Getting your website pages to appear on Page 1 of Google Search results is your first task, but the real objective is getting people to click on your links, and go to your website, instead of your competitors. The key to better page rankings and high click-through rates is simple: keyword-rich Page Titles and Descriptions, written properly to encourage a click-through. But they have to conform to Google’s latest “rules”, or they may get ignored.
The Latest Google Update – Less is Now More
Google’s latest update changed the display of the Page Titles and Descriptions displayed in search results. This information can have a dramatic affect on rankings and click-through rates, since this is what people see when they search for products or services and your web page is listed. The latest update almost always means less information is now being displayed.
Here is a sample display from a Google Search for one of our clients – Organic Plant Care LLC. They currently receive a #1 position in organic search results for the search phrase “organic plant care“:
- The first line is the Page Title (with a new size limit)
- The second line is the Page URL
- The rest of the display is the Page Meta Description (with a new size limit)
How these are written – both size and content – for each of your pages helps determine search position and click-through rates.
Good Page Titles Mean Higher Rankings and More Clicks
The Page Title is what appears in the browser tab or title bar when someone looks at a page on your website. Google will use your page title in the first line of search results – if you have an effective title and it passes their “rules”. They also look for keywords in the title – what the person was searching for – to help rank the page and they highlight those words to make them stand out.
New Rules For Page Titles
Google’s recent release made one change that has a real impact on how this works. They now limit the page title to a display ‘pixel’ width instead of length, and if your title doesn’t comply, you’ll end of losing all or part of it in search results.
The length calculation used to be simple – just keep your page title under a certain number of characters – about 70 – and Google would use it. Unfortunately, they now do this using the actual display width of the title – e.g. after rendering your title in their results font, and after applying their rules, it can only be a certain pixel width. If it’s too wide, it won’t be displayed as you expect. Display width is affected by the following factors:
- The font used for display. Different fonts have different letter spacing and width.
- Narrow letters are narrow. Three lowercase l’s are actually narrower than one lowercase w.
- ALL CAPS take up more space. Capital letters are wider than lowercase letters
- Width varies with the query. Google highlights (bolds) the query keywords, so a longer query will bold more keywords. Bold characters take up slightly more space. So, even if you found a title that just squeezed into the width “limit”, the actual display of that title would change depending on the keywords searchers use to find it.
- Cut-off titles have fewer characters. Google is cutting off titles with CSS, and the browser appends “…” whenever a title is truncated.
So, what limit should you use?
Various analysts now suggest 55 characters as the maximum size for a search title – resulting in a display just as you enter it about 95% of the time. We also feel that 55 characters is a reasonable title-length limit under Google’s new design. In addition, a cut-off title isn’t the kiss of death – Google still processes keywords beyond the cut-off (including for ranking purposes), and other formats, like vertical results and Google+, may display your full titles – so stick with 55, and you should be OK.
Good Meta Descriptions Mean Higher Rankings and Even More Clicks
The Page Description – actually the “Meta Description” – is what is shown under the Page Title and actual Page URL in search results. It is not visible on the actual web page – your web developer maintains it in the page “meta-data” – invisibly embedded in the page with other page information but not physically visible on the page. If you are a WordPress user, there are plug-ins that allow you to maintain the page description along with the page content.
The Page Description should contain the search keyword(s) on which the page is focused, but it should also be a “call to action” – e.g. something that will make the person want to click on the link to learn more about what you can do for them. It needs to be concise, and it needs to be interesting. Writing this properly can be the difference in a high performing click through rate
All the size considerations that apply to Page Titles also apply to Page Descriptions, with some more complications, since titles cover multiple lines, and multiple lines mean breaking after words.
Beware: If your meta description isn’t present, or doesn’t pass Google’s rules, or can’t be shown because it is too big, Google will just select random text on the page to display in search results. They may do this anyway, but a good meta description makes it much less likely.
We suggest, for the moment, you make these the Meta Description no longer than 115 characters – down from the old standard of 156 characters.
Do Your Website Pages Comply With These New Standards?
Keep your titles and meta descriptions to the suggested lengths, and you should be OK. If you aren’t sure how to do this, ask your web developer.
We have web development search tools available that allow us to quickly look at each page on your website, just like the search engine looks at it, and audit Titles and Descriptions based on pixel size instead of length. If you’d like us to do a quick audit of your website and give you a short report, you can request it here: