Title and Description Tags Increase CTR

Title and description tags are quite important; in fact Google thinks they are important enough to report on problems with these tags in Webmaster Tools.  Google likes them because they are a couple of the most important places to discuss the content and subject matter of pages.  Why?  Because Google displays them in the listings.  These tags are your first impression on potential visitors.  Tags that are not optimized are wasted opportunity.

The Title Tag
When properly optimized, the title tag controls the blue link you see in Google that points to your site.  This is your first real “hook” to capture the attention of your potential visitors.  To display properly in Google’s results, you get a width of 512px (about 55 characters, including spaces) to deliver your message. If your tag is too long Google will truncate it with an ellipsis, which prevents the entire message from being conveyed. I see this happen a lot and it really hurts organic click through rates because websites don’t deliver a compelling enough message within the allotted space.  This is especially true when some of the results have properly optimized tags – they are the ones that get the clicks.

The Description Tag
The description tag is another important tag, because when properly optimized it controls the two line summary about your site in Google’s results.  To properly optimize the tag, the content of the tag has to be unique within your site and topically relevant to the content on the page.  It’s also important that the content of the tag is relevant to the user’s query, and about 150 characters long.  If it isn’t, Google will choose other content to display that they think is more relevant, and a computer algorithm is not very good at choosing content that will offer an engaging message.  Google will sometimes piece together multiple sentences from the page’s content into one tag with several mid-sentence ellipsis.  Since the content of this tag is displayed right below your blue link in the search results, it is very important that it is the correct length because if it isn’t, it also gets truncated.

You can see in the image below that even big brands don’t always pay attention to titles and descriptions like they should.  The red indicates tags that are too long and being truncated by Google.  Title and description optimization is such low-hanging fruit and I’m always amazed when SEOs get it wrong.

It's so easy to get them right - why do people ignore these valuable tags?

It’s so easy to get them right – why do people ignore these valuable tags?

You should check out the tags on your own site to see if they are in good shape.  View the source code of your page and look for your title and description tags as seen in my screenshot example below.  They often don’t appear right next to each other like they do on our site, and sometimes they aren’t there at all.

Properly Optimized Title and Description tag.  Keep in mind they often don't appear next to each other in the code.

Properly Optimized Title and Description tag. Keep in mind they often don’t appear next to each other in the code.

I have provided the boxes below so you can easily check your title and description tag lengths. If they’re too long, edit them until they fit, and update the tags on your site.

Use this box to check your title tags. Max length is about 55 characters.
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Use this box to check your description tags. Max length is about 150 characters.
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Google CSE Does Not Auto Renew

We use Google’s CSE (Custom Search Engine) for our website and blog.  Today I used the search feature and found ads on our site!  That did not make me happy.  It turns out that Google does not auto-renew your subscription for CSEs, you have to pay manually.  They say that they will notify you a month before the subscription expires, but they did not do that.  I looked through all emails including spam folders and found nothing.  I guess Google think they’ll make more money off of ads than they will my $100 yearly subscription to an ad-free CSE?  I marked my calendar next year to remind me to renew the subscription.  If you have a CSE, you should too.

Google Does Not Auto Renew CSE


Optimize PDF Meta Info to Stand Out

It’s always good practice to provide as much information as possible to Google about your documents no matter the type.  PDFs are often overlooked and taking some time to optimize them will really make them stand out among the rest.  The same principals apply to PDFs as webpages regarding tag relevance.  Don’t just put your company’s slogan in the title and / or description tag because Google chooses to display title and description information that is relevant to the searcher’s query.  The best thing to do is be specific.  Use part numbers and exact part nomenclature wherever possible because the results for those types of searches is where PDFs are most likely to perform well.

Free PDF makers support the addition of meta information but in this post I will highlight Adobe Acrobat because that’s what we use.  Open a PDF in Acrobat and right click the document to bring up the pop-up menu.  Select “Document Properties” from the list.  This brings up a window that allows you to enter a lot of meta information.  Enter a title for the PDF that is about 55 characters long including spaces.  When properly optimized this will control the blue link in Google.  Next check out the “author” box.  Depending on the program you used to generate the PDF, this box will sometimes contain your name or initials or nothing at all.  It’s best to enter your company’s name in this box.  The subject is also very important to displaying a good listing in the results.  When properly optimized the information in the subject box will control the two-line blurb in Google.  Try to include relevant part numbers and specific nomenclature in the subject while keeping it to 150 characters or less. (including spaces)  Making this tag relevant to the user’s search will help ensure the subject tag is displayed in the results instead of what Google chooses on their own.

Document Properties box in Adobe Acrobat

Document Properties box in Adobe Acrobat

If you don’t enter this information into your PDFs, Google will try to index the content of the PDF and display what it thinks is relevant information.  When the document doesn’t contain indexable text, Google will do their best to run OCR (optical character recognition) and extract text to use.  That’s how you end up with descriptions like the one you see in the screenshot below.  The client had about 150 PDFs that would rank for some queries and all of them had this wonky capitalization, but the best part was that each was different!  The PDF had the text on a dark background and it seems to have wreaked havoc on Google’s OCR.  (The screenshot of the full listing is below.)

Google's attempt at OCR for this PDF yielded some awesome capitalization!

Google’s attempt at OCR for this PDF yielded some awesome capitalization! Click for a larger view.

As an interesting sidenote, back in 2008 I pointed out how capitalization was impacting search results followed by Google doing some live index editing to “fix” it.  According to Google, their searches are generally not case sensitive.  The set of results shown in the screenshot below is definitely case sensitive because it changes depending on which letters I capitalize in the query.  Interesting.

Full results to show the OCR capitalization craziness, redacted to protect my client.

Full results to show the OCR capitalization craziness, redacted to protect my client.

Matt Cutts and SEO Myths

Matt Cutts posted another video answering a question from a webmaster.  Ryan from Michigan asked him to list the biggest SEO myths.  Matt jumped right in laughing and saying that there is no boost in organic ranking from running an AdWords campaign.  Weeelllll… you don’t get a direct boost, but you do get what I would call “indirect extra credit”.

Here’s why: as soon as you turn on AdWords you’re getting traffic from a specific keyword hitting a page that is optimized for conversion, users are spending time on your site, conversion rate goes up, pageviews go up, time on site goes up, etc., etc.  All the little things are improved that tell Google that your site is relevant and useful to users searching for the keyword and so your organic ranking gets a boost.  I know this because it happened to a client of mine, and then we repeated it with a few others to prove it (no I’m not going to name them).  The first time I saw it was with a new client that wasn’t getting the kind of traffic they needed.  We did all of our optimization stuff and waited “long enough” for it to kick in. We were seeing the progress we expected from those efforts; a slow but steady increase in ranking and traffic.  A few months into the campaign we hadn’t cracked page one for some big keywords so we decided to start an AdWords campaign to get some extra traffic while we waited for organic ranking to improve.  Well, guess what – within a couple of days the client blasted up to #2 for their main keyword which just happened to be where most of their PPC money was focused.  There was no algo change announced.  There was no major shift in the results for that keyword and there was no across-the-board increase in ranking for my client, just the one keyword.  This was very unexpected, so I tried it again, and again and it worked every time.

Aside from the indirect “extra credit” boost, the only times we see sudden jumps in organic ranking is when we fix technical problems that otherwise held the site back from achieving it’s “true” ranking.  It’s easy to point to that kind of a change by analyzing server logs.  The AdWords “extra credit” does not have the same signature.  It is just a boost from running a good AdWords campaign.  Period.

Regarding AdWords, Matt also said “We wanna return really good search results to users so that they’re happy so that they’ll keep coming back.”  He then said “We’re not going to make an algorithmic change to drive people to ads.”  That’s true, Google doesn’t change the organic ranking algorithm to drive people to ads, they change the layout of the results pages to make paid ads more prominent.  Check out my post that shows only 5/41 links above the fold take you off Goolge’s site for a very clear example of what I’m talking about.  It’s real hard not to click a link that makes money for Google there.  Go ahead, try and convince me that wasn’t intended to drive people o click paid ads. Does Matt Cutts have any control over page layout?  I seriously doubt it.  He’s head of the “Defense Against Spammers” team, not the “Change the Layout to Maximize Profits from Paid Advertisements” team.  I think that’s headed by Larry.

You have to take what Matt says with a grain of salt. He’s a master of misdirection and ambiguity. Don’t let his smooth smile or charming demeanor fool you – he is extremely intelligent and chooses his words very carefully.  He is a very nice guy and I really believe he thinks what he is doing is, first and foremost, in the best interest of the user.  (Good user experience = more pageviews & more ad clicks.)  During the “pre-Cuttlet” era, Matt was always lovely to talk to. He’s witty, funny, and generally a good guy to be around.  He never struck me as the malicious type.  He has to tread lightly so he doesn’t expose unpatched weaknesses in the ranking algo.  I don’t blame him for that at all – I’d do the same.

Ok, so I made up the screenshot - oh well.

Yes, Photoshop was involved…