Optimising Meta Tags For Success: People Are Important Too

In this post I want to discuss Optimising Meta Tags and how finding a balance between appealing to the search engines and appealing to the user is not just easy, but potentially very rewarding. This is something I have personally tested with clients over several months and if done correctly can have some really positive results.

Our goals in this activity are as follows:

  • Rank well for our keywords in the search engines
  • Attract more visitors when searching on our keywords (Click-through rate)*

Your Meta Title and Description are your adverts to users searching on your keywords. The more appealing they are to an individual the better your CTR and if you’re receiving a higher CTR in position 3 than the website in position 2 is you know you’re doing a good job. So often I have seen websites forget this simple idea in favour of optimising Meta tags for SEO purposes alone when the evidence for the success of this idea surrounds them (or their listings in the SERPs at least).

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I’m of course referring to PPC adverts, where companies have even less space to attract a user and spend thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours optimising their ad-copy for the best possible CTR.

It’s true that the results of PPC ad-copy can be seen in hours rather than weeks, or months – and getting displayed for your desired keywords is much easier, but by adopting a similar approach to your Meta tags, the extra effort can pay dividends.

1) Getting your Meta Title Right

The Meta Title is the first thing a user see’s when scanning the results pages – if you can grab them here you’ve won 80% of the battle. Obviously we want to be using our keywords as early in the sentence as possible, but not to the detriment of drawing in clicks. For example if you’re looking to buy some shoes, which of the following titles would draw your eye more?

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  1. A common keyword loaded title:
    Shoes, Boots, Trainers, Pumps | The Shoe Factory
  2. Something more advertising led…
    Amazing prices on Shoes, Boots, Trainers and Pumps | The Shoe Factory

In the second example we’ve used the same keywords as the first (shoes, boots, trainers, pumps) but with the addition of “Amazing prices on…”. At this point we’ve already got the users attention and the keywords, if relevant to the search, draw the user into a click. This is the first step of the AIDA model achieved, but more on that later.

2) People friendly Meta Descriptions

The exact length displayed in characters varies not only between the search engines but between results for the same query so for the sake of this post we’ll assume an average of 155 characters – that’s how many characters you have to convince users who aren’t drawn in by the title that you’re the right website for them.
Using the Shoe Factory analogy from above let’s look at two possible variations for the home page:

  1. SEO driven description
    Get your new shoes, boots, trainers or pumps online from The Shoe Factory. Brands like DC, Adidas, Puma and Nike. Available in all shoe sizes.
  2. Advertising Led
    Find the shoes & boots you’re looking for at The Shoe Factory, a trusted retailer in the latest styles of DC, Adidas, Puma and Nike shoes. Free shipping.

With the SEO driven description we’re again looking to use our targeted keywords, as well as some popular brands people might be searching for. Great, right? The search engines will pick these up, we’ve got our main keywords in at the start and we’ll pick up more clicks from the SERPs; an all round winner.
Well yes, no doubt getting your main keywords in near the beginning offers some benefit, but there’s nothing that appeals to me on an emotive level – something any advertiser will tell you is vital for success. What if the advertising led description was below yours?
Let’s look at it again:

Find the shoes you’re looking for at The Shoe Factory, a trusted retailer in the latest styles of DC, Adidas, Puma and Nike shoes. Free same day shipping.

I’ve highlighted the words that we know will evoke emotion (albeit subtle) with the user;

  • Find – That’s what i’m trying to do as a user
  • You’re – Or, me. The ad copy is addressing me directly
  • Trusted – Suggests others have found the website trustworthy and reliable which reassures me and builds trust between myself and the website (hopefully I won’t regret it!)
  • Latest Styles – Appeals to my desire to be fashionable and/or have the newest styles available
  • Free – The most powerful word in marketing. If it’s free I want it!

So in 155 characters we’ve used most of our targeted keywords – both generic and brands, while at the same time connecting with the user and evoking an emotive response and all it took was a little more thought.

3) AIDA – An Easy Way to Remember

The AIDA model describes the process advertising is intended to initiate in the mind of the customer and our first chance to do that is with our Meta Title & Description in the SERPs. I find using the AIDA model is an extremely useful tool when optimising Meta Tags that appeal to both the search engines and perhaps most importantly, the users.

  • Attention: Grab the users attention immediately (Title: Amazing prices on…)
  • Interest: Show the keywords that relate to what they’re looking for. Appeals to both users and search engines  (Title & Description)
  • Desire: The Meta description is our chance to make our sales pitch and make the user perform an…
  • Action: In this case the action we want the user to perform is clicking through to our website.

The Action stage is what everything else is geared towards so ask yourself these two questions before finalising your Meta Tags; Do these tags make me want to click through to the website? could they be better?

So what are your thoughts? Have you had any experience with optimising Meta Tags for people, search engines or finding a balance between the two? Leave your comments below!

Note: *Google recently updated their Webmaster Tools service to show impressions and click through rates for your site in organic search, which is hugely exciting and gives you an opportunity to easily test for yourselves what is discussed in this post.

Addy Smith
Addy is Inbound Marketing and PPC account manager for Digital Clarity. Having gained a Bachelors of the Arts degree in Media and English, Addy has worked in the Social Media, PR and Communications industry for a number of sectors, including the fashion industry and a London based boutique jewelry start-up.
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