How to Write Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in 2023
April 13, 2023
The problem for most SEOs and writers is not knowing how to combine the power of copywriting with SEO best practices. This means sub-par titles and meta descriptions that get neither decent CTR, nor help rank the page higher.
If you want to know how to write optimal page titles and meta descriptions, go straight to our section on optimisation. But first, let’s understand what they are and why they are critical to your SEO success.
What are page titles and meta descriptions?
Page titles & meta descriptions are small pieces of HTML code found on a webpage. These tags describe what a page is about. They're important as when you search a keyword in Google - these are the tags that you see; in the form of a title with a description underneath.
They quickly give searchers context on a page and if it’s relevant to their search. If a title and meta description are not filled out (or poorly written), the page is at a greater risk of not being clicked.
Imagine the google search results are like a bookshelf in a library. You quickly want to see the title and description of a book, to see if it’s relevant and interesting to you. Same with titles and meta descriptions.
If you’re reading this now - you’re probably well used to reading these titles and descriptions in Google. Now let’s get into the specifics of exactly what they are.
What are page titles?
Page titles are specified tags in a webpage's HTML. It is written as <title> in HTML.
So let’s say your page title is ‘What is SEO’ - it would be written in HTML as:
<title> What is SEO </title>
You will see this tag in search results for a page and in the tab of a page. It is important to note, that once on a page, the ‘page title’ is invisible to users. The visible title that you see on a page is typically a H1 tag.
So let’s take an example for our page on SEO Bookmarklets. You can see the specified title below in search results & in the tab title of the browser (although it is truncated). Furthermore, when you bookmark a page, this is the title that you will automatically see.
Again, this is not the title that you see, once on the page. That’s (probably) a H1 tag. And while often the text is similar or even the same - it is a different tag.
What is a meta description?
Like page titles, meta descriptions are also specified in a page’s HTML. It’s written as <meta> in HTML. So for example, let’s say the meta description is ‘this is a persuasive meta description with great copywriting so you should click.’ - it would be written in HTML as follows:
<meta name= “description” content=“this is a persuasive meta description with great copywriting so you should click.”>
You will see the meta description in the search results directly underneath the title. See below using our bookmarklets example.
Again like the title tags - you do not see meta descriptions directly on the page.
Why do titles and Meta descriptions actually matter?
It’s been a little technical up to this point. But at a basic level - if the title and meta descriptions are written well and are contextually relevant to the search term - then the likelihood of someone clicking on your page is much higher.
Good titles & meta descriptions increase the chances of traffic. But it’s not just for humans. Google (and other search engines) pay attention. This leads onto the next question.
Are page titles and meta descriptions a ranking factor?
Yes and no. Or specifically, Page titles are a ranking factor whereas meta descriptions technically are not. Let’s understand more.
Your title tags are one of the most important on-page SEO ranking factors that you have direct control over. What you choose to put in here, is giving search engines a massive hint as to what the page is about.
For this reason, keyword research and choosing a relevant keyword that still reads well is vital in page titles. So yes, page titles are a ranking factor.
Meta descriptions, on the other hand, are not a direct ranking factor. We say not ‘directly’, as a well-written meta description can increase CTR (click through rate) and thus improve overall SEO performance. So while they aren't technically a ranking factor - it’s absolutely still worth filling out.
Is CTR important for Google search results?
Absolutely yes. If you’re getting more clicks, that means more traffic and a greater chance of leads and revenue.
However, the typical question is if CTR is a ranking factor in of itself? This is a debate among SEO’s. However, there seems to be a lot of evidence to suggest that a strong CTR can directly improve rankings.
Either way, a higher CTR is only good for your site.
How long should titles and meta descriptions be?
In general, aim to keep your titles around 60 characters. For meta descriptions, it should be about 160 characters. Anything after this length, typically tends to get truncated in the search results.
(To note, search engines will still pay attention to words that appear in titles after truncation - but the longer the title, the less important each subsequent word will be. This makes sense, as otherwise SEO’s would be stuffing in keyword dictionary definitions! More on keyword stuffing and what to avoid below)
How to optimize page titles and descriptions?
The following 6 ways are the best ways to encourage clicks AND play by SEO rules with your titles & meta descriptions.
1. Understand search intent - Make it contextually relevant
This is the most important tip. Your title and description must be contextually relevant to the page. And if the page has any chance of ranking, it must match the search intent.
By search intent, Ask: Is the page relevant to what the user is searching for? And is it the type of page that Google is rewarding?
Let’s take an example search term: ‘’Electricians London’.
As you can see below, the pages are mostly home & service type pages (a blog post in this example would not match the search intent. The user wants to see homepages and/or service pages).
And critically, the titles are also matching search intent. In other words, they’re relevant to the search term.
A title like ‘Electricians Manchester’ would be no good here. Likewise ‘Plumber London’ would also fail to meet the search intent.
So bottom line: Understand what the user is searching for and keep the titles & descriptions contextually relevant.
(A good question to ask yourself: For any given keyword you want to target - Do you know the exact page you want users to land on? If you don't know what that page is yet - you might need to create the right page. Then you can create a relevant title & meta description)
2. Look at the other results. How can you make your page stand out?
Often many SERPs (Search engine results pages) regurgitate very similar titles. This leads to a sea of sameness in the SERP. For the user (who likely has zero knowledge or allegiance to your site or any result), they will typically skim and pick the best result.
Note: the higher up the search results, the greater the advantage you have.
However, a little creative copywriting can help distinguish your page. Consider in your titles & meta descriptions:
Because you see 10 results ranking - it doesn't mean they’re the best possible results. It doesn't mean they’re giving the user everything they need to know. Something has to rank number 1. But that doesn't mean it’s the best. The question you need to ask:
Is there anything that’s missing from competitor titles that would interest the searcher? And hit upon their search intent?
3. Use copywriting and persuasive psychology best practices
Following on from the above - Consider how you can make your title and description more alluring. For example, Robert Cialdini, author of the famous book ‘ Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion’ cites reciprocation as a key persuasive trigger.
The basic premise is if someone does something for you - you’ll feel obliged to reciprocate. So in the digital world, a headline with the word ‘free’ in it - is often the biggest driver of reciprocation and thus clicks.
Check out the below headlines from Ahrefs Database. It’s a lot of traffic. (Free is a magic word in marketing)
A core component of copywriting is tuning into WIIFM (What’s in it for me). Tune into the reader’s reason for searching and give them a reason to click. Writing hacks can help but fundamentally - you must still obey rule 1 and make it relevant to search intent.
4. Use call to actions (CTA)
This follows on nicely from our copywriting tips. Summarizing the main benefit in a call to action, gives the user the impetus to click. So what type of call to action should you use? Again go back to rule number 1. What would be contextually relevant?
For example, a search term like ‘buy mens tennis shoes’ has commercial intent. And therefore, it’s mostly ecommerce category and high-intent articles that appear. So, maybe a CTA could be ‘shop today’. Or ‘Get Free delivery’ (again using that magic word free).
If it’s more of a discovery search term, for example - ‘What are tennis shoes?’ A call to action could be ‘Discover the must-know tennis shoe secrets’.
Generally meta descriptions are the best place for call to actions, as they have a greater character limit. Just keep your call to actions specific & to the point.
5. Get the length right - Don’t waste SERP real estate
A typical mistake we see on titles is underutilized space. If you’ve up to 60 or so characters in your title - use them.
(An example from the Gov.UK website. Their titles and descriptions can definitely be fleshed out more)
For example, let’s say you own a dog grooming business in Chicago. An appropriate title for your ‘dog grooming service page’ could be ‘Dog Grooming Services’. An even better title would be ‘ Dog Grooming Services Chicago’ (For a lot of local businesses, putting in a location modifier, is a great way to get more specific to many searches).
You can add more onto the title. For example, many businesses add their brand name at the end. It’s not compulsory, but if you’ve built up brand equity in your market - it’s a good place to use it. Plus, adding the brand is something that Google actively encourages.
Same problem with meta descriptions…
Character length is also commonly misused with meta descriptions. We often see many pages with no meta description. Depending on the page, this may not be an issue as Google will pull text from the content and display that instead.
However with some pages (for example category ecommerce pages) often there might not be any text - so the meta description ends up being sub-par.
As we’ll see - in many cases Google ends up rewriting titles and meta descriptions (more below). However, it is still best practice to use the space you have. It’s not a hard and fast rule - but you might as well play the odds and make use of every advantage you have.
6. Use templates - Especially for big sites
Ideally, every page has a unique title and meta description. This is what you’re aiming for. However, if you have thousands of pages on your site - it’s not so easy to do this manually. For large ecommerce sites, for example, this can be very time-consuming.
Our solution is this:
Identify your most important pages. Whether that’s through revenue, leads, etc.
Prioritize them & optimize the titles & descriptions with the tips above.
For the rest - consider a template.
For a CMS like Wordpress, you can use a plugin like yoast to give you a standardized template across different page types. So for example, all category pages can have the page title with a modifier like Ireland (if your business was in Ireland for example).
This is not perfect. However, it is much better than leaving them blank or with some generic boilerplate template. Plus over time, you can always come back and update more pages as you go along. It saves a lot of time.
Examples of titles and descriptions
Ok we’ve covered how to optimize your titles & meta descriptions. Now let’s look at some practical examples by page type.
This is your opportunity to succinctly state what your business is about and what your core service offering is. For many commercial searches (bottom of funnel or bofu) often a homepage is what appears.
However, we see too many sites with generic boilerplate text like in the title, like ‘home’ and then the brand name.
Take our homepage. It’s very clear from the title & meta description, what we do and what we’re about. For someone searching for us for the very first time - this should be obvious.
The title contains our target keyword but yet states exactly what we are. And then the meta description describes further.
Or if you are a really big brand - you just have to make it obvious that you’re in the right place - like Adidas below:
For many local businesses - this is a great place to modify the title with a location. Take the service pages for the search term ‘Power Washing Dublin’.
These are good examples of page titles combining the service with a location. (A power washing service in Madrid is no good to a person in Dublin!)
Depending on the SERP, often service pages & homepages will get thrown up together. (As in the example of web development Pittsburg below).
However, both the service/ homepage contains the main keyword (web design & development) & the location (Pittsburg).
Friendly Reminder: Keep the title & meta description relevant to the search term.
Product pages naturally are associated with high intent (bofu) searches. In other words, SERPS that are showing product pages, likely havesearchers who are in a buying mood.
So, with that in mind - we want to give the critical information that a buyer would want to know. Think:
Relevant details -shape, size, shipping details
Call to Actions
The example below is for the search term ‘solgar vitamin d3’ (we scrolled past the brand results on top). If someone is googling that, they clearly know what they’re looking for.
Your title should include the product name & type at a minimum. Then you can include other benefits like free shipping or price in the meta description.
Note: For ecommerce stores in particular - using product review schema (to get those gold stars) really helps to ‘pop’ in search. More details on the schema can be found here.
Similar to product pages - these pages will typically have high intent (although probably not as high as a direct product search). For example, the search ‘mens tennis shoes’ shows largely category-type pages.
Again, the titles are contextually relevant to the search term. The meta description backs up what the title is saying and encourages the click. For local clients, you can add a modifier to the title with a city or even country name. This is useful particularly if you’re in a competitive niche.
Make sure you have:
The category name (do your keyword research)
Include any benefits in the meta description (For example Free Delivery)
Location Modifier. (Eg If I’m a shoe shop in Sydney - it could be ‘mens tennis shoes Sydney’)
This will depend on the blog post. However, keeping it relevant to the search intent (as always) is vital. And so your title will be guided by the page which is determined by the overall search intent.
So if you are seeing lots of listicle articles ranking - there’s a good chance that’s what you’ll need to create also (this is SERP dependent).
Let’s look at 3 types of Blog articles
Top of Funnel
Middle of Funnel
Bottom of Funnel
Top of Funnel Blog Post
As always, you're describing what the page is about. However, you're capturing the interest of the reader who is very much in a discovery state of mind (they’re probably not looking to buy).
Let’s take a look at a title & meta description from the world of SEO.
Search Term Example: ‘What is SEO?’
As you can see - the top 3 are doing exactly what it says on the tin. Telling you what SEO is. Interestingly the meta descriptions also give a brief answer to the question.
Middle of Funnel Blog Post
Here again, you’ll want to hit upon the user's search intent. With these types of blog posts - the searcher is often looking for practical info to execute. While they’re not in an outright state of mind to buy - they’re likely closer than the previous top of funnel search.
Search Term Example: ‘How to write SEO Content’
As we can see here, the results are mixed. The titles contain listicle articles mixed in with a ‘how to post’ and ‘beginner guide’. Interestingly the meta descriptions are all showing step by step guidelines. (However as we’ll cover below, Google often tweaks or even fully rewrites titles and meta descriptions.) In this case, the best title is giving people what they want; a list/step by step process.
Bottom of Funnel Blog Post
Like a product page, BOFU pages typically have high intent from the searchers who visit the page.
Search Term Example: best seo tools for wordpress
This SERP is mostly listicle articles. This means a similar format & title/meta description will likely be required. Note, how the titles really play up the benefits & incorporate copywriting/persuasive psychology best practices.
For example, Hubspot references ‘Boosting website traffic’. Kinsta uses parenthesis and plays on the need to have ‘must-have SEO tools’. (Using parenthesis is a great way to catch the eye and break up text. Very useful in a SERP of Sameness.)
What to avoid when writing titles and meta descriptions?
1. Avoid keyword stuffing
It’s true that your title is a powerful on-page ranking factor. However, that doesn’t mean you should jam keywords in for the sake of it. Titles should always make sense for the user.
2. Avoid non contextually relevant titles and descriptions
This goes back to the most important thing you should do. And that’s keeping it relevant to search intent. If your title is misleading, and there’s a massive gap between what you say a page is and what it actually is - that’s not good for users (and not good for you).
3. Avoid spammy language
We’re big fans of copywriting and persuasive language. But try not to mimic a cheesy late-night infomercial from the 80s. Excessive exclamation marks and way over-the-top claims don't build any trust or credibility.
4. Avoid boilerplate titles and descriptions
Homepages with just ‘home’ as a title or a service page with just ‘service’ are generic, boring and certainly not unique.
How to add page titles and meta descriptions to my website?
This is going to depend on your site. However, for most CMSs, there is an in-built functionality to add titles and meta descriptions. For example, a CMS like WordPress, plugins like Yoast make this job easy.
If this is not the case in your website - you may need a developer to do the job manually per page.
How to check the titles and meta descriptions of any website?
Fortunately, there are plenty of SEO tools to do this. Chrome extensions like SEO meta in 1 click make checking individual pages easy. Alternatively, you can view the source code of the page and search for the title and meta tag.
If you want to see a list of all pages, we recommend a tool like Screaming Frog. From there, you can see all the titles and meta descriptions for each page. Plus, you can sort by character length, to quickly see which titles could be fleshed out more. (Note the free version of screaming frog crawls up to 500 URLs).
However, while these tools are amazing for analyzing titles - it still needs a human eye for understanding the context. Is the title matching the page?
Does Google rewrite titles and meta descriptions?
Yes (sometimes). Historically Google tweaked titles based on the user’s query. However, since the August 2021 update, Google can now rewrite titles based on a number of factors - chiefly the page’s content. Google now considers:
The visual title (h1 on the page)
Anchor text pointing to the page
If the title is too long
Irrelevant titles - eg boilerplate titles
Using the chrome extension ‘compare SERP titles’, we can tell if Google has changed the title. Check out the example below
As you can see, Google has tweaked some and left others the same.
A reasonable question then would be...
Is there any point in completing the page title if Google can change it?
Absolutely. As the example above shows, sometimes it’s only minor tweaks. However, the main reason to complete the titles is that Google still looks at the page title. And critically, use this as a strong signal as to what the page is about. So even if it gets tweaked in the SERPs - you should absolutely complete the page title. It is a ranking factor.
Does Google rewrite meta descriptions also?
Yes. If Google believes it can better articulate the relationship between search query and page content - it will. Although this is not always the case. Aim to complete the meta description in the most relevant way possible.
How to measure performance of titles and meta descriptions?
The best way to measure performance is by using Google Search Console. We recommend the following:
Record the change and date of the change to your title/meta description. (There are many tools - but a simple Google Sheets doc can work too).
Wait a sufficient amount of time - eg 28 days.
Compare in Search Console the page performance with respect to the previous time frame (for example the last 28 days to previous period)
Look at key metrics such as CTR. (This is the main metric as there may be natural fluctuations with overall search volume)
Adjust and make decisions accordingly.
Final words on writing titles and meta descriptions
To recap, if you can do the following - you’ll have some ‘clickworthy’ titles and meta descriptions.
Keep it relevant. Be aware of the search intent.
Be aware of the other search results.
Use clever copywriting & persuasive psychology.
Use call to actions.
Use the length available to your advantage.
Use templates for big sites.
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