Meta title: definition and best practices for optimization

Deb Mukherjee

by Deb Mukherjee · Updated Aug 6, 2021

Meta titles are the first thing that you notice every time you use the search engine to look up something on the internet.

Interestingly enough, Moz points out that meta titles are the ‘second most important SEO on-page factor, after content’.

This means that meta title needs to be the bedrock of your SEO strategies. Sadly, that’s not the case!

While most of us are trying to climb up the ranks in search results - we pay very little attention to rolling out click-worthy, SEO-friendly meta titles.

The task at hand: Crafting titles that will get you the clicks and be approved by SEO (yes, that’s challenging!).

We’re here to break this down for you step-by-step - we’re also throwing in a few tips to help you churn out catchy titles that will have a massive impact on your SEO.

What is a meta title?

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Search engines are busy doing their job of pulling up the most relevant content for every search query that’s keyed in.

How do they manage to do this?

Search engines like Google take into account certain metrics that could make or break the deal - 'Metadata’ is one such important factor that will help your page rank higher.

Metadata is an HTML element that tells both the website visitor and the search engine, what your web page is all about. It consists of a title tag and a description.

The title tag, a.k.a meta title or page title is the title of a webpage - you know, the headline that pops up on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It is the hyperlink that you click on… still not sure what we’re talking about?

Let’s do this with an example.

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When you search for ‘daily news’ on Google, one of the first search results is NY Daily News. In this example:

  • Meta title: Breaking News, World News, US and Local News - NY Daily ...
  • Meta Description: Find breaking US news, local New York news coverage, sports, entertainment news, celebrity gossip, autos, videos, and photos at nydailynews.com.

Now, do you get why meta titles hold so much weight? Getting it right is extremely important as the title speaks volumes about the content and the purpose of your web page.

Remember, the title is the first thing users see about your page and in some cases the only thing - so you need to make it impressive!

Why is meta title crucial for content and SEO?

According to 36% of industry experts, the meta title is the most important SEO element.

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Source: Databox

The reasons are multiple - we’ll highlight the 2 most important ones here.

  1. Adding a clear, concise, and compelling title will let both users and search engines know that your page is relevant and worth a visit. On the flip side, if you decide to wing it and go with a basic title that is not optimized for SEO, users will ignore your web page completely (and search engines? Well, let’s just say this could end up hurting your page rankings).
  2. Another reason why you need to take time out to write strong meta titles is that they also appear as the text on your browser tab. Keeping the meta title unique with keywords right at the beginning will help users easily identify your page when they have too many tabs open on their browser.

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That's not all, popular social media networks populate this title as the headline in their previews as well.

So there you go! 1 second - that’s all the time you have to impress a search engine user, make it count with a meta title that stands out.

What’s the difference between the meta title and H1 tag?

Most people confuse meta title and heading tag (H1 tag) to be the same thing - it’s not. While it broadly serves the same purpose, the two impact SEO differently.

The H1 tag is an HTML tag and it is ideally the header or the title of the page - which is why they are also called HTML headers. The H1 tag is the first header that appears on a page, and it is followed by subsequent headers or H2, H3, H4, etc.

Now where the two appear is what sets them apart.

Meta title as we saw earlier, is what shows up in SERPs, browser tabs, and social media previews.

H1 tag is what a user sees as a title on your webpage. It appears right on top of the webpage and is mostly in a larger font as it is the title/headline of the page.

Can they both be the same? This is a highly debated question - experts suggest that it would be best to keep them different.

Pro tip: Your meta title should ensure users that they have found relevant content and your H1 tag should not only introduce them to the page content but should reassure them that they’ve reached the right place.

How to write the perfect meta title?

Let’s get down to the point! We promised you tips to write that perfect meta title and optimize it for SEO - here are our top 7.

1. Understand the intent of the page

Before you start toying with ideas for meta titles - ask yourself, what is the purpose of the page?

Figure out where the page will appear on your website and what is the intent of the page - is it a product page, where you expect the user to take the desired action, or is it a blog post where the idea is to inform and educate?

Only once you have this sorted out, will you be able to arrive at a relevant meta title that will drive users to your page.

2. Figure out your primary keyword

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Before we publish any content on the website, be it a landing page or an article, keyword research is conducted in the hopes of ranking better. Your primary keyword is the main keyword that you want to rank for.

Using the primary keyword in your meta title is highly recommended!

Here’s how you need to add the primary keyword:

  • Keep it to the beginning of the title
  • Make it concise so that it does not get cut out on SERPs
  • Add it naturally, it shouldn’t look stuffed or forced and should make sense to both the user and the search engine

3. Create long-tailed variations of the primary keyword

Keywords are what help you rank high, giving your web page maximum value in the eyes of SEO.

Make no mistake while your focus is to rank for the primary keyword, you need to work out long-tailed versions of the primary keyword too. Why?

Long-tail keywords are phrases that are more specific with fewer searches - so using them will help you drive quality traffic to your website. Add to that - Google’s recent updates to meta title guidelines give you the liberty to include more keywords into your titles.

Typically, you would want to do this for your paid search Ad campaigns as being more specific will help you attract the exact audience that you’re looking for at a lower cost per click rate.

4. Make sure the tag is unique to your site

Found a competitor ranking higher with a better meta title?

Tempted to use the same title? Don’t do it.

There's no way you can game the system, using duplicate titles will end up confusing search engines and this could affect your rankings adversely.

5. Watch the length

There’s always the need to say so much more but stuffing your title with too many keywords and making it longer is never a good idea!

So what’s the optimal length for your meta title?

Since characters vary in width, there is no exact character limit. The maximum width limit that Google displays is 600 pixels.

According to Moz, Google typically displays only the first 50-60 characters of your meta title. So it’s advised to keep the title under 60 characters max - this way at least 90% of your title will show up in the search results. Going beyond this limit would result in truncation - which means part of your title gets cut out, and we wouldn’t want that for sure!

6. Words

Ever wondered how when we’re scrolling through search results, sometimes all it takes to get our attention is the usage of ONE powerful word - yup, that’s all it takes!

Crafting meta titles is no easy task - with the character limit and the need to use keywords, there’s a lot of pressure to say just the right thing.

That’s why picking the right set of words is key in creating great titles.

What type of words should you use?

While you’re trying to fit in those keywords make sure that you throw in a few words that will evoke the right emotion and catch the user’s eye. Make your titles expressive, driving users to click through and visit your page. Using words like ‘Ultimate’, ‘Best’, ‘Proven’, ‘Top, ‘Instantly’ can work in your favor!

How should you phrase your title - where do you indicate what?

As we saw earlier, keeping your primary keywords right at the start could be good. If you have the space for your secondary keyword, you can add that next - followed by the brand name. Adding a question to the title tag can also pay off in the long haul.

7. Don’t complicate the title, keep it straightforward

While the expectations are high, remember you are writing to attract users to your website. Avoid complicating the title with too many words that may not be relevant. You need to ensure that the messaging is clear and on point.

Your turn

So clearly, meta titles should not be an afterthought. The tips shared here will set you on the right path to crafting clickable titles. Consider doing an audit of your existing titles and make them more attention-grabbing and concise.

Remember, meta titles need to be kept short - so there’s no room for any fluff. Dashword will help you come up with the most relevant terms for your titles. Give it a shot today and work your way up the rankings.