Creating impactful meta data such as title tags and meta descriptions can be intimidating for ecommerce websites, especially if there are thousands of products in their inventory. It might seem as if a legion of seo specialists dedicating dozens of hours would be needed to create consistent, targeted meta data but the truth is far more simple. This guide will provide product merchandisers and in-house marketing specialists with the tools they will need to tackle this daunting task. While this is a fairly straightforward process for product pages, this guide will offer considerations and guidance that will complement the skill set and knowledge of the people who work with these products on a day-to-day basis.
The most consideration when creating title tags is length. Google only allows a certain pixel-width of characters to display on a search results page, so it is important that the message conveyed in the title tag is both succinct and specifically relevant to the page it is tied to. Because pixel-width is difficult to count, a more common gauge for title tag length is to keep it between 50 and 60 characters long, including spaces. For most title tags, 55 characters is the sweet spot.
Title tags are typically composed of two sections. The first section of the tag denotes what the page is. The second half denotes the preferred method of branding for the website. The two sections are usually separated by either a pipe or hyphen. Here is an example using two fictional brands:
Extreme Nacho Flavored Snack Chips | Tasty Chip Factory
Blue Velvet Throw Blanket | Snuggly Blanket Warehouse
The First Part of the Text
The first part of the text denotes the content of the page. For product pages, this will probably be a shortened version of the product name. I've chosen to separate each idea in the text with a semicolon, but this can also be done with a hyphen or with no character. I feel using a semicolon or hyphen makes the text easier to read when a user is scanning a search results page.
The tricky part of writing text for the first half of a title tag is being able to convey large ideas in a small amount of text. This is especially tricky with products that have long names. Focusing on the elements that are the most important for a product will make it easier. While it may seem that one would need advanced seo knowledge to do this, basic merchandising skills and knowledge of the product should be more than sufficient.
Let's look at the examples above once more. I focused on conveying the most important aspects of the product in the title tag - flavor, size, color, etc. Description terms may need to be juggled in order to fit within the constraints of the character limit. I ran over the preferred character limit for Snuggly Blanket Warehouse's product title tag so I removed a term that indicated the size of the blanket. Don't worry, however, because I will discuss how to add additional key descriptors later in the meta description.
The Middle Part of the Text
The middle pipe character is used to separate the first half and second half of the title tag. This is useful for when you want to include branding in the title tag (which I would recommend). Others in the seo field may use a hyphen instead of a pipe but I find that the pipe is easier to read, makes for a more visible divider, and frees up the hyphen to be used in other areas of the title tag if necessary.
The Last Part of the Text
The last part of the text is an area generally reserved for branding purposes. Most websites append the name of their brand (either in full or in an abbreviated format) to the end of the title tags on their site. For brands with a short name, this isn't too much of an inconvenience. For brands with longer names, the brand name can eat up a large portion of the available character count.
For the examples above I used the full brand name in the title tag. However, if you choose to do so, you could use abbreviations like TCF or SBW assuming these would be recognizable to users on a search results page. I tend to err on the side of caution and include the full brand name because they are more likely than their acronym to show up for branded searches.
Meta descriptions are a great place to provide additional information about a product so that it will be visible on a search results page. The available character count is significantly larger than title tags and allows for the use of secondary keywords, additional descriptors, and calls to action that do not fit in title tags. There is one key difference between the two meta tags, however. While title tags provide a strong signal to Google regarding a page's content and targeted keywords, meta descriptions are not used as a ranking signal at all. They are solely for the user's sake. This opens up the meta description for use as a marketing tool to convince a potential user to click into your site.
The meta description should be between 150-160 characters long (again, including spaces) with 155 characters being ideal. Here is an example using the same fictional brands from before.
TCF: Explore new taste frontiers with our new extreme nacho snack chips. Each 64 oz. party bag is packed with maximum, hand-crafted flavor instead of filler air.
SBW: Rediscover luxury by wrapping up in our plush blue velvet throw blankets. Designed by our expert snugglologists, each blanket comes with a lifetime warranty.
There is a lot of information in this meta description but it is overwhelming. Pricing is listed but it can be unclear what the price is in reference to, especially when multiple pricing tiers or options are given. By making a user's first impression of your site both intelligible and informative, you are more likely to win their click. Employ your product merchandising and marketing skills to use by highlighting aspects of your product that are unique or important. The meta description is a perfect location to show you are the user's best choice in a sea of competitors.
Communication is Key
- Before setting your team loose to write title tags and meta descriptions, take time to make sure everyone is on the same page and is comfortable with the task. Consistency is key and it is vital that certain expectation are made clear from the start:
- Develop consistent rules for branding and how your brand's name should appear.
- Create a list of all your products' attributes. Decide which ones are must-haves and which ones are nice but not essential. This will help determine which attributes should be included in the title tag or migrated down to the meta description.
- Not all products should be treated the same. It's okay to break products into groups, assigning different levels of attribute importance to each group. Trying to shoehorn a "one-size-fits-all" approach will lead to awkward and unsuccessful meta data creation.
- Work through the process as a team. This will ensure everyone is on-board with the final strategy.
Time is Not the Enemy
If your ecommerce site has thousands of products that lack any form of meta data, the most important tip to remember is that this is not a battle that will be won over night. Align a meta data creation strategy with your in-house marketing or merchandising team and develop a strategy to divide the work into manageable pieces. Start by creating meta data for incoming products that are being added to your inventory. Next, develop goals with your team to create product page meta data for older products during off-season or in between projects. By creating long-term goals, the task will seem less daunting and it will be easier to create meta data for all your historical products.
Here is a quick tip that will make writing title tags and meta descriptions a breeze. The first is to compose them in an Excel document before importing them into your content management system. This allows you to see, at a glance, what the title tags and meta descriptions are for all the products you are working on. It can also serve as a historical reference as you make tweaks and changes in the future. A simple Excel formula can also be used to track character count for the cells you compose the meta tags in.
In the image above, you can see the following formula in cell C2:
This formula calculate the number of characters, including spaces, for the cell within the parentheses. As you write each meta tag, the formula will allow you to quickly keep track of the length of each meta tag.