How to Manage Your SERP Results Using Meta Data

Before really digging in to this subject, we’d like to start by defining what it is that we mean by ‘metadata’ as it relates to a web page. Metadata quite simply is a set of data that describes and gives information about other data, in this case, describes the web page.  It’s important to keep in mind 2 things about metadata of web pages:

  • Metadata (like meta descriptions) are not directly displayed to the user of your website.
  • Metadata [in particular] the meta description is not directly used as part of the Google algorithm.

it’s because of the two points above that many people typically ignore this important part of your web page.  While it’s not directly used as in the algorithm, not using this information correctly can impact your ranking and most importantly the performance of your pages on search result pages (SERPs).  The reason that it’s important to understand this point is that this metadata is used to influence the behavior of users, which does factor into the google algorithm.  The most important piece of metadata for this purpose is the Meta Description.

components of a result on a search result page (SERP)
How a Search Result Appears on a SERP

The illustration above represents what a typical search result looks like on a SERP along with the 3 main elements that make up that result.  These are the three items that a searcher sees that will help them to determine which result to click on.  Any issues with any of them in the eyes of the searcher and the likelihood that they click on your result is reduced.  Proper use of the various metadata elements will help you manage how the searcher sees your site and will influence how they react to it.  We have some simple best practices that you should follow in formatting these items:

  1. Title: The ideal title length is from 40 to 60 characters. Longer and your title can be truncated or Google will change it.
  2. Meta Description. The ideal length for your meta description is 130 to 150 characters. This is the description that will appear in search results and should include the main term or terms that best describe the page.
  3. URL: Your URL (page address) can be up to 2048 characters long.  Our typical recommendation is that you should make the URL “memorable” so that a user could just type it in if they wanted to.

These “rules” are ones that we suggest that you follow based on typical SEO best practices.  We call them suggestions because you don’t NEED to follow them per se and you could be perfectly fine.  Following these rules will give you a better chance of performing well.  These rules are subject to change, which is why the rules are somewhat flexible, but that are based on how a typical search result will display.

How to Construct Your Tags

The Title is important because that is the most visible part of the result and if the title does not display something that is relatively close to what the user typed in as their search query then they will likely move to the next result on the page.  [This is why we also suggest that your title include at least a significant portion of the key term that you think searchers will use if they were looking for that specific piece of content.  Snappy NY Post-style headlines do not make good title tags, typically.]  We are currently suggesting between 40 and 60 characters for your title as this will provide enough space to label your page for your potential visitor and is not long enough for Google to cut some words out, or create their own title (which they do do).

The Meta Description is what you use to describe to the searcher exactly what the page is about.  Making a great meta description can significantly improve the performance of your results on a SERP, which in turn will move your item up on the page.  We are currently recommending between 130 and 150 characters (although 140-145 might be more correct today).  130 characters is enough to provide the user with a couple of sentences of description for your page.  Going over the suggested length will result in a truncated description.  The image above is in fact truncated as evidenced by the “…” at the end of the description.  You really do need to keep this in mind as what you enter where the “…” is displayed could be the most important word(s) of the description.

The typical searcher does not like to click on results with “…” in any of these 3 components if they notice them.  The reason for this is that they may or may not be sure that what they are going to click on is what they are looking for.

How to Make a Strong Meta Description

The most important thing for you to do is to describe in as much depth as you can given the length constraints why the searcher should click on your result.  Be as descriptive as you can in telling the user what they will find when they click.

By all means you should try to be persuasive.  This is after all Search Engine MARKETING.  It’s Organic, but it’s still marketing.  There’s a fine line between being coercive and being persuasive.  Both will get a result but being persuasive is the right course to go as it will fell less ‘icky’ to the searcher.

Do not use a lot of special characters here.  Quotation marks will get dropped by Google.  The use of special HTML characters in the description field (or the Title for that matter) will look strange to the searcher and you run the risk of looking sloppy.  You don’t need those special & characters because this information is not displayed on your web page, so don’t use them.

Use the right words.  We do actually mean for you to use a keyterm or two that will potentially coincide with popular search terms for your content.  Don’t use the terms gratuitously because in the long run the user is likely to “pogo-stick”, which will make your site look bad to Google.  Using a strong keyterm in your description will reinforce to the searcher that your content is likely to help answer their question.  When creating these descriptions, think about what you do when you are searching and how you select what to click on.  Don’t over think it, but the way you behave towards terms and pages for your personal use is the way others will think about and use what you present to them.

Finally

Structuring your metadata correctly can help convince a searcher that your page will help answer their question.  Putting some thought into this will help you in the long run and not thinking about them is likely to hurt your results, completely defeating the purpose of you reading this piece.

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