Titles and descriptions for SEO
The basics of SEO (search engine optimization) is the manipulation of “on site” elements to your advantage. This means taking every piece of the website that you can control and making sure that Google sees something in it that is relevant to the terms you are targeting. SEO itself is the process of manipulating things in order to have Google realize that your website is important for a word or phrase that you are targeting. This means that if you sell shoes, you are going to want to target the word “shoes” and all of the variations of it that people use. That way, when people search for “buy shoes in Las Vegas” your website will come up on the first page of Google results (provided you are in Las Vegas, of course!) The process of SEO for a website that is representing a business that sells shoes in Las Vegas targets these kinds of phrases using a variety of techniques which can be divided into two categories, on-site SEO and off-site SEO. Off-site SEO is using various methods to generate links back to pages on your website from other website, as well as citations, mentions and reviews from other spaces which either use your brand name or use keywords as the link text. For the purposes of this article I will concentrate on “on-site SEO,” and discuss the importance of different elements you can manipulate on your website in order to influence your rankings.
When we design a new website for a client, the very first thing we do upon launch (provided they are also an SEO client) is to do as much “on-site SEO as possible, in order to get a benchmark to experiment from. Probably the most difficult thing to wrap your head around is that your rankings are decided by two things, your SEO and your competition’s SEO. Rankings are determined by how well you have convinced Google that you are important for a keyword compared to everyone else who does the same thing. If you are unique and are the only one selling something, then Google will probably figure it out pretty quickly and you won’t need any real SEO in order to rank at the top of the results. This is not the case for most businesses, and in most situations there are many others selling the exact same things as you. Even if you have totally unique BRANDS, you are still competing for the general term “shoes” when you are looking for customers who have never heard of you. This means that you are going to need to do more SEO work and provide better content than all of the competition you want to rank higher than. The first place to start is by making sure you have covered every base that you have access to on your website, including images, titles, descriptions and text content. The process is pretty simple to start with, you take each one of these elements on your site and you manipulate it to involve the targeted phrase. Every image will get alt-text and descriptions that have a variation of that keyword. Every page on the site will involve information about that keyword. Every page will have a unique title and description that involves that keyword. As a general rule, you do not want to appear spammy by stuffing the exact keyword into everything, and instead just use some variation of it in natural ways to describe things.
When it comes to titles and descriptions of pages, the question always becomes “how important are the titles and descriptions of a page with regards to ranking?” This question is especially confusing because Google is always changing things in their algorithm, and the importance of one element bight go up or down depending on how well they believe the rest of their analysis can determine what your site is about. The easiest way to understand why they do this is to think of the SEO industry in general. Our jobs are to make a website come up high in search results, while Google’s job is to make the best site come up high in those same results. Our clients might not be the best at something, and in many cases they are attempting to gain results for something that they are actually very weak in, just because it will mean more sales. For this reason, Google views much of the SEO process as the enemy to their process. Our job is to manipulate things in order to get our way, using what we know about THEIR process to do it. For this reason, Google absolutely HATES the elements that we have an ability to control easily and with little effort. Of course you are going to say in the titles, descriptions and alt-data that you sell shoes, but Google needs to determine if you are the BEST at selling shoes. For this reason, Google has to look at when you tell them you should rank for, but doesn’t put a whole lot of emphasis on it. A long time ago, Google considered the meta-tag “keywords,” which was a list of words that you told them that you should rank for. It got so abused by people trying to rank for things that they were not the best at, that eventually Google ignored it completely. Now, if you fill in the meta-keywords, it provides absolutely no value to Google, and your rankings will not change in any way by having it there. So the question then becomes “how important are titles and descriptions to rankings at this point?”
Right now (as of May 2016) titles and descriptions are still considered by Google as somewhat important, but not nearly as much as they once were. The rankings of a website used to be determined by the titles, descriptions and links that matched keywords coming into that page. Now, you can manipulate titles and descriptions all day long and only see tiny moves in rankings when you do it. For this reason, we understand that Google is still considering them as part of the algorithm, but not putting too much weight on them. For this reason, we do track the effects of changes, but do not put all that much time into it. You have an element at your disposal that has a slight influence on your rankings, so you might as well use it….just don’t go crazy changing it every day because it probably isn’t going to move you all that much in the rankings.
As an experiment, we have been tweaking the titles and descriptions of this site every five days or so in order to see the effects of different combinations of titles and descriptions on the rankings for “seo company Las Vegas.,” as well as variations of that phrase. While there is merit and value in placing that exact phrase closer to the beginning of the title and description, as well as using a variation between the title and description. We noticed dramatic changes with regards to targeted cities with almost no competition, but within a competitive landscape like Las Vegas, we found only slight variations in rankings, perhaps moving up or down one position or so. While the difference between position 11 and 10 means first page or not (which is very important) the difference between position 11 and 12 is really not so much of a big deal. Once the site is ranking in the top 5, these slight tweaks will have little to no effect at all.
The moral of the story is to use all of the onsite elements that you have access to, and track where you rank when you do it. A few weeks later, look at all of those sites that rank higher than you and see if you can figure out a common element that might be making that happen. Are they using the keyword earlier in the sentence? Are they using a variation of the keyword and you are not? Consider all of these elements, and if you see something that makes your titles and descriptions different than theirs, then change yours to be more in line with theirs. Wait a few weeks and see if your rankings have improved or not. If they have improved or moved down, then see if there is something else that you are missing that they are doing. If you don’t move at all, then you have probably got as much value as you are going to get out of the titles and descriptions.