Post Series: TL;DR SEO Length Guidelines for 2017

Do you know how long your blog posts should be to bring in the most traffic? How about your tweets, Facebook posts, and YouTube descriptions? Are you utilizing the best practices in 2017 for your metadata length, or are you constantly seeing your pages getting “ellipses-ed” in search results?

Let’s take care of those, and then some. In this series, we’re going to discuss lengths, particularly when it comes down to the content you want users to read, not skim. Part uno commences below, and it covers meta titles and meta descriptions—an SEO’s two favorite page elements.

TL;DR: Each section will end with a “TL;DR” like this one. Read ‘em. Like ‘em. Use the knowledge for the greater good.

Metadata Length 2017

Meta Descriptions

Some are still confused about the SEO benefits of an optimized meta description. While it’s been said that the description doesn’t directly impact page rankings, they certainly affect click-thru and bounce rates, which are metrics that generally matter more than just traffic. In essence, there are three primary traits of a good—nay, great—meta description:

  1. It sends the customer on a journey of self-discovery (or just makes them smile);
  2. It supports your overall brand messaging;
  3. It offers an answer to the initial query without giving away everything.

To address #1, you must first self-identify with the user’s problem. What is it they’re searching for, aside from the keywords? In other words, what’s their intent? Use emotional words like “love” or “hate” to show them you care. If the copy isn’t enticing enough to click, it won’t be clicked.

For #2, stick to your brand’s tone and voice. If you operate a luxury car dealership, for instance, you don’t want your copy to read like an eighth grader composed it. Or maybe you do? That’d be a new spin on things: “Come Buy Car & Pick Up Ladies Like a Boss.”

Figuring out #3 is the core of writing an excellent meta description. You’ve got what amounts to 156 characters (two to three lines of text at approximately 600 pixels per line) to get your message across, so space is literally a very valuable commodity. You want to allude to the answers that will be provided in the content, but you also want to address and answer a very basic element of the original query. Finding that perfect balance is the difficult part, which is exactly why it’s the crux of a results-driven meta description.

Let’s take a look at two examples, the first of which shows how not to create a meta description:

Bad Meta Description

First, let’s see if this meta description helps to send a reader onto a journey.

  • Does it offer anything unique or interesting?
  • Does it make the potential customer excited to click?
  • Does it inspire emotion, either positive or negative?
  • Does it make them smile?

The answer to all four: No.

Next, does it stay true to the brand’s messaging? Hard to say, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it is in tune with their normal advertising voice.

Lastly, does it answer the query—I’d searched for “car dealer” originally, and I don’t know why Kissimmee, FL search results came up, but that’s beside the point—without giving away too much? It does reference keywords and a location, but there are two major problems I see with this meta description:

  1. There’s a ton of wasted space. We don’t need to know your brand name and phone number; your name should be in the title, and a phone number in a meta description very rarely benefits the user. If we simply remove those two elements, we free up over 30 If we tone down the use of automaker brand names, we’ve got another 60 characters to work with. That’s essentially a whole new description to write.
  2. It doesn’t stick to the 156-character limit. Notice the ellipsis at the end? That’s a cut-off, folks. Those are typically a no-no, though an exception can be made if the first 156 characters are exceptionally informative on their own.

Example two highlights the good parts of a meta description:

Good Meta Description

It may not be entirely unique, but this meta description offers users more than just keywords. It tells readers why they should click and buy a car from this deal, not just what this dealer is or offers. If you’re searching for a used car, wouldn’t you be persuaded by something like “no price negotiation” or “easy financing”?

We believe it’s also true to the brand’s voice, so that’s another checkmark.

Lastly, the description answers secondary questions a user might have, while also indicating that there’s more to be had inside. We could use a call to action and another key phrase, but we’ll let it slide.

TL;DR: In our current state of affairs, meta descriptions should be no longer than 156 characters. For mobile, those descriptions apparently max out at 120 characters, though there is some debate as to the permanence of this restriction.

Meta Titles

What are the guidelines for creating a hecka good meta title? We wrote a post about the changes last year, but why not do a refresher?

Ranking for high-volume keywords is incredibly difficult, even if you have a ginormous domain authority, but a clever meta title can still acquire the right traffic even if the page sits lower on the SERP. You want to hook those people who are researchers, anyway, because they’re the ones who you can count on to know the good from the bad. (Hopefully, you’re in the former camp.)

To get there, start with the basics. First, the page’s most valuable keyword should be in the title, preferably at the front (our eyes move from left to right, after all). But don’t overdo it with keywords; just as you don’t want to stuff yourself with mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, you also don’t want your title to be uncomfortably full of keyword variances.

Next, you need to assess whether to include your brand name in the title. If you’re well-known or your name is long, you may be able to get away without its inclusion. However, most companies could do well to add their brand name, preferably at the end of the title. An exception would be your home page, which should almost always include your brand name at the front.

Lastly, you need to keep the length down to about 70 characters, but it’s much more beneficial if you focus on the pixel count (600 max).

So, how should your meta titles be formatted? Do you use “pipes” (|), dashes, colons, or something else altogether to separate brand name and page titles? Google has recently been testing out colons as a separator, and it seems to offer the most valuable use of space.

Let’s use the same example from the meta description section to show how the colon looks:

Meta Title Colon 2017

It saves one or two characters and a few pixels, which may be just enough extra room to fit in a full geotarget, such as the addition of “FL.” Any SMB needing Local SEO work should keep this little tip in mind constructing their meta titles.

TL;DR: Since 2016, meta titles have changed dramatically. To accommodate mobile devices, new meta titles can now be measured in pixels as opposed to characters. It’s been determined that 600 pixels is the standard length (about 60-70 characters, including spaces, give or take). You can find a lot of online tools to help create proper titles, but our go-to has been this one from the Aussies. Oi Oi Oi.

 

Once the weekend concludes and we’ve gotten our eyes repaired after the solar eclipse, we’ll discuss blog and page content length, how you should use that knowledge to best optimize your pages, and some other info I feel like bringing up. (Fun times, right?) So, tune in next week—same SEO-time, same SEO-channel.

 

 

Sources:

https://websiteadvantage.com.au/Google-SERP-Emulator

http://searchengineland.com/writing-HTML-title-tags-humans-google-bing-59384