Developing an SEO-Friendly Website : Keyword Targeting (part 2)

12/11/2010 11:45:19 AM

2. Meta Description Tags

Meta descriptions have three primary uses:

  • To describe the content of the page accurately and succinctly

  • To serve as a short text “advertisement” to click on your pages in the search results

  • To display targeted keywords, not for ranking purposes, but to indicate the content to searchers

Great meta descriptions, just like great ads, can be tough to write, but for keyword-targeted pages, particularly in competitive search results, they are a critical part of driving traffic from the engines through to your pages. Their importance is much greater for search terms where the intent of the searcher is unclear or different searchers might have different motivations.

Here are seven good rules for meta descriptions:

Tell the truth

Always describe your content honestly. If it is not as “sexy” as you’d like, spice up your content; don’t bait and switch on searchers, or they’ll have a poor brand association.

Keep it succinct

Be wary of character limits—currently Google displays up to 160 characters, Yahoo! up to 165, and Bing up to 200+ (they’ll go to three vertical lines in some cases). Stick with the smallest—Google—and keep those descriptions at 160 characters (including spaces) or less.

Author ad-worthy copy

Write with as much sizzle as you can while staying descriptive, as the perfect meta description is like the perfect ad: compelling and informative.

Test, refine, rinse, and repeat

Just like an ad, you can test meta description performance in the search results, but it takes careful attention. You’ll need to buy the keyword through paid results (PPC ads) so that you know how many impressions critical keywords received over a given time frame. Then you can use analytics to see how many clicks you got on those keywords and calculate your click-through rate.

Analyze psychology

Unlike an ad, the motivation for a natural-search click is frequently very different from that of users clicking on paid results. Users clicking on PPC ads may be very directly focused on making a purchase, and people who click on a natural result may be more interested in research or learning about the company. Don’t assume that successful PPC ad text will make for a good meta description (or the reverse).

Include relevant keywords

It is extremely important to have your keywords in the meta description tag—the boldface that the engines apply can make a big difference in visibility and click-through rate. In addition, if the user’s search term is not in the meta description, chances are reduced that the meta description will be used as the description in the SERPs.

Don’t employ descriptions universally

You shouldn’t always write a meta description. Conventional logic may hold that it is usually wiser to write a good meta description yourself to maximize your chances of it being used in the SERPs, rather than let the engines build one out of your page content; however, this isn’t always the case. If the page is targeting one to three heavily searched terms/phrases, go with a meta description that hits those users performing that search.

However, if you’re targeting longer tail traffic with hundreds of articles or blog entries or even a huge product catalog, it can sometimes be wiser to let the engines themselves extract the relevant text. The reason is simple: when engines pull, they always display the keywords (and surrounding phrases) that the user searched for. If you try to force a meta description, you can detract from the relevance that the engines make naturally. In some cases, they’ll overrule your meta description anyway, but since you can’t consistently rely on this behavior, opting out of meta descriptions is OK (and for massive sites, it can save hundreds or thousands of man-hours).

3. Heading (H1, H2, H3) Tags

The H(x) tags in HTML (H1, H2, H3, etc.) are designed to indicate a headline hierarchy in a document. Thus, an H1 tag might be considered the headline of the page as a whole, whereas H2 tags would serve as subheadings, H3s as tertiary-level headlines, and so forth. The search engines have shown a slight preference for keywords appearing in heading tags, notably the H1 tag (which is the most important of these to employ).

In some cases, you can use the title tag of a page, containing the important keywords, as the H1 tag. However, if you have a longer title tag, you may want to use a more focused, shorter heading tag using the most important keywords from the title tag. When a searcher clicks a result at the engines, reinforcing the search term he just typed in with the prominent headline helps to indicate that he has arrived on the right page with the same content he sought.

Many publishers assume that what makes the H1 a stronger signal is the size at which it is displayed. For the most part, the styling of your heading tags is not a factor in the SEO weight of the heading tag. You can style the tag however you want, as shown in Figure 2, provided that you don’t go to extremes (e.g., make it too small to read).

Figure 2. Headings styled to match the site

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