Tutorial Details
Subject: Search Engine Optimisation
Difficulty: Beginner
Updated: February 17, 2014

In this guide you will learn the importance of metadata and how it affects your website ranking.

What is Metadata?

Metadata also known as meta content refers to information that helps search engines recognize data on web pages. It is a descriptive context of data which describes another set of content. Metadata is used in by search engines as the descriptive piece of content on results pages that briefly describes and explains a particular web page. This gives search engine user’s confidence to select and click on a web page that most describes their needs.

Why is Metadata Important?

Metadata is of high importance when it comes to SEO. While it is less important than it used to be, it is still generally considered best practice to tailor your metadata to include the keywords that you’re targeting.

Google tends to favor pages with metadata that contains the keywords used within the users search query. This not only increases the click through rate of that web page but the metadata also provides a good indication as to what the web page is about.

To see what we are talking about go ahead and carry out a search online, you will find that most, if not all results on the first page will contain the words you used in your search query within their web page metadata. The words used in the search query will also display as bold text in the metadata. This is designed to catch your attention and increase click through rates, the more clicks your web page receives and the longer those visitors spend on your website, the further up the rankings you will climb.

How Do Search Engines Use Metadata?

Search Engines use metadata as one factor among many to source and find relevant content for the users search engine query. Through vast testing, search engines have become aware that a web pages metadata generally does a good job of describing a web page, and in turn they will deliver you content accordingly.

Other key factors that affect where and when your website displays within the search engine results pages (SERP’s) include; links, social signals, web page content, domain authority and page authority.

How to Use Metadata Effectively

The best way to set up your metadata is to include both your keywords and brand name. This way you are not only ranking for key terms but also promoting your brand for the world to see.

It is best to keep your meta title under 70 characters in length and your meta description under 156 characters. This is to ensure that your web page is professionally displayed online and does not spill over the recommended length used by search engines.

Please bear in mind that you don’t want to come across as spammy with your metadata set-up. Search engines and users do not like manipulation and you will be penalized sooner or later if you try and cheat the system.

If you do not take the time to set up your metadata Google will extract and use the web page title and first few lines of content in its place. It is always advised to set up the metadata yourself to ensure that you have complete control over it, especially if you wish to attract qualified traffic to your web pages.

For instance, if we were to target the term; ‘Dog Walker London’ and our brand is called ‘Pooches’ then you will want to include both terms in the title and meta description like this:

Dog Walker in London – Pooches
Pooches is a leading provider of dog walking services in London. Our caring team ensures that every dog receives A* treatment. Call us now to book specialist London based dog walkers.

Now let us look at this metadata from the perspective of a search engine based on someone entering ‘Dog Walker in London’ as a search query.

First search engines will pick out, identify and bolden all keywords so that your metadata looks something like this:

Dog Walker in London – Pooches
Pooches is a leading provider of dog walking services in London. Our caring team ensures that every dog receives A* treatment. Call us now to book specialist London based dog walkers.

As you can see from the example provided, once the search engine picks out the keywords and boldens them, you are soon drawn into selecting that search result. As explained earlier, this will increase your click through rate (CTR) and your search engine ranking and improve significantly. Think about it logically, as a ‘search engine user’, if a meta description is displayed and includes the words you used within your search, are you more or less likely to select that result?

Fortunately we don’t have to guess here, data from search engines and in depth testing proves that users click on search results that contain both keywords and provide a clear, concise description of what they are looking for.

In most instances it is best to include your keywords at the start of your meta title followed by your brand name. This is to meet the demands of a search engine by enabling it to find content quickly and easily, additionally users read from left to right as you would read a book, and naturally you make a faster decision as to whether that page is one you want to click on if the keywords are presented at the beginning.

Having your brand name at the end of the meta title also builds your reputation, eventually you can end up creating the ‘Coca-Cola’ effect within your niche for your brand.

Brands that are well recognised within their niche or area can benefit from placing their brand name first, followed by the keywords like this:

Pooches – Dog Walkers in London

In the early stages we would advise businesses to place their keywords first until your brand is well known.

There are other methods and strategies to optimise your metadata further, however these techniques do not market your brand as effectively. Since Google is moving increasingly closer towards using search engine marketing as one of the most influential factors in a web page ranking, we deem it important to include your brand name and to promote your brand wherever possible.

How to Set Up Your Metadata

If you are using a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or Concrete 5 then there are plugins that can be used and dedicated areas automatically integrated that will allow you to easily set up your metadata.

If you are a WordPress user we suggest that you use Yoast SEO to configure your sites SEO settings. It is a great plugin that is free for all to use. The Yoast SEO plugin is not only the most user friendly SEO plugin for WordPress but it also contains numerous features and functions that will make configuring your site a breeze. Please see our WordPress SEO video for full instructions on setting up metadata with the Yoast SEO plugin.

If you don’t have access to a CMS then it’s about time you did – get an upgrade!

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