Search engine optimization (SEO) can seem laborious and overly technical. However, there is one tactic within the reach of beginner SEOs: optimizing page titles and descriptions.
Google defines title tags in its Search Engine Optimization Guide as “a tag that tells both users and search engines what the topic of the particular page is.” A page description is the visible text below the page title that further describes the content of that page. While page descriptions do not directly influence search engine results, they serve the same function as paid ads: to speak to the relevance of the page, and to get searchers to click through. Click-through-rate does seem to affect search engine rankings, making page descriptions that much more important.
You want to utilize SEO strategies and tactics to influence organic search engine results, because these results are highly-relevant and targeted. As a result, visitors clicking on an organic search result are likely to find what they seek, and thus convert into leads or customers.
In order to help you improve your online efforts, we are going to give you the steps to completing keyword research and creating SEO page titles and descriptions that both search engines and your potential customers can use to locate you.
What Does Your Business Do?
Are you a plumber? Own a shoe store? Are you in charge of marketing for a major pharmaceutical corporation? Each business has a unique set of services or products and the page titles of a website should reflect that.
Start by asking yourself these 4 questions to clarify exactly what you do and how your potential customers will find you.
- What services do you provide? Define what you do: auto repair, dentistry? Start with the industry you operate in and then narrow in.
- What products do you offer? Do you produce a line of baseball gloves? Do you offer several different types of insurance? Each of your products may require a different page and a unique title.
- What problems do you solve for clients? If you have a shoe repair shop, you might say that you offer new shoe sole services, or shoe leather cleaning. These are terms that your target audience may use to locate a service like yours.
- What do your competitors do? This is an important question to consider because it allows you to determine what makes you unique compared to others in your space.
Perform Keyword Research
The prior step is the beginning of your keyword research: you defined what your business does, and now you can start to investigate what terms are used to locate services like yours. This process will ultimately result in a list of terms that you can incorporate in your page titles and descriptions to signal to search engines that you are relevant for searches related to those terms.
Create a list of terms using the answers from the previous exercise. Once you have this list, divide it into categories that have unique themes. For example, if you own a shoe store, your list may contain everything from “nike gym shoes” to “comfort insoles for shoes.” You’ll want to separate those terms into groups like “designer dress shoes,” “athletic shoes,” “shoe accessories,” etc. Note that each of these groups could potentially be a separate page on your site, with a unique page title and description.
Once you organize this list, you have a basic keyword list with which to start your research.
How and Where Do These Terms Appear in Google?
In order to get a better idea of whether your preliminary keywords are worth pursuing, you will start by running each category of terms through a Google search. The reason to do this is to see what types of sites appear in results, whether sponsored ads appear, and most importantly whether Google deems your business as relevant to these searches.
For example, if you want to rank for “dress shoe store,” and enter it into a search…
…You can see which sites appear. Major brands and retailers appear in the organic results (the results shown in the left column that are not paid advertisements) and the sponsored ads in the right column. This tells you that the term is highly competitive to rank for if you are a small shoe shop: you are competing with major companies and Google’s results make it clear that the search engine deems national retailers more relevant than your small, local result. Trying to rank for “dress shoe store” may not make economic sense.
When you look at the sponsored ads, note that major retailers choose to advertise on this term because they see it as a profitable term that creates leads. The term is valuable, but there is just too much competition from the major retailers.
Now let’s enter the term “dress shoe store Lincoln Park” into Google…
You can see that there are no sponsored ads and the sites that appear in organic results are relevant to the search term, including results for localized shops. You have a better chance of ranking for this term, as Google sees local results as relevant and because there is less competition from big brands.
Run each term you have in your list through this exercise to discover:
- the relevance of each term to your space
- the difficulty for ranking on each term
- new terms you want to rank for organically
Additionally, you will want to review the search engine results pages (SERPs) for your possible keywords for extraneous and irrelevant results. Do the results reflect my business? If not, you can remove them from your list.
Use Existing Tools to Find the Insight You Need
Your next step will be to enter these groups of terms into keyword research tools to discover what kind of traffic exists around these terms.
There are several free, easy-to-use tools that you can use to find information on the amount (volume) of traffic that exists on the web around your services and products. By researching the terms that you discovered in the prior step, you can identify what terms are best suited for your business.
Here are some suggestions for keyword research tools:
Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Google’s advertising platform, AdWords, comes with a keyword research tool that allows you to see what type of traffic exists around your keywords. This is a free tool, but you need to create a free AdWords account for access. Keyword data is drawn from the information Google receives from its users, who perform over 100 billion searches each month. The Keyword Tool provides data on the number of searches around keywords based on geographic location, time of year and level of competition.
SEMrush This incredibly powerful tool provides information on both organic and paid advertising keywords and the competition surrounding particular keywords. It has a limited free option but is easily accessible. You can find keyword variations, related keywords and the competitors that rank for them. It allows you to see which websites are bidding on your terms for advertising, which indicates the value of the keyword. You can compare your website’s keywords to a competitor’s website in the Domain Vs. Domain tool.
SpyFu This site provides valuable competitive information by allowing you to see what keywords your competitor is using FOR FREE (in limited use): it shows the terms your competitors are using to improve their organic traffic and the terms that they are using for paid advertising.
Collect the Data and Make the Decisions
The tools that you have used so far provide statistics around keywords, but now you need to analyze these to determine which keywords will be most powerful. Some key indicators to consider when choosing a keyword are the cost per click, volume and competition.
Cost per click (CPC) is a statistic used mainly for paid advertising, such as Google AdWords. It tells you the average cost to bid upon a keyword in Google in order to display an ad for your service. If the average cost per click is high, that is an indication that the keyword is a term that several advertisers use successfully to sell their products. When several advertisers bid on a term, the price goes up.
Here is an example from SEMrush:
The Volume column shows the average amount of searches of a keyword per month in the United States. So for “auto repair shops,” it receives 18K searches per month in the US.
The last column is the competition level, which shows the density of advertisers that are using that term. The scale goes from 0.0 to 1.0, 1.0 being the most competitive.
If you were an auto repair shop, you would see that inserting “auto repair shop” into your page titles and content would be most beneficial. It has a higher CPC, it has a strong level of volume per month, and a relatively low level of competition.
At this point, you have a list of keywords and data regarding their value. If you have the information to fill in each page of your site, then you can proceed to create your SEO titles.
If you have hired a professional web designer, she will be able to update your page titles and descriptions for a rate based upon your needs.
If you manage your own website, you can locate all of your page titles and descriptions with a great free SEO tool called Screaming Frog. This tool allows you to download all of your existing page titles and descriptions in one easy application. It will allow you to export them into a spreadsheet for simple editing.
Write for Both Audience and Search Algorithms
Now that you have your current page titles and descriptions in a spreadsheet, you can now optimize them for search engines.
The goal is to be attractive to both the human eye and the search engine spiders. Adding descriptive terms that your potential customers use to search for your services helps humans locate you in search results pages quickly and easily. Those same terms tell search engines what your page contains, what your content is about and how it is relevant to a search query. If the search engine can easily understand what your page contains, it is more likely show your page on search results for related searches.
Page titles should be kept under 55 characters in length in order to appear properly in search results. While this may seem like a challenge, remember: your page titles should reflect what is on your page. Page titles define what you are and what you do, and address how the content on the page supports that.
Here’s an example. If you are an auto mechanic in Chicago, your page title might be:
“Auto Mechanic and Repair Shop Serving Chicago” or “Top Chicago Auto Repair Shop Near You”
“Call Our Car Repair Shop For Tune Ups And Maintenance” or “Auto Repair Shop in Chicago Specializing in Tune Ups.”
Page descriptions should be kept at 155 characters for the same reason: in order to appear correctly in search results pages. These act as an extension of your page title and allow you to expand the message you are delivering. A good page description also encourages the humans reading it to click through to your website.
Ex. “We Are Car Maintenance Experts Serving Chicago for Over 20 Years. Our Mechanics Have Over 30 Years’ Experience. Contact Us Today for a Free Quote.”
Ex. “Our Auto Repair Mechanics Are Tune Up Experts on both Foreign and Domestic Cars. Call Us Today for a Quote and Schedule an Appointment.”
Page Content and Other On-Page SEO Considerations
While we focused on optimizing page titles and descriptions, you can and should use your keyword research to incorporate keywords into your actual content—this is a fundamental tactic in search engine optimization. The best way to increase your visibility to online visitors searching for the services and products you provide is to add relevant keywords into your page titles, page descriptions, and in the content of the web page. This enhances the user experience of your visitors as well as your SEO rankings.
Another important element is to include calls to action to prompt visitors to complete actions that you find valuable, such as calling your business, or completing a contact form. Use expressions such as “call now,” “submit your information,” or “fill out this form” in your copy in order to drive your visitors to action.
Organic website traffic is extremely valuable to a business. It is a lower cost form of online advertising that is highly targeted toward your audience, and as a result the highest-converting online traffic channel.
By optimizing your page titles and description with terms that your potential audience uses to locate services like yours, you will benefit by making your site more visible to search engines and to people. Perform the research, update your titles and descriptions for both humans and search engines, and watch your organic traffic increase over time.