because you think you know what key phrases your customers use to find you doesn’t mean you do. Time and again I’ve seen clients who think they know what they want to rank for realize they had missed a whole segment of key phrases or realize people search on one variation much more often than another. Unfortunately, it takes several months to realize the problem is poorly targeted key phrases. Don’t guess. KNOW.


Serving 2 Masters
Ranking well in search engines gets you website visitors. Humans pay your bills. That’s why you have 2 masters: search engines and real live people. Unfortunately how you write for each is different. If search engines were your customer, you would just jam your key phrases in wherever you could fit them. That’s called “key word stuffing” and it annoys people. You might get your website to show up higher in the search results but if your listing is just a list of words, people won’t click over to your website.

I often say that search engine optimization is an art and a science. The science is key phrase research. The art is writing meta tags and page copy that appeals to both masters. You need to strive for a balance between using your key phrases and writing in a way that makes sense to humans. Who trumps who? When in doubt write for humans first.


Map Key Phrases to Pages
A common mistake made by people new to search engine optimization is to try to get every web page to rank for a whole bunch of key phrases. Realistically, one web page can only rank for 2 – 4 key phrases. So, in order to cover a decent range of key phrases, you need to map key phrases to web pages.

Let’s assume you have 12 web pages and a list of 24 key phrases you want to rank for. Don’t just assign 2 to each page. Assign each key phrase a relevance ranking; I use a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the most relevant. Then map your key phrases to pages using the most relevant ones more often than the less relevant ones.


Write Unique Tags for Each Page
It might be really important to you to rank #1 for “business coach in Boston, MA” but you’re not going to get there by using that in the title tag for every page of your website. You might think it helps your site overall but keep in mind, search engines rank web pages not websites.  And search engines want to know what this page is about.


Tips for Writing Title Tags

How long should a title tag be?
Common wisdom is that a title tag should be 70 – 75 characters with spaces. However, while humans may not see it, search engines will index far past 75 characters.

Should we use our company name in the title tag?
There is debate about whether or not you should start you title tag with your company name. The beginning of a title tag is prime real estate and since the only people searching on your business name already know who you are, I start with key phrases likely to be used by people who don’t know you yet. (Plus, if your website doesn’t rank for your business name, you’ve got bigger problems than meta tags.)

What key phrases should go in the title tag?
My advice for which key phrases to use, falls into 2 categories:

  1. Competition –Since search engines give the words in the title tag a lot of weight, I say put your most competitive key phrases in your title tag. But then there’s…
  2. Relevance – Since the purpose of all this work is to get customers, it’s more important that your web pages rank for key phrases that actually describe what you are selling.


Tips for Writing Description Tags

How long should a description tag be?
Because different search engines display different numbers of characters, common wisdom is that a description tag should be between 160 and 175 characters long. However, Jill Whelan of High Rankings Advisor says “Description tags can be as long or as short as you want, because Google will display just the relevant part of it. So even if your meta description is hundreds of words, Google will pull a snippet from it that uses the keyword phrase that the searcher used.”

What goes in the description tag?
I think of the description meta tag as “making the sale” for why the searcher should click on your link as opposed to the other 9 search results. In order to make the sale, you need to know who you’re talking to and what they want. Instead of talking about what you do, talk the problem they are trying to solve or the solution they are looking for.

Do a few searches and you’ll see that most description tags are written like “We provide the best, most reliable baloney at the lowest prices. Blah, blah, blah.” If you can turn it around to say, “All our customer service reps are licensed and bonded and have at least 5 years experience in the field. We also give a money back guarantee.” Your listing WILL get more clicks.


Write Meta Tags at the Design Stage

Putting up a website is a huge job and one of the things that tends to get put off is writing meta tags. Usually the web designer puts up place holder meta tags like “XYZ Company Home Page” with the intention of coming back and adding real meta tags later. Later doesn’t come until you start looking into why the website isn’t generating any business.

I know in the rush to finish a website, meta tags is one more thing to add to the To Do list. But! If you do it while writing copy and coding the site it will take a lot less time and get your website working for you sooner than if you do it several months down the road.


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