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23 April 2020 / Opinion

Metadata 101: A best practice guide

Alys Marshall / SEO Content Writer

In SEO, metadata is defined as the pieces of text which summarise and describe the content on a specific webpage. Made up of the meta title (better known as the title tag) and the meta description, metadata appears in SERPs, so it’s likely to be the first bit of copy that a user will see in relation to your site; this is part of why it’s crucial to get it right.

While meta descriptions aren’t technically a ranking factor, it does have a direct bearing on your click-through rate, which encourages more users to visit your site. Title tags remain a significant ranking factor; with this in mind, optimising your meta titles and descriptions is a quick and efficient way to make some headway with SEO.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the key factors to bear in mind when you’re writing metadata, from character count to keywords and more.

How long should metadata be?

Assuming that you’re writing metadata for Google’s SERPs (as we will throughout), your metadata can technically be any length, but Google truncates text after a certain number of pixels (around 512 at last check). The easiest way to prevent this from happening is by limiting your character count.

When writing title tags, you should keep your character count somewhere between 30 and 60, to ensure that the whole title is visible to the user.

Your meta descriptions can be a little longer, as they provide greater insight into what’s actually on the page Google is listing. Ideally, meta descriptions will sit between 70 and 160 characters; this should give you enough room to squeeze in the most valuable information, without having your copy cut off mid-sentence.

Meeting User Intent

By incorporating certain words and phrases, you can make sure that your metadata appeals to the four significant categories of search intent . We’ve put together some handy examples of words you might consider including in both your title tags and your meta descriptions, for each of these categories.

USPs and Keywords

You’re (hopefully) going to be ranking right alongside your competitors, so getting your USPs out in front of the user as soon as possible is the obvious way to set yourself apart.

While your USPs clearly depend on which industry you’re in, it’s likely that you’ll want to include any information about signature products and specific services you offer, as well as delivery options, and anything else which might differentiate your company from similar brands.

Your USPs will probably cross over slightly with relevant keywords, but it’s worth noting that the keywords you’re targeting the most should come first wherever possible, especially in your meta title.

Google has been too smart to fall for keyword stuffing for a while now, but it’s still vital that you fit your staple keywords into your meta description too. Don’t cut your keywords up for the sake of your character count, but make sure they appear in full. For example, if your keyword is “how to wear knee-high boots”, you’ll need to fit that whole clause into your meta description.

Your title tags should:

  • Not be less than 30 or more than 60 characters.
  • Be engaging and accurately signpost the webpage itself.
  • Target your most important keywords, as early as possible.
  • Appeal to the relevant category of user intent.
  • Include your brand name, to increase brand recognition and help to meet EAT guidelines.

Your meta descriptions should:

  • Not be less than 70 or more than 160 characters.
  • Be as concise and compelling as possible; make your point without overegging it.
  • Contain an accurate description of your products or services – don’t deceive your users for clicks.
  • Be free of special characters (anything non-alphanumerical). Even if they look fine to you, Google struggles to read them, so they can have a negative impact.
  • Include a short call-to-action at the end, like ‘read more’ or ‘try today’, if this is appropriate.

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