A simple guide to metadata

Written by Helen Selby

Keeping your metadata in check is a vital part of SEO. This handy guide provides an essential overview of the basics – ideal whether you’re totally new to the world of tags, titles and descriptions, or you just need a quick refresher.

What is metadata?

Metadata provides search engines and page crawlers with vital information about the web page it belongs to. If you want to get literal about it, you could define it as ‘data about data’.

Metadata isn’t displayed on the page itself, but lives in the HTML. You may sometimes hear it referred to as ‘meta tags’.

Why is metadata important?

The internet is a sea of web pages. To answer user’s search queries as accurately as possible, search engines like Google need to be able to figure out what a web page is about with ease – which is where metadata comes in. The stronger your metadata, the more likely your web page is to appear high up in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Keep in mind that great metadata can only do so much. It should be accompanied by well-written, user-focused copy.

How many types of metadata are there?

We’re going to avoid diving into the world of technical SEO here by simply saying, ‘quite a few’*. However, when it comes to writing for the web, you only really need to worry about page titles (or ‘title tags’), and meta descriptions.

How should I optimise page titles and meta descriptions?

It all starts with a little keyword research. Once you know the most popular terms people are using to search for the topic your web page is about, you can start writing – with the following guidelines in mind.

Page titles 

These little guys hold a lot of power. They are hugely important when it comes to matching the relevance of a web page to user intent. They’re also the first point of contact for users scanning the SERPs, so have a big impact on click-through rates and site traffic.

A well-optimised page title should:

• Be unique for each page
• Display the primary keyword for that page at the start
• Include secondary keywords where possible and natural
• Reference the brand name
• Be under 466 pixels (human translation: less than 70 characters)
• Summarise the content of the page accurately
• Not be unnaturally ‘stuffed’ with keywords

Meta descriptions

Meta descriptions don’t affect ranking directly, but they impact the way the user behaves. These wee snippets are displayed on SERPS, and are designed to give users a quick overview of what your web page is about. They should encourage users to click through.

It’s definitely worth writing a unique meta description for each page, but don’t be offended if Google shuns your wording and makes its own meta description using your on-page copy. As Google put it, “A page might show different snippets for different searches”. In other words, doing this is their effort to help direct as much relevant traffic to your page as possible.

A well-optimised meta description should:

• Not be longer than 160 characters, including spaces
• Be relevant to the landing page
• Be engaging enough to capture the user’s attention and boost click-through rate
• Have the main target keyword towards the start
• Include a call to action, even a simple ‘learn more’ works well
• Include the brand name
• Be written in your brand voice

Want to better your meta?

Download our Guide to Optimising for Search to learn more about metadata.

Or get in touch about our SEO copywriting service. 

*We’d recommend this meta tag guide from Moz if you’d like to learn more.