Welcome to another of my mammoth-but-hopefully-useful blog posts! This month I’ve been reminded of the challenge (and dare I say it, enjoyment) of writing title tags and meta descriptions, having written them for a couple of clients in the past few weeks. Meta data puts the skills of even an experienced copywriter to the test. With such a small character limit, the writer must combine impact with brevity (the latter, I fear, not a quality present in this post) to achieve what is effectively a strong advertising message designed to drive traffic and ultimately increase conversions.
I thought today I’d share some of the things I’ve learned from my experience as a copywriter that should help you craft better meta data for your website or that of your client.
So that you can skip the bits you might already know if you’re pushed for time, here’s a list of what I’m going to cover in this post:
Meta data should not be viewed as just another field in your code or CMS that can be ignored, or worse, stuffed with keywords. Meta data is an advert for your site and will often constitute the first impression someone will have of your brand – and online or offline, first impressions count. Meta data plays a pivotal role in driving traffic to your site, and as such, it should be approached as a way of introducing your brand to your target audience.
It may help you to imagine meta data as being a bit like a shop window.
A set of search engine results pages is like a huge street full of shops all selling the same thing, with numerous brands all competing for the attention of potential customers. When you look down the list of results, you are effectively window shopping. Which of the brands on display has a good enough offering to tempt you in?
Retailers hire window dressers to lure customers in with attractive window displays and banners advertising deals. Online, you effectively take on the role of a window dresser; writing your meta data is just as much a form of advertising as a shop window, clearly communicating your USP in a compelling way to entice visitors onto your site. In the example above, M&S neatly highlights a primary USP in its window display – its longevity: “125 years of deliciousness”, backed up by “Food for the nation since 1928” and other statements such as “quality you can count on”. This engenders trust and combines with the colourful display to tempt visitors into the shop.
In the search engine results pages we don’t have the luxury of an attractive space to display our products (unless you count Image search), but we do have a reasonable number of characters in which to convince potential customers of our benefits. Why should a customer enter your shop and not the one next door?
The art of successful copywriting lies in communicating a core concept clearly and concisely, preferably in an original way. Meta data is copy – it’s just very short copy.
Great copy does the following:
So, now we’ve established the basics of good copy, let’s run very briefly through the basics of search engine best practice for meta data, just to be clear about the limits within which we’re working when we write it.
Title tags are currently a pretty significant ranking factor, as they help Google understand the content of a page and the search terms to which it is relevant. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google places less emphasis on them in the future, as they’re open to over-optimisation. I would aim for a balance of including a keyword and a USP or call to action, for example “Cheap Italy Holidays – Book Your Trip Today”. Title tags should also conform to the following guidelines:
Unlike title tags, these aren’t a ranking factor. However, they play a significant role in click-through rate, and as such, should ideally conform to the following best practices:
Given the fact that most people skim-read the web, you have precious little time to capture someone’s attention, so it’s important to get it right. A little preparation will go a long way, so start by laying the groundwork.
You’re now ready to start writing, so here are a few techniques that you may find useful. They won’t all be appropriate to your brand, but they should at least get your creative juices flowing.
Other copywriting tips I’ve found useful include:
When you’re chipping away at hundreds of title tags and meta descriptions, it’s easy to lose site of the fact that meta data is only one part of a much bigger body of content associated with your brand, spanning a variety of media that is likely to include on-site web copy, off-site web content, offline publications, advertising and more. It’s important to remember that although meta data serves a specific need, it’s still vital to create a sense of unity across all forms of content to achieve a strong brand identity. It won’t do to write meta data that’s markedly different in style and tone from the business’s other written content.
It’s also important to consider the user’s experience after they click to view your website. Don’t overpromise in your meta data. It must be an accurate reflection of what customers will find when they click to view the page, or they will simply go straight back to the SERPs and find another site. To maximise conversions, ensure that the on-site copy guides them further into the site and that the messaging on the page supports what they’ve read in the meta data.
I’ll end by emphasising the importance of not skimping on quality when it comes to meta data. I’ve always argued that it should be written by copywriters, who know how to write for different audiences, not by SEOs, who may be brilliant at SEO but don’t know much about adapting to different writing styles. It also reflects poorly on an agency or consultant if they send meta data to a client containing grammatical errors such as errant apostrophes, not to mention that such errors will give a very unprofessional impression of a client’s business if they make it as far as the live site. Meta data should be seen as part of the website’s copy and branding, and as such, should be left to the copywriter.
What do you think? Who writes your meta data? Do you have any tips to share for writing better title tags and meta descriptions? Share your thoughts in the comments below or get in touch on Twitter @RachelsWritings.
Copywriting – Successful writing for design, advertising and marketing by Mark Shaw is a great introduction to the subject for those who want to learn more about copywriting.
Typing on a MacBook by Hakan Dahlstrom on Fotopedia.com
M&S shop window from Geograph.org.uk
Yorkie bar by Leo Reynolds on Flickr