SEO Fundamentals: Metadata Optimisation

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) as a concept is widely understood. Its rapidly and constantly changing nature is not always so fully appreciated. A thorough exploration of SEO techniques – how and why they work, what to prioritise and where to focus – can easily fill a book. Even the fundamentals are far from straightforward so it is worth taking them one at a time. Let’s look in some detail at the part metadata optimisation plays in an effective SEO strategy.

What is Metadata?

It is simply the short description of a website or page that will appear in search engine results pages (SERPs). Its sole purpose is to give users a brief, instant indication as to what the site or an individual web page has to offer. It is called ‘meta’ because it is data that provides information about and summarises the nature of other data. It can be created manually to ensure accuracy or it can be generated automatically, in a more basic and generally less intuitive form.

SEO fields are an important part of your site’s structure and it is best practice to make sure there is a value for each of these fields because it will allow the search engines to index your pages more effectively. The three important fields stored in the metadata of your pages are the SEO description, which is what users first see in SERPs, SEO keywords covering the site’s main subjects, and SEO titles.

All three fields operate best when you add synonymous words, phrases and explanations which elaborate on the head description. The more information you can give in an appropriate form, the better. In titles these will be short phrases, in descriptions you should use sub-headings and for keywords you might start by thinking of the words you would use to search but you should back this up with thorough research of the keywords that are proven to work for competitors.

You need to take care when composing your meta description to make it precise and relevant. This is not only because your site visitors will expect it to be a reliable guide and will be easily deterred if what they find is not what they have been promised. The other important reason for caution is that your site will be penalised by the search engines if the meta data is misleading, whether by accident or intention. Falling foul of Google and the other engines can be damaging for your rankings, traffic levels and ultimately conversions.

Search engines prioritise trust, authority and reliability. If you lose your reputation for these qualities, it can be hard to regain it so the content of your metadata is a matter to take very seriously. You should also extend this to all forms of page optimisation, including titles, sub-headings and keywords.

On-Page Optimisation

Google (which term for our purposes includes all major search engines) does not provide a web-wide search service. Instead, it uses bots to crawl the internet examining websites and indexing them. The first challenge for any site is to be included in Google’s index and the second is to rank as highly as possible. Anything lower than the first page of results is considered too low.

Google’s crawlers read metadata, titles and keywords to understand a site and then add it to the index. However, this is not an instant process but an organic one that can take time and several passes. This is why you need to optimise from the moment you launch. Without metadata optimisation, your site will sit unnoticed and unvisited amongst millions of others.

Page and Meta Optimisation

As with everything in SEO, change is perpetual which means it is vital to conduct regular SEO checks and content audits to make sure your page optimisation is still fully effective and to identify any missing metadata, page titles and H1 tags. It is not uncommon to find that data is absent, badly written or doesn’t conform to Google’s guidelines. This is why keyword research is essential.

There are many tools available to conduct keyword research, including the Google Search Console. These allow you to see which keywords are most appropriate to your sector and which achieve the highest search volumes. With these findings, you can set about optimising pages accordingly. Search volume, user intent and relevance are the key factors. It’s also important to keep within Google’s parameters for the ideal number of characters otherwise your results may appear truncated. This doesn’t create a good impression and may reduce your click-through rates.

Having performed this optimisation task, your work has really only begun, because the importance of keywords can decline as others replace them so optimisation is a continual process. But there is another potential pitfall related to the changeable nature of SEO and that is Google’s predilection for updating its algorithms. It’s impossible to know in advance what Google are planning but often they use machine learning for a better understanding of the context and intention of natural language searches.

Previous updates have altered the imperatives of optimisation so that it is not sufficient to focus solely on the keywords but also on the word and phrases surrounding them which create the context in which Google will understand them.

Measuring Your Results

Optimisation is only half the task. We’ve referred more than once to the fluidity of SEO practices and that is why it will always be essential to monitor your site’s performance. Like Sisyphus, condemned for eternity by the gods to roll a boulder to the top of a hill only to watch it roll back down to the bottom, you can’t rest. Keywords, trends, customer preferences, competition and algorithms are changing all the time. Optimisation that works effectively today may have been overtaken by events in six months and you’ll wonder why your traffic is declining.

As with keyword research, resources such as Google Search Console enable you to track the optimisation performance of your web pages. The information it yields will guide you in adjusting and updating your metadata optimisation so that you maintain peak performance. But remember: constant review is the only way to be sure of getting the best results all the time.

Summary of Key Points

Metadata are amongst the most powerful tools to achieve search engine optimisation. They contribute significantly to improved visibility and higher click-through rates.

Page titles and sub-headings should be optimised with well-researched and relevant keywords, placed naturally.

In dealing with algorithm updates, it’s hard to be proactive but your reactive response should be swift and comprehensive.

Use the available tools to research the best terms to use in meta tags and meta descriptions and to learn from both the successes and failures of your competitors.

Monitor the effectiveness of your optimisation constantly. Your work is never finished and complacency can be fatal.

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