The Anatomy of a Search Result

So I have added some page options to better help us with Search Engine Optimization. These new page options will also help your sites with social sharing and just good web practices in general. Essentially up till now, we have left sites like Google and Facebook in the dark as to what our pages are about. They make their best guess and move on. However there is a better way. For each page on the website now you can customize four things. These four things are:

  • Meta Title
  • Meta Description
  • Meta Image
  • Meta Keywords

Two of them are crucially important and two are less so. I’ll cover each of them so you know how they work. I ask that you set as a goal to update these four fields on each page of your website in the future. No need to rush out and get them done tomorrow. We haven’t done them in this long, it won’t hurt to wait any longer. I would just put it on the to-do list and work on it when you can. We “might” be doing these from here in the future as part of an overall SEO marketing strategy, but for now we are not.


Anatomy of SEO

Meta Title

Currently our pages do have a title tag on them, but they are a bit limited in the fact that the title of the page has to be the same as the meta title. For example, when you go to our online learning page the title on the top of your browser (the meta title) and the title on the page itself are the same. This isn’t bad, but it isn’t always what you want. For one thing the meta title is allowed to be 60 characters long. This means it can be descriptive and contain additional keywords that you may not want on your page title. From now on you can set both of these titles. The page title in the CMS will appear in the content area of the page itself. The meta title will appear in search results and at the top of the browser allowing your greater flexibility.

If you think about search results on Google, the first thing you see about a result is the title. So it is important for these titles to be descriptive and informative. The should be the eye-catching thing confirming to users they have found the right page. There are some important things to remember when coming up with a meta  title for your pages.

  • Include important keywords
  • Don’t use “stop” words (the, a, an, etc)
  • Unique throughout the site
  • Branding is good, however our brand name is too long to include in every title tag

The online learning page mentioned above might best be served by a meta title tag such as: “Online Degree – Online Classes | Utah State University”. This title tag uses two keyword phrases people might search for on the internet: online degrees and online classes. The title of the page itself could be online learning, but online learning isn’t something that is searched for as much as the others. I can tell this is the case by using the Google keyword tool. (I am not asking you to do research into keywords at this time, currently you can use your best judgement.) This title also ties the page pack to Utah State University for branding purposes. If needed I could shorten it to USU. These titles CAN be longer than 60 characters, but only the first 60 or so show up in search results, so they are the most important. You don’t want to go much longer than 60 if you can help it. It is not necessary to include USU or your city’s name in each title tag. I would only advise it on certain pages where you really think it would be important for people to know from a Google search. In my example this is a main page for online classes. An advising page may not be as important as most likely people will include Utah State or let’s say Brigham City in their search text and Google will know your site is relevant. Also, because users see the URL in search results and your sites’ URLs have your campus name in them, that bodes will for users as they will immediately see they are looking at the correct site.

Meta Description

The meta description is never seen by users on your website. The only time you see this description is when searching for things on a search engine or sharing items on a social network. In the image above, you can see that these two descriptions are not the same. The reason being we are currently not using meta descriptions. If no meta description is present, Google, Facebook, Bing, and other sites do their best to provide one, but it may or may not be what you want. By including a meta description, you are making your best effort to include a good synopsis of the page to be included in search results and social sharing. Generally in search results, only the first 150 characters or so are visible, but as you can see, Facebook shows more text. Like the meta title, ensure the first 150 characters are very well written and include the best part. If you wish to go over 150 characters, go ahead, but please don’t make them too long. Also note, just because you have a meta description doesn’t mean Google will use it. You are only suggesting to search engines to use that, but they do whatever they want. The same tips apply to description as they do to meta titles, however you will obviously have to use some stop words and you have more flexibility because you have more text. Avoid repeating the same exact text from the title in your description.

Meta Image

If you have ever shared anything on Facebook you know that sometimes it asks you to select a thumbnail image with your post. Facebook usually just scans the page for any images that exist on the page, but you can try to suggest to Facebook to use a certain image, or at least include that image in the options for the user to share. At the bottom of the share you can see the arrows where the user can select the image to use. You can also supply a comma separated list of image for the user to choose from. Generally this isn’t crucial, but I may go through all of the pages and add a default image of the USU logo or something so if pages get shared, at least the logo is available for the post. In my example above, the images that are available are not related to the page and therefore look stupid with the post and irrelevant to anyone looking at it. A logo would be a better option.

Meta Keywords

Meta keywords are no longer used by most search engines due to abuse from developers. However they can still be used by developers to help them remember the keywords they want to use on a page and organize content. You do not have to use this field, however if you do spend time trying to do keyword research for pages, you can put the keywords/keyword phrases you decide on this field for reference when writing page content. Don’t worry too much about this field for now.

I know this might be a lot to take in. But I hope as you better understand what these fields will do, you will better be able to use them. Currently they are not “live” on the pages, only in the CMS. So you can start doing these whe never you want, however they won’t start showing up on the pages until I get around to actually adding these into the web pages themselves.


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