It should be.
While the days of stuffing the meta keywords field full of search terms you’d love to rank for are long gone, metadata still impacts your rankings in a few key ways.
Title tags have always been an important ranking factor on their own, and including your primary keyword naturally in the title is an important aspect of optimization.
While meta descriptions have not been a direct ranking factor since Google launched RankBrain in 2015, behavioral metrics such as bounce rate, dwell time and organic clickthrough rate (OCTR) are key. Google pulls the page title and meta description to display in its search results, so both of them are now playing an active role in how RankBrain evaluates your site.
Metadata influences these behavioral metrics in a few ways:
- OCTR – If you achieve a great OCTR, RankBrain will see that searchers find your metadata compelling enough to click on and might reward you with higher search rankings.
- Bounce rate – If your bounce rate is too high, RankBrain might interpret it as searchers are not finding the content they expect based on your metadata, leading to lower placements in the search results.
- Dwell time – This is the inverse of bounce rate. If searchers spend a lot of time on your site after clicking a link, that indicates to RankBrain that they find your content a good match for what they searched for.
These are the three primary factors that influence RankBrain’s “Relevance Score.” If your metadata does well with these factors, RankBrain should reward you with better search results.
While good metadata helps you rank, it’s also intrinsically important in encouraging searchers to click on your links and drive traffic. It acts as a guide to search engine crawlers and your audience, letting them know exactly what the pages are all about.
Think of your title and meta description as ad copy — it needs to entice a click and communicate what your page is all about.
But what does good metadata look like?
Let’s take a look at that.
A Quick Recap of Metadata Elements
There are two primary metadata elements that impact your SEO — title and description. These are the elements you should optimize for when trying to improve your SEO through metadata.
If you’d like a more technical, in-depth look at these elements, be sure to check out the w3school page on the Meta Tag.
The title tag specifies your web page’s title. Potential visitors see this in a few places, including search engine result pages and when your content is shared in social media (if you’re not using Open Graph tags).
Note: try to keep titles to under 60 characters, as Google only shows about that many in the search results.
As mentioned, the title tag is the only metadata element that’s a direct ranking factor, and as such, it should be optimized for the primary keyword. Typically, this means you’ll include the keyword in the title in a natural way, including using stop words and punctuation to ensure it flows well.
The title also needs to be written in an engaging way that compels people to click on it.
In the Google search result below, Impact Branding does a good job compelling searchers to click with their title. They’ve also integrated the keyword “social media conversations” into their title. Though that’s not the only reason it’s helped them rank on the first page of Google results for that keyword, it’s certainly important.
What makes a strong title? Focus on the following:
- Keep it succinct – less than 60 characters ideally
- Use words that are action focused and elicit emotional responses
- Follow a title convention that readers are familiar with such as lists, reviews, how-to and questions
- Make sure the title connects well to your content
Your meta description is a short summary of the page. Similar to titles, descriptions get used in search results and social media previews. Google shows roughly 160 characters of a meta description in its results, so most marketers focus on keeping theirs under that count.
While not a direct ranking factor, the description lets you really sell your content to encourage clicks and boost OCTR, helping you with RankBrain. When displayed in the search results, Google even highlights any matching search terms in your meta description, increasing the likelihood of you capturing a click. If possible, include your target keyword (and secondary keywords) in your meta descriptions to give your OCTR a boost.
Here’s an example of Google doing that for the search term “social media conversation.”
The same advice we discussed for titles also applies to meta descriptions, but consider these as well:
- Make sure you succinctly describe what your page is about, while piquing readers’ interest
- Include a call to action encouraging searchers to click on the link
- Include keywords you expert to rank for to help searchers know your content is a match for that term
- Use a variety of keywords you expect to rank for and not just your primary keyword
Tesla delivers a strong meta description that tells us exactly what the brand’s website is all about in just a few words and compels searchers to click:
What happens if your meta description isn’t succinct and doesn’t accurately reflect what your page is about? Google might ignore your description and generate its own based on the content on your page.
That’s not an ideal outcome, so make sure you put lots of care into your descriptions.
As you come to terms with how important your SEO metadata is in terms of ranking, know you don’t have to go it alone. The internet is brimming with tools to help you test, analyze and audit to keep you on the right track.
Tools to Help You Optimize Metadata SEO
SEO metadata optimization ultimately comes down to working on your meta title and descriptions, and there are a number of great tools that help you do that. We’ve chosen six of the top choices that we just couldn’t do without.
ClickFlow is an awesome tool that lets you test the effectiveness of your metadata so you can make minor adjustments for huge rewards.
Essentially, it lets you test metadata variations and see which one delivers the highest OCTR. All you need to do is connect your Google Search Console to the tool, and you’ll be able to start optimizing. ClickFlow organizes and manages all your metadata experiments, which is a huge benefit, as metadata experiments can be a pretty manual exercise otherwise.
The dashboard lets you organize all your experiments and get some high-level performance metrics. It’s pretty easy to prove your efforts are successful if you can show increased clicks, OCTR and revenue increases.
The beauty of this is that you get to grow your organic traffic without having to keep building lots of links or producing lots more content, as simply increasing your OCTR helps you with RankBrain. Subsequently, you can boost your rankings.
Besides — what marketer ever said no to more clicks?
2. Google Analytics/Google Search Console
This might be an obvious one, but these are two important tools for metadata optimization.
Google Analytics is a totally free web analytics service that lets you analyze a website’s traffic. It’s pretty encompassing, and when used in conjunction with Google Search Console (also free), it can help you monitor your organic clickthrough rate.
While not as structured as ClickFlow, you can use it to work out how effective your titles and descriptions are by tracking a page’s OCTR.
To access this, navigate to Aquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages.
Here you’ll see how your pages are performing in Google’s organic search. By making changes to your page’s metadata and tracking changes to your OCTR, you can create your own metadata tests manually that are similar to ClickFlow’s.
Plus, Analytics will let you see which pages have the highest number of organic impressions. Finding a page with a large number of impressions can yield the best results if you successfully boost your OCTR.
While clickthrough rate alone can help you gauge how effective or ineffective your metadata is, Google Search Console also comes with an HTML Improvements section that flags potential problems with your title tags and meta descriptions. This includes missing titles or descriptions or duplicate titles and descriptions. I’ve focused on how you can improve existing metadata so far, but missing or duplicate metadata is a bigger issue and extremely low-hanging fruit.
Spreadsheets are necessary to keep organized if you’re manually experimenting with metadata.
Make sure you create a spreadsheet that tracks:
- Current metadata
- Test metadata
- Current Impressions
- Current Clicks
- Current OCTR
- Test Impressions
- Test Clicks
- Test OCTR
- Current search rankings
- Test search rankings
All of this data comes from Analytics and Search Console, but keeping it organized lets you track the results of your experiments. It also lets you track titles and descriptions in case you need to switch back to them.
Any spreadsheet tool will work for this — Excel, Google Sheets, Open Office, Libra, etc.
4. CoSchedule Headline Analyzer
CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer is a great tool to experiment with your meta title tags. A title tag works a lot like a headline, and it’s your chance to grab the attention of searchers in the SERPs. A title tag must be compelling and direct, and it needs to succinctly and powerfully explain what the content is all about.
As this is not always easy, it’s a good idea to use a testing tool that lets you analyze your data and results.
Headline Analyzer evaluates your headlines and gives you a score from between 1 to 100, with 100 being a perfect score. (Not sure if anyone has ever achieved that though!).
It evaluates your word choice, title length, keywords included and more. In general, if you can earn a good score with Headline Analyzer, your title should perform well.
Note: This tool suggests you have a minimum of 55 characters in your headlines; just make sure you don’t go too far above that or Google may truncate your title in search results.
This tool is free to use. If you want to use CoSchedule’s broader set of tools that let you organize your marketing and social media, packages start out at only $80 per month.
SEMrush is a premium search engine marketing suite that’s designed to boost your marketing efforts. Whether you’re running PPC campaigns, social media campaigns, or want to increase traffic organically, it’s pretty handy to have by your side.
There are many ways it can benefit your metadata SEO game, but one of my favorite features is the SEO audit. The tool scans all your web pages and identifies any that are lacking metadata or have duplicate content.
Many online marketers either sometimes forget to add meta descriptions to new pages or have inherited sites with missing metadata. In either case, adding metadata to a page that doesn’t have it is a big opportunity.
Here’s a resource on how to perform an SEO audit with SEMrush and nail your metadata.
SEMrush is a paid service, but if you’re looking for a tool that will audit your site’s metadata in a similar fashion, check out Screaming Frog, which offers a free plan that lets you audit up to 500 pages.
6. Crowd Content
Writing meta descriptions and title tags isn’t easy, especially when you have a large number of pages and want to run experiments.
Crafting compelling, persuasive bite-sized pieces of content that convince searchers to click on your web page at scale is tricky.
This is where a service such as Crowd Content proves useful. Home to versatile, professional metadata writers, it lets you connect with a writer who knows what makes internet users tick. They’ll acquaint themselves with your business and your content, and then deliver compelling metadata that hits the mark with your target audience.
Wrapping It Up
Title tags and meta descriptions remain the most important metadata elements in 2019, and they should continue to form a key part of your SEO strategy moving forward. The overall role of metadata SEO has changed over the years, but it’s key that you continue to nail these two.
With RankBrain using behavioral metrics such as organic clickthrough rates to determine how useful and relevant a piece of content is to the end user, you need to leverage the power of title tags and meta description to persuade Google and the searcher that you’ve got the best piece of content.
The tools I’ve mentioned here should help you get organized and focused on improving your metadata’s SEO.
Have any other tools you think I should have covered? Please let me know in the comments below.