By: Linda Fulkerson
When you’re using a search engine, such as Google, have you ever noticed that some of the search results have an ellipses at the end of the title, the description, or both, but some don’t? That’s because search engine results only display a certain amount of characters in the title (called the “title tag”) and descriptions (called the “meta description”) and default to show (for Google) the first 60 characters of the title and the first 156 characters of the description.
Not only can you overwrite the defaults and set the length to ensure yours display properly, you can use this prime space to create a compelling call to action to encourage viewers to click on your link instead of the others. It takes a bit of effort to optimize your content to rank well in search engines, so once it appears in the search engine results pages – make sure the link entices readers to click it!
Example of effective use of title tags and meta descriptions
Here is an example of two search engine results – one didn’t optimize their link and one did. (I’m not trying to slam anyone here – but this is a good example.)
Even though the first result out-ranks the other one, notice how well Harlequin uses their meta description. Inspirational Romance Writers simply begins with a description of their site. Good information, but likely to bring a yawn to the reader. However, Harlequin poses a question directly to the reader. It’s not only personal (“you’re”), but it makes the reader start thinking, “Hmmm . . . what book AM I in the mood for?” They have effectively used the meta description to “sell” the reader on clicking to their website. This is an excellent example of how you can use the meta description to market your posts.
Although neither example has a particularly compelling title, I did want to point out that the top result’s title tag was too long (as was their meta description) to display properly, which caused the dreaded ellipses to show up, yet Harlequin’s content creation team made sure their title and description completely displayed by keeping their text within the suggested parameters.
How to effectively create title tags and meta descriptions
First of all, you’ll need to be using a blogging platform that allows you to overwrite the defaults. This is one of the many reasons I am a huge proponent of using a self-hosted WordPress website with a blog embedded into it. I won’t get into all the other reasons during this post, but you can’t overwrite the title tag and meta description in Blogger (or at least I haven’t found a way to do it), and in WordPress.com (which is not self-hosted), you can use the excerpt function, which will display as the meta description in some search engines, but you can’t change the title tag in the free version. I do use both Blogger & WordPress.com, but only to create backlinks (which will be taught in another upcoming post) in order to drive traffic to my main website.
(Note: If you’re wanting to learn how to set up your site using a self-hosted WordPress install, sign up for the FREE report, 102 Ways to Market Your Stuff, and you’ll be automatically enrolled in the free email training, which teaches how to do that.)
Here are the steps to create effective title tags and meta descriptions:
- In the left sidebar of your WordPress dashboard, hover over the Plugins link and click on “Add New.”
- Once the add new plugin screen loads, use the search function and type in “Yoast WordPress SEO.” This is a free plugin, but it is very powerful and is a great tool to help you get your content ranked well in search engines.
- Upload the plugin to your site and activate it. The dashboard for this plugin is complex and kind of overwhelming. I’ll do a walk-through video of it for a future lesson, but for now, we’re going to use one feature of this plugin.
- Go to the Create New Post screen.
- Scroll down to near the bottom of the page and you’ll see a new section called “WordPress SEO by Yoast.”
- Type in your title tag into the “SEO Title” field. You can see exactly how it will display on Google in the Snippet Preview area (see screenshot). You have up to 60 characters (including spaces) but try to limit it to 55 as some less popular search engines cut off titles at that length.
- Type your Meta Description into that field. You get 156 characters, and, if you’ll notice in the screenshot, Yoast SEO for WordPress has informed me I have 3 characters left. As you’re typing, that number changes. I edited the description several times until I felt it gave a good idea about what this post covered, yet stayed within the 156 character limit. Admittedly, it’s not as compelling as the Harlequin example, but I managed to avoid the truncation of my title and description. Use this area, as Harlequin did, as a “call to action.” Note that they didn’t use the obvious word “Click,” but rather, they used a word that would appeal to their audience – “Explore.” Good marketing!
- Save your changes (save draft) and finish writing your post.
- Publish your post.
That’s it! Now, when that post displays in Google, you have complete control over what readers will see.