Building Titles and Descriptions using keywords
Our grid still isn’t complete though - we need to write our page descriptions and decide on what keywords/search phrases we are targeting for each one.
This is where we apply our technical twist and use some simple online tools to understand the language that our customer is using and what they are looking for.
Why titles and descriptions matter
Page titles and page descriptions (what we call “Meta Titles” and “Meta Descriptions” in the business) are hugely important. Not only do these two pieces of data have a significant impact on your search engine position as a “ranking factor”, but they are also the first things that a customer will see from you before they reach your website.
Most of us will search the internet every day for something. We type our search into Google and we get back a list of results. We decide which we click based on what Google shows us - the title and the description of the page, positioned as Google sees fit. It’s the great leveller of search - your fancy design is invisible right now and you’re competing with everyone else using just two bits of data.
Thinking about your click-through rate from Google (the percentage of people who see your site and click on it rather than someone else) is pretty sobering.
Imagine standing in your brand new, fully kitted out shop, full of the latest products and the best prices… and watching customers walk past you and into your competitor. That’s what a low clickthrough rate is - and it sucks.
In the movie business, they call it an “elevator pitch” - a pitch delivered in the time it takes for an elevator ride. Those movie guys are lucky - they might get a couple of minutes. On the web, your elevator pitch has a matter of seconds to hit the mark.
So, how do we build titles and descriptions that draw customers in and how do we create titles and descriptions that will rank so customers even see them? Read on...
Title and description keyword building tips
Search engines rank pages - make sure each page on your site has a purpose and a distinct keyword strategy.
First and foremost, each and every page needs a unique keyword/search phrase.
This does not mean that you can’t use the same words - our IP Telephony site would be pretty poor if we only mentioned IP Telephony on one page - but you should have a unique title and description for each page and therefore a unique search phrase you are targeting.
As we’ve already learnt - if you don’t know what a page is for, how is the customer ever going to know?
What you do need to do is identify your base search term - the thing that your website is fundamentally about. In the example we’ve been using, our base term would be “IP Telephony”. This should be an easy thing to spot (hopefully!) - it’s fundamentally what your business/website is about.
Embrace the "long tail"
Part of getting unique search phrases for each page is embracing what is called “the long tail”.
A long-tail search is a keyword phrase that contains at least three words. They're more specific and often less competitive than generic keyword terms.
Since the dawn of time (at least in internet terms) we’ve got better at searching the internet. The internet has gotten a heck of a lot bigger too. Today more than 40% of searches are four or more words.
In short - people ask more specific questions and so we can have far more specific targeting of pages.
“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything”
But, how are we going to achieve this accuracy if we don’t know what the customer is looking for. We can’t see their searches, can we?
Or… can we?
How we did it in the old days…
In the “old days”, Google used to tell you in your analytics what search terms somebody had used before they came to your site. Google doesn’t do that anymore and many an SEO laments the passing of this “golden age”.
Personally, I don’t care. Knowing what people who came to your website searched for is interesting, especially if we look at where they then went and what they did. However, knowing what people who do and don’t come to your website are searching for is far more interesting.
“The purpose of a business is to create a customer”
It’s essential that you research your keywords before you optimise for them.
And if your SEO guy is telling you that you can’t find out what people search for… he’s lying.
How to use Google to find popular searches
Just like your phone, Google tries to predict what you’re going to type before you have to type it. It does this using the combined search history not just of your account, but of many others.
This means that you can go to Google and find out what other people are searching for. Here’s how you do it:
- Go to the right Google for your region.
- Type in your base search term (“IP Telephony”).
- Type in the letter “a”.
- Watch the drop down - you’re seeing the most popular searches that began with “IP Telephony a”.
- Make a note of any interesting search terms.
- Go back to step 3 with the next letter of the alphabet.
Using the process I found some of the usual suspects and also surprises like:
- “IP Telephony bandwidth” - (How good a network do I need?)
- “IP Telephony encryption”.
- “IP Telephony free”.
Work through the process for “a” through to “z” at least.
You can also try this technique using parts of sentences, questions in particular work well:
- “Why does IP Telephony…” (a-z)
- “What does IP Telephony…” (a-z)
- “When does IP Telephony…” (a-z)
- “How does IP Telephony…” (a-z)
- “Can IP Telephony…” (a-z)
- “Does IP Telephony…” (a-z)
And, a particular favourite of mine:
- “IP Telephony vs …”
It’s also worth doing this with your own brand name and the brand name of your competitors. Whilst optimising for your competitors’ brands isn’t an advisable tactic, looking at what questions people have about them should inform you what sort of questions people might have about you.
A-Z profiling can also be extended to use multiple letters: “IP Telephony aa” followed by “IP Telephony ab” etc. etc. This is pretty time consuming but can turn up some results. I’ve seen software marketed that automates this process but be advised - Google is pretty good at spotting automated searching and will temporarily block you if it thinks you’re misbehaving.
Overall, I find this a great way to plug gaps in a keyword strategy and to make sure we’re answering all of the customer’s questions - not just the ones we thought of. It’s also a useful way to make sure you’re “tuned in” to the customer and speaking their language...
Speaking your customer’s language
One of the great things about spending some time “searching in your own neighbourhood” like this is that you’re going to be speaking their language. People say that the best way to get to know a foreign language is to immerse yourself in it, and that is exactly what you will be doing.
Many industries, hobbies, and businesses have their own internal language - but that doesn’t mean that your customers know it. David Ogilvy said, “Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.” No matter what business you’re in, I’m guessing you’d agree that that is true.
Communication requires commonality of language. Dump the jargon and speak to the customer in words they understand.
Thinking about intent
One last piece of advice when it comes to using this technique - think about the customer’s intent, e.g. think about not only what they are looking for when they search, but why they are looking for it.
I’d much rather rank my site number one for “Best place to buy IP Telephony” than for “IP Telephony Problems”, wouldn’t you? (Unless your whole business was fixing problems!)
Search engines make a lot of effort to try and interpret the customer’s intent when running a search and this is one of the reasons why there are sometimes shopping results and sometimes not, why there are sometimes videos and sometimes not, etc. etc.
In a little while you’re going to hear about a turtle, a gatepost, and the “Five Second Rule” - keep intent in mind when you’re reading that. If you misread the customer’s intent, you will fail the Five Second Rule test.
How to use Google Ads to research keywords
Before we leave keyword planning behind there is one more useful tool I’d like to introduce you to: Google Ads.
Now, don’t panic - we’re not going to pay a single penny/cent to Google for what we’re about to do, but you are going to need a Google Ads account. You can sign up, completely for free, at https://ads.google.com
Once you’ve signed up and logged in, check in the “Tools” menu for something called the “Keyword Planner”. Inside Keyword Planner you can do a few really interesting things like:
- Get recommendations from Google for keywords based on a phrase, word, or even the content of your website.
- See historic traffic and forecasted future traffic for a keyword or phrase.
What’s really interesting in this data is that Google gives you, in bandings at least, the number of searches for your terms and tells you how hotly those terms are contested for advertising spend. I find it logical to assume to that if there’s high competition for adverts, there will be high competition for organic position as well.
The holy grail, of course, is a keyword with Low Competition and a large number of searches. Unless you are in a very narrow niche, you’ll be exceptionally lucky to find one of those unless you exploit The Long Tail and start working through 4+ word searches.
Don't try to target keywords that are not relevant for you just because they are high traffic.
One word of warning - it can be very intoxicating when you strike gold. Before you start clicking your heels like some old-time prospector or Jed Clampett when he finds there’s oil on his farm, just remember that trying to draw traffic to your site for keywords/phrases that you are not relevant for is not a good idea.
You’ll dilute your position on the phrases you are relevant for at best, pick up a penalty for creating spam content at worst.
Some jobs are like trying to force feed a hedgehog custard. Difficult, messy, pointless, and painful for all concerned.
Why can’t I make a list of keywords and then build pages based on that?
You can, sure, but why would you? Is that helping the customer? Probably not.
Sounds like you’re doing it because you’re trying to please the search engines… breaking one of our fundamental rules in the process. If you’re doing something just to please the search engines… it’s probably spam.