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SEO Quick Fixes: TITLE and DESCRIPTION Tags

A few small search engine optimization (SEO) changes can make a big difference in your site's position in the search engines. So it always helps to first identify problems with your site and, with a little luck, make a significant difference through quick fixes. To examine your pages for SEO problems, you need to read the pages’ source code and possibly do some tweaking to the code and the tags at the start of the page.

To see the source code, choose View→Source or View→Page Source in your browser. A window opens, showing you what the page's HTML looks like. (Or use a tool such as Firebug, an add-on designed for Firefox but available, in a lite form, for other browsers.)

SEO tweaks: TITLE tag

TITLE tags tell a browser what text to display in the browser’s title bar and tabs, and they’re very important to search engines. Quite reasonably, search engines figure that the TITLE tags may indicate the page’s title — and, therefore, its subject.

Open the source code for your site's home page. Here's what you should see at the top of the page:

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>Your title text is here</TITLE>

Here are a few problems you may have with your <TITLE> tags:

  • They're not there. Many pages simply don't have <TITLE> tags. If they don’t, you're failing to give the search engines one of the most important pieces of information about the page's subject matter.

  • They're in the wrong position. Sometimes you find the <TITLE> tags, but they're way down in the page. If they're too low in the page, search engines may not find them.

  • There are two sets. Now and then you’ll see sites that have two sets of <TITLE> tags on each page; in this case, the search engines will probably read the first and ignore the second.

  • Every page on the site has the same <TITLE> tag. Many sites use the exact same tag on every single page. Bad idea! Every <TITLE> tag should be different.

  • They're there, but they’re poor. The <TITLE> tags don't contain the proper keywords.

Your TITLE tags should be immediately below the <HEAD> tag and should contain useful keywords. Have 40 to 60 characters between the <TITLE> and </TITLE> tags (including spaces) and, perhaps, repeat the primary keywords once. If you're working on your Rodent Racing website, for example, you might have something like this:

<TITLE>Rodent Racing Info. Rats, Mice, Gerbils, Stoats, All Kinds of Rodent Racing</TITLE>

SEO tweaks: DESCRIPTION tag

The DESCRIPTION tag is important because search engines may index it (under the reasonable assumption that the description describes the contents of the page) and, in many cases, use the DESCRIPTION tag to provide the site description on the search results page.

Thus you might think of the DESCRIPTION tag as serving two purposes: to help with search rank and as a "sales pitch" to convince people viewing the search-results page to click your link. (Google says it doesn’t use the tag for indexing, but it’s still important because Google will often display the tag contents in the search-results page.)

Take a quick look at the DESCRIPTION tag. It should look something like this:

<META NAME="description" CONTENT="your description goes here">

Sites often have the same problems with DESCRIPTION tags as they do with TITLE tags. The tags aren’t there, are hidden away deep down in the page, are duplicated, or simply aren't very good.

Place the DESCRIPTION tag immediately below the TITLE tags, as shown in the figure, and create a keyworded description of up to 250 characters (again, including spaces). Here’s an example:

image0.jpg
<META NAME="description" CONTENT="Rodent Racing - Scores, Schedules, Everything Rodent Racing. Mouse Racing, Stoat Racing, Rats, Gerbils - Everything You Need to Know about Rodent Racing and Caring for Your Racers.">

Sometimes web developers switch the attributes in the tag, putting the CONTENT= before the NAME=, like this:

<META CONTENT="your description goes here" NAME="description">

Do not switch the tag attributes. Changing the order may or may not cause a problem for Google or the other big search engines (probably not), but it does confuse some smaller systems. There's no reason to do it, so don't.

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