Is Your Search Result Sexy?

Title Tags As Ads

Do your tags scream "Click Me"?

Following on from my post yesterday, How To Craft Kick-Ass Title Tags & Headlines, lets look at meta tags as an advertisement, and why you need to think carefully about your offer, and the offers of your competition, when you craft your tags.

Why Are Title Tags Important?

Ranking debates aside, the main reason Title tags are important is because they are displayed, in bold, in the SERPs.

A SERP is a list of 20+ links, all clamoring for the visitors click. It is therefore important to entice visitors to click on your listing, rather than everyone else's. Sometimes you achieve this by rank placement alone, but with well-crafted tags, you stand a better chance of receiving that click.

What Is The Optimal Length For A Title Tag?

The W3C recommends the title tag should be less than 64 characters long.

Some SEOs think that long, keyword-loaded tags are the best approach. Some SEOs think short punchy tags are best, as long tags may dilute the weight of the keyword phrase, and there is less risk of Google cutting off you message midstream.

Because other factors play a more significant role in terms of rank, I ignore prescriptive tag lengths. Instead, I look to optimize the message in line with the business goals of a site.

Know Your Enemy

This is a proven Adwords strategy which also dovetails nicely into SEO.

The first step is to evaluate your surrounding competition.

Look at the wording of the most successful adwords ad for your chosen keyword term. Your aim is replicate success. Run an adwords campaign and experiment with the wording to find out the wording combination that receives the most clicks and subsequent desired action. You then craft your title tags and description tags to match. What works for Adwords works in the main SERPs, too.

Another way to approach title tags is to constantly rotate the tags using a script, and monitor the results. The is a split-run approach known as Keyword Spinning. You keep with the winners and cut the losers. This approach is describe in my post "Tested Advertising Strategies Respun For SEO"

What Are The Ideal Lengths For Meta Description Tags?

Common SEO wisdom dictates the description tag should be around 160 characters long.

Again, my approach is take prescriptive lengths with a grain of salt. Instead, focus on marketing and business goals.

The description tag doesn't have any ranking benefit, but it can be used to encourage people to click on your listing. Evaluate the surrounding competition, run tests using phrase variations, and make your description tag enticing. Also keep in mind that Google may match up a page description if the exact search query exists in the description tag.

Examples Of Title And Description Tags

This is how it should be done:

The title and description are clear and descriptive. There is a call to action and an appeal to self-interest.

This is a jumble:

The title and descriptions are confused. It is not clear what the benefit is to the visitor.

Google's Quirks

One problem is that Google sometimes uses a snippet Google may also use a DMOZ description.

Google will use the snippet when it finds no description tag, or determines the description tag that your provided is inappropriate. To improve the chances your meta description tag will be used, see Google's guide: "Improve Snippets With A Meta Description Make Over". Essentially, you need to make you meta description tag descriptive, as opposed to a series of keywords.

You can prevent search engines from using the DMOZ description using the following meta tag:


See Googles Webmaster Guideline: "Changing your site's title and description in search results".

Get Into The Mind Of The Searcher

An important part of positioning an offer is to know what's on the searchers mind.

In some cases, the keyword query will contain this information. For example "Buy X Online Overnight Delivery" is self-evident, however the majority of searches are not transactional.

According to a Penn State research study, the breakdown of searches is as follows:

  • 80% Of Searches Are Informational
  • 10% Of Searches Are Navigational
  • 10% Of Searches Are Transactional


  • Informational queries are meant to obtain data or information in order to address an informational need, desire, or curiosity.
  • Navigational queries are looking for a specific URL.
  • Transactional queries are looking for resources that require another step to be useful.

Query classifications can be broken down further into the following sub-categories:

  • Directed: Specific question. i.e "Registering a domain name".
  • Undirected: Tell me everything about a topic. i.e. "Singers in the 80s".
  • List Of Candidates: List Of Candidates i.e. "Things to do in Hollywood".
  • Find: Locate where some real world service or productcan be obtained i.e."PVC suit"
  • Advice: Advice, ideas, suggestions, instructions. i.e. "What to serve with roast pork tenderloin".
  • Navigation to transactional: The URL the user wants is a transactional site i.e ""
  • Navigation to informational: The URL the user wants is information i.e. ""
  • Obtain: Obtain a specific resource or object i.e. "Music lyrics"
  • Download: Find a file to download ie. "mp3 downloads"
  • Results page: Obtain a resource that one can printed,save, or read from the search engine results page i.e. (The user enters a query with the expectation that 'answer' willbe on the search engine results page and not require browsing toanother Website)
  • Interact: Interact with program/resource on another Website. i.e "buy table clock"

And further by sub-category type:

  • Closed: Deals with one topic; question with one, unam-biguous answer. i.e "Nine supreme court justices ".
  • Open: Deals with two or more topics . i.e. "excretory system of arachnids".
  • Online: The resource will be obtained online i.e. "Things to do in Hollywood".
  • Off-line: The resource will be obtained off-line and may require additional actions by the user i.e."Airline seat map"
  • Free: The downloadable file is free i.e. "Full metal alchemist wallpapers Free".
  • Not free: The downloadable file is not necessarily free i.e. "family guy episode"
  • Links: The resources appears in the title, summary, or URL of one or more of the results on the search engine results pages
  • Other: The resources does not appear one of theresults but somewhere else on the search engine results page

Source: "Determining the informational, navigational,and transactional intent of Web queries" Bernard J. Jansen, Danielle L. Booth, Amanda Spink; Pennsylvania State University

Google have teams devoted to this very function, and this type of classification will feed through into their algorithms.

When crafting your tags, think about what classification of query the searcher is undertaking. How would they structure it? What terms would they use? Would they phrase their query as a question? What words would they include? What words would they omit? Dig deep into your keyword research tools and web logs to find this data.

Think about their mindset. Using words like research and compare help you tap into people in the research mode, whereas words like buy, save, coupons, and free shipping attract people ready to buy.

A Call To Action

The title tag and description provides opportunities to include calls to action. A call to action is a phrase that provides the opportunity for a visitor to take a step along the sales process.

The keyword term you've selected might give you a clue as to what point of the sales process the visitor is at. Obviously, "Buy X Online Overnight Delivery" tends to indicate a visitor is about to hand over the cash, so you draft your title tag and description accordingly in order to help close the deal.

However, most keyword terms aren't this overt. This is where you need to think about the type of offer you present.

How To Decide Between A Hard Offer And A Soft Offer

Some of the most effective offers are seldom "reasons to buy", but rather "reasons to respond." This is the difference between a hard and soft offer.

The vast majority of searchers are not ready to buy, so by using a soft offer, you stand to capture a greater number of leads than you would if you just made a hard "buy right now!" offer. If all you've got is a hard offer, then visitors who aren't ready to buy will click back, or won't select your SERP result at all.

Opportunity lost.

Instead, encourage the visitor to take a relatively painless action, such as joining a mailing list, or downloading a free case study.

You can take this a step further my using the case study title to find out more about your visitors. For example, a case study entitled "Real Estate" won't tell you much about the problem your visitor is trying to solve, but a descriptive title, such as "Seven Ways To Sell Your Own Home" will. If they download the latter, and your service solves this problem for people, you're one step closer to making the sale.

Benefits Of The Soft Offer

  • You'll generate more leads
  • You have the opportunity to enter a dialogue with the visitor, thus moving them through the process

Only you'll know if a hard offer or a soft offer is most appropriate. But think carefully about the nature of your offer when crafting your titles and descriptions. Is your offer exactly the same as every other offer in the SERP? Or could you tweak you offer to make it stand out from the rest? Your offer should be more enticing than every other offer on the page. Try to get this across in your title and description.

Related Reading & Tools

Published: September 18, 2008 by A Reader in marketing seo tips


September 18, 2008 - 6:03am

Peter, I think there could have been a better word than what you used in your headline. You guys are already getting a lot of visitors, there is no need to write headlines to unnecessary “attract” visitors.

September 18, 2008 - 8:02am

I am the one who came up with that headline. We were writing that one more for RSS subscribers more than for search engines.

We were not attempting to attract irrelevant visitors...we were trying to write in a fun conversational tone...something I think Peter has been doing a great job of.

September 18, 2008 - 2:17pm

I'll second that.

Peter has been a tremendous addition to the site. I consider myself both a colleague and friend of Aaron's, but Peter has brought a new dimension via his conversational writing style.

And the title of the post is actually great, because it poses a question that few SEOs really think about.

Should you create meta tags based on pure SEO considerations, or should you also consider the click-thru-rate that said meta tags will generate if you manage to show up above the fold in a search result?

September 18, 2008 - 5:22pm

This is a great post. I think many out there still don't know how important the titles really are. I've compiled a similar post about headlines, titles, social media titles etc. a while ago. Aaron and SEOBook is quoted quite often, so you might enjoy reading it:

September 18, 2008 - 7:51pm

Nice post iSimone. I will link to it from the above post :)

September 18, 2008 - 5:26pm

I loved the bit about hard vs soft offer. Thank you for that.

Peter is a great addition. I normally hate it when my favorite bloggers take on more writers and the lead/sole writer posts less often - but in this case Peter has picked up the baton and run with it. Really solid info. Thanks Peter!

Chris Marshall
September 18, 2008 - 8:42pm

I've heard that meta descriptions can actually hurt clickthroughs in some cases?

September 19, 2008 - 11:13am

Hi Chris
The example I heard that backs this up is when an SEO told the team to grab the first sentence of each post and turn it into a meta description tag.

The issue on that front was that whatever Google was grabbing automatically from the pages ended up being far more relevant than just the first sentence.

But if you hand write a compelling subscription you can match (or at least nearly match) Google's snippet on relevancy for most queries while also offering a more compelling marketing message.

September 18, 2008 - 11:38pm

Thanks for the comments.

>>I think many out there still don't know how important the titles really are.

Spot on, iSimone. Nice post, too.

hugoguzman >> a question that few SEOs really think about.

Right. A lot of people are only seeing half the potential, eh.

renesisx >>I loved the bit about hard vs soft offer. Thank you for that

It's an interesting area, huh.

How do we pitch our offers, and how do we get it across in so few words? I suspect a lot of the transactional stuff has shifted to Adwords, which leaves the information hunters looking through the SERPs. How do we best pitch to these people?

September 19, 2008 - 12:03pm

For the first time in a while I actually clicked on the SEObook feed at my Igoogle startpage. If it was the title on this post or the former one I can't tell. But the sum is that I actually clicked in and not only read both articles all the way through. I also took the time to register to give you - both Aron and Peter some credit. This is well written stuff you deliver. Not only headlines. Maybe I'm more receptive today;-) or maybe there is something about relevancy between the content and the kick ass titles.

I'll go to Simones article afterwards.

I myself have struggled with the hard offer and the soft offer way of doing things. What You describe here is a known issue but you have a vivid way of picturing the problem. For years I had client in the nutrition industry who really had a hard time understanding the idea of getting users in a relationsship before turning into customers. He was afraid that users when having second thoughts were likely to NOT try his products.

The problem here is, especially when dealing with subscriptions, that I'd rather spend time and money on getting the right customers and keep them for a long time instead of getting some confused easy-to-persuade duckheads to subscribe and the afterwards leave them with a feeling or sense that they have been manipulated.
These tactics bites you in the end if the consumer mass is too low as the word of mouth theory is getting even more important now - with the wide spread use of social media - also in the target audience 35+.

September 19, 2008 - 1:51pm

@PeterD - are you on twitter?

September 19, 2008 - 7:54pm

Hi guys,

I'm just wondering where you see the nosnippet tag playing in this conundrum.

There are instances in which not writing a description is better because it allows the search engine to look deep into the copy to retrieve pieces of information to make up the description, though this might not always look sexy. But, if you're dealing with tons of data and are looking for something specific, like let's say statistical information about a country, sexy is the last thing that comes to mind when I'd rather see if the country's info is part of that page.

In that case, by writing a description you might be limiting your post to 160+ characters.

Nice work :)

September 20, 2008 - 2:19pm

I agree that if you have a lot of stats heavy pages a meta description on those pages may not make as much sense as just letting the search engine grab a snippet.

I have not played with nosnippet much.

September 20, 2008 - 8:21am

great piece again. give us more! i'm experimenting a lot with the things you're advising on right now and finding that i'm getting some lazer-like precision results on Google-bait content. i think of this as uber-online PR: i get with a client, brainstorm a Google bait idea around a keyword market and then come up with some new bloggage. the results are frighteningly good and rapid.... and great traffic to boot. the more i'm doing this, the more powerful these simple content optimisation rules become. so - like i say - please keep them coming....!!

September 20, 2008 - 10:27am

Hey Aaron (& Peter probably too), thanks very much for the kind words and the link to the post. I was trying to get in touch and tell you about the post, but it was hard to find an email or anything. But it's perfect like this, thanks again and enjoy your weekend!

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