How to Audit Your Website’s Title Tags and Descriptions
Local SEO with third-party review sites, guest posts on external blogs, ongoing content marketing, and social media community building get all the attention, but make no mistake—onsite optimization is still crucial if you want your site to rank in Google. Technical factors, like your site navigation, mobile optimization, design, and speed, all play into how authoritative your site is seen, but don’t neglect the basics; how you present your site through title tags and meta descriptions plays a huge role in how Google views your site.
In case you weren’t aware, “title tags” are short titles you give to the individual pages on your site, while “meta descriptions” are short sentences you use to describe them. These aren’t publicly visible on your site itself (for the most part), but instead are written into your site’s code to feed information to search bots. When users see your web page in search results, the title will appear in blue at the top and the description will be in black text underneath. Additionally, Google uses this information to interpret the pages of your site, and if it likes what it sees, it will increase your authority and categorize you as it deems appropriate.
What Makes for a Good Title Tag or Description?
The requirements for a good title or description have changed significantly following Google’s many quality updates. Back when Google used keywords almost exclusively, optimizing your title tags was a glorified method of keyword stuffing. You would identify a dozen target keywords or so, and use them on a rotating basis in all your titles and descriptions, sometimes using two or more in a single entry. Today, Google’s search algorithm is much more sophisticated, and stuffing your titles with keywords is a surefire way to get a penalty.
If you want to ensure your titles and descriptions lend you the best possible domain authority, make sure they follow these rules:
- First, make sure your titles and descriptions are well-written in a way that makes sense. Including ten random words in a row will not earn you any authority. You’ll also need to make sure titles and descriptions are present for every page on your website.
- Google only reads a limited amount of text in your titles and descriptions, so keep them concise. Titles should be no more than 100 characters, including spaces, while descriptions should be no more than 170.
- Titles and descriptions should both be accurate to whatever it is they’re describing. This is important not only because it tells Google exactly what your page is doing, but also because it forms a user’s first impression of your site, and can dictate whether a user clicks through. Remember, Google is pretty good at understanding the semantics of your page titling, so as long as you keep it accurate, you should face no categorization problems.
- Titles should be in title case, while descriptions should be in sentence case.
- Avoid salesy language in either the title or description. Adjectives like “best,” “great,” or “awesome” will be red flags to Google that you’re trying to sell a product.
- Speak concisely; you’re working with a limited amount of space in both titles and descriptions, so you want your words to count.
- In titles, focus on introducing the concept and avoid any overly descriptive language.
- In descriptions, focus on describing the product concisely, and include any and all technical specifications you can.
- Any duplicates are taboo. No titles or descriptions on your site should be verbatim matches to any other title or description.
Now that you know what to look for in your title tags and descriptions, you can audit your site to ensure your full compliance.
Where to Find Your Title Tags and Descriptions
Different backend systems offer title tags and descriptions in different ways. In a WordPress CMS, these should be easily editable on the page level for each of your web pages. In other CMS systems, they may be consolidated in their own area. You may need to work with a developer if you cannot find a way to easily edit them.
Beyond that, you can and should rely on Google Webmaster Tools to run reports on your title tags and meta descriptions. Once installed, head to the Search Appearance tab and click on HTML Improvements. Here, Google will give you a handy list of any problems it detects with your titles or descriptions. Overly long, overly short, non-descriptive, and duplicate titles and descriptions are listed, as well as any pages that are missing these entirely. Depending on the number of these that are present, you can open and export a report to show you the full list. This makes it easy for you to learn which ones need changed and then change them one by one.
How Often to Run the Audit
Chances are, unless you have a full team of people making regular edits to your website, you won’t need to run this audit often. Your titles and descriptions are static, not dynamic, so once you make a change, that change will likely stay. However, if you have a habit of adding new pages or deleting old ones, or if you’re launching a new site, it’s imperative that you run a new audit to make sure that your new site layout is still in compliance with best practices. Generally, running this once every two or three months is ample.
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