Best Practice Guides
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
What are title tags and where do they appear?
Title tags define the title of a webpage and are used on search engine results pages (SERPs) to display a preview snippet of a page. The title tag of a webpage is meant to be an accurate and concise description of that page’s content. This element is critical to both user experience and search engine optimization because it works to give both users and search engines contextual clues as to what the page is about.
Title elements have long been considered one of the most important on-page SEO factors (the most important being overall content), and they appear in three key places: browsers, search engine results pages, and external websites.
<title>Your Title Here</title>
This code shows you what the title tag looks like on a page’s HTML, though most CMSs have plugins that allow you to easily add in a title tag without editing code.
How do you optimize your title tags?
Format and length are the two biggest components. Here are critical recommendations for optimizing title tags for search engine and usability goals:
Primary Keyword - Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
According to industry testing and experience, the closer to the start of the title tag a keyword is, the more helpful it will be for ranking—and the more likely a user will be to click through from search results. Title tags should include the primary keyword for that page at the beginning, followed by the secondary keyword. Sometimes, there will only be room for the primary keyword, especially if it’s a page that has a long program name, which is often the case in higher ed. That being said, you always want to include the school name at the end of the title tag, for brand recognition.
Bioengineering | Grainger College of Engineering
Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a title tag or as many characters as will fit into a 600-pixel display. Titles that extend past the 600-pixel display will be truncated and unable to be fully read. If the title is too long, engines will show an ellipsis to indicate that a title tag has been cut off.
When writing title tags, you can use the tool below, which will show you an example of how the title tag, in conjunction with the meta description, will appear in a SERP. This is helpful for gauging length.
A few final notes
It's vital to think about the entire user experience when you're creating your title tags, in addition to optimization and keyword usage. The title tag is a new visitor's first interaction with your brand when they find it in a search result; it should reflect the page’s topic in an easy-to-consume manner.
DO NOT Keyword stuff
While naturally working one or two keywords into your title is important, you don’t want to sacrifice readability for keyword stuffing. You want to compel searchers to click on your page, not be scared away by what appears to be spam. Keep it simple.
What are header tags?
When you plug content for a web page into your CMS, you have options for tagging chunks of text as H1 or H2. Essentially, these are different types of headers and they are important for SEO. There are other heading tags beyond these, such as H3, H4, H5, and H6, but they are not incredibly helpful for SEO. The H1 carries the most weight when it comes to ranking power, followed by the H2. Basically, they descend by importance. The H1 is the main header, while the H2 is the subheader. While each page should only have one H1, it can have multiple H2s, which are best used as section headers within the body of your text. Think of it this way: the headers provide both search engines and users with an outline of a page’s content.
In recent years, there has been some skepticism regarding just how much of a factor header tags are in Google’s ranking algorithm. Some believe that their importance has diminished with time. However, when we think about header tags from a user experience point of view, it becomes clear that using headers is still a best practice.
When searchers click on a result in the SERP, they expect to find exactly what they are looking for when they land on the web page. For this reason, it is important that you have a header and subheaders that speak directly to the keywords that the searcher used in their query to find you. If they get to the page and see nothing immediately relevant to their search, then they will click the back button. This will register as a bounce, which will negatively affect your search engine visibility.
How to code header tags
Most CMSs give you the ability to simply highlight a section of body text and tag it as an H1 or H2. However, if your CMS does not have such a plugin, then you should instead insert the below tags in your HTML around the appropriate text:
<h1> Your Header 1 Here </h1>
<h2> Your Header 2 Here </h2>
Identifying header tags in HTML
It is important to note that you should only have one H1 tag on each page. You can check the source of a page to see if there is more than one H1 tag in the HTML. Sometimes, a web page has more than one H1 without the website manager knowing. This is because certain design elements can cause random text to be tagged as an H1. That’s why it is important to check the HTML for all <h1> tags by doing a search in the “view source” option of your browser.
While having multiple H2s is okay, it’s important that they are relevant to the page’s content. For example, when you inspect a page’s source, you may find that an <h2> tag is being pulled into the HTML from an unrelated page that is linked in the main menu. This is an issue that your web developer or designer should look into.
The H1 is the main header for a webpage. Take, for example, a program page on a higher ed website. The header might simply be “MBA.” However, you would want to get more granular than this so that your H1 can include more keywords. For example, you might instead name the H1 “MBA Programs” or “MBA Degrees” as both “degrees” and “programs” are top keywords. There are no character limits for H1s, so you can make the headers as long as you’d like. You may opt to make the header a sentence, such as: “Our MBA Programs Open Up Endless Career Advancement Opportunities.” Remember, you should only have one H1 on each page.
H2s serve as subheaders on a webpage. Remember, you can have more than one H2 on each page. They are good to use when you have long blocks of content that you want to break up for readability purposes. For example, you may want to break up sections of body text on your main Admissions page for undergraduate, graduate, and transfer. Like with H1s, it is always a good idea to include keywords in your H2s. Therefore, if your main keyword was “admissions,” then you would want to label your H2s: Undergraduate Admissions, Graduate Admissions, and Transfer Admissions.
If you opt to use a longer, sentence-length H1, you may also consider doing the same for your first H2. For example:
H1: Our Executive MBA Programs Open Up Endless Career Advancement Opportunities
H2: With many executive MBA degrees to choose from, you can further your career in accounting, finance, healthcare, and more!
A note on keywords
The above H1 and H2 include the following keywords: executive MBA, executive MBA programs, executive MBA degrees. Note how they are woven into these headers seamlessly. While it is important that your keywords appear in your headers, it is also important that they read naturally. You don’t want to keyword stuff and have them sound grammatically incorrect.
Also note that, while “accounting,” “finance,” and “health care,” are not part of the list of keywords you’re targeting, it is smart to list top program names, as students get more granular as their search process goes on.
Keep in mind that content is the most important search visibility factor and headers are part of the content of a web page. That’s why it is important not to neglect header tags for your web pages. For the best optimization, be sure that the content of your header tags lines up with the information in the body text, as well as the title tags and meta descriptions. This kind of alignment ensures the best search engine visibility.
What are meta descriptions?
Meta descriptions, in short, are used to describe webpages in search results. When you type a query into a search engine, you are given a number of results on page one alone, but how do you choose which is the most relevant? By reading the titles and descriptions of the page results, you start to deduce which result is best to click on. Essentially, a meta description is intended to attract human users to a webpage. Good meta descriptions give searchers some context as to what a page is about. Armed with useful information, users are more likely to click on results that have descriptions relevant to their search.
Search Engine Results Page
Please note that the above image has been marked with colored highlights for the purposes of this document. The blue is the title tag, and the red is the meta description.
Why are meta descriptions good for SEO?
Meta descriptions aren’t inherently good for SEO as a standalone. They are, however, great for users. Good meta descriptions give the user an understanding as to what a page is about, which leads to a good click-through-rate (CTR). Increased CTR has been proven to be a factor in ranking algorithms, so good meta descriptions are indirectly good for SEO. In order to ensure a positive user experience, you want to make sure that each meta description is accurate and properly reflects the page’s content. Also, make sure that content located on that landing page is above the fold and easily digestible to incoming traffic. When users cannot easily find what they are looking for, they often press the back button. This will then register as a bounce, lowering your overall potential to rank well. Therefore, it is important to keep relevant and pertinent information at the top of every webpage.
<meta name="description" content="This is a description of the page you are about to click on.">
This code shows you what the description looks like on a page’s HTML, though most CMSs have plugins that allow you to easily add in a meta description without editing code.
How do you optimize your meta descriptions?
There are a few factors that should be considered when writing meta descriptions:
Use the optimal length.
Meta descriptions should be no more than 150-170 characters, including whitespace. Please refer to the Google Snippet generator found at https://www.portent.com/serp-preview-tool in order to best gauge description length and to see the way a description will appear in a Search Engine Results Page. When a meta description runs over the 170-character count it may appear truncated on a SERP, and the remaining text will be replaced with an ellipsis.
Place important keywords close to the front.
It is smart to put two things at the beginning of your meta description: your school name and your main keyword for that page. When you put your school name at the beginning of the description, it ensures brand recognition. Alongside that, it’s also a good idea to put an essential keyword or two at the beginning of a meta description so that searchers connect their query to your search result right away. You not only want them to find your site, but to find a specific webpage on your site that is going to be most helpful to them.
Include a call-to-action.
Having a call-to-action in your description is also a good idea. While having the school name and/or a keyword at the beginning of the content is important, it’s smart to end the description with a sentence that entices the reader to click on your page! For example, ending a description with something such as, “Learn more now!” gives searchers direction on what to do next. Other good call-to-action verbs include: find, discover, join, etc.
What NOT to do when it comes to meta descriptions:
Avoid meta description duplicates.
Let’s say that someone has done a search for your brand. If a large portion of the webpages that appear in the SERP have identical titles and meta descriptions, how are they going to know which page to click on? In other words, how would they know which page holds the specific information they are looking for? They won’t, so they will have to guess. Once they have clicked on a result, if they can’t see or find the information they want, they will likely click back to the SERP. In such cases, many searchers will abandon a search and move on. This is why meta descriptions are so important. They help searchers land on the page they are looking for, thus making them more likely to stay on your site and to have a positive user experience.
Since the purpose of a meta description is to describe the webpage that it is related to, there isn’t a reason to have duplicate meta descriptions. Each webpage should provide unique, useful, and easy-to-read information and this should be reflected in the meta description. If a page is so closely related to another page that you can’t think of why the title or meta description would differ, then it may be best to merge the pages using a 301 redirect.
Do NOT keyword stuff.
While naturally working one or two keywords into your description is helpful, you don’t want to sacrifice readability for keyword stuffing. You want to compel searchers to click on your page, not be scared away by what appears to be spam. The keywords should look like they belong in the content.
Say you were writing a description for an English Major page on your site and you wanted to target the following keywords: English major, creative writing major, and literature major. Now take the following two examples into account:
DO: Grainger College of Engineering offers two Systems Engineering and Design major degree paths, one that gives you the option to specialize in computer-aided design and the other in consulting. Learn more now!
The keywords are there, but this description still sounds natural.
DON’T: Grainger College of Engineering offers a Systems Engineering and Design major, computer-aided design major, and consulting major options. Come be a Systems Engineering and Design major in our department today and take courses in computer-aided design and consulting!
The repetition of “major” sounds unnatural and grammatically incorrect, as does the repetition of the specialization names. This description is not as conversational as the first example, which makes it obvious that it is written for a search engine and not a person.