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Title Tag and Meta Description Tag Questions

November 3, 2010
Hello Jill!

I have a couple of questions regarding tags:
Photo Credit: feliz
1. What is the maximum recommended number of characters in those tags?

2. If I want to optimize a website for tulips, would it be better to put only "tulip, Holland, import" in the description tag or maybe put as many variations as possible, like "tulip, tulips, Holland, tulips imported from Holland, imported tulips, imported tulips from Holland, tulip import," etc.?

The same question goes for the title tag.

3. Which of those 3 title tags will be ranked better when the term "tulips" is searched for in Google – "tulip," "tulips," "tulips from Holland"? I am worried that if I put too many words in the title tag (e.g., "tulips from Holland" or even more), this won't give good results when one searches for simple words (e.g., just "tulip").

4. Should all words from the title and description tags be included in the body text (or vice versa) – and how many times (once, twice, many times)?


++Jill's Response++

Hi Emil,

Please see my answers below:

1. There is no maximum number of characters for any of your tags, whether it's the title or meta description. While the search engines will not display an entire title tag if it goes over a certain number of characters, they still index far past what they display. I personally like my title tags to be around 10 to 12 words.

Meta description tags can be as long or as short as you want, because Google will display just the relevant part of it. So even if your meta description is hundreds of words, Google will pull a snippet from it that uses the keyword phrase that the searcher used.

2. You asked, "If I want to optimize a website for tulips, would it be better to put only 'tulip, Holland, import' in the description tag...?"

The meta description tag is to be used for full marketing sentences, not lists of keywords separated by commas. So, no, you wouldn't want to put that in there, or anything else that you suggested. You simply want to write 2 or 3 sentences that sum up what the page is all about, which also naturally use the few keyword phrases for which you are targeting within that page's content.

Remember: The meta description tag information won't help your page to rank for the keywords; it's there to provide context to the searcher when they see your results after their search so that they'll be more likely to click on your listing.

As for the title tag, while it doesn't need to be (nor should it be) a full sentence, like the meta description tag it should use the few keyword phrases for which you're targeting on the website.

Remember: You should be targeting keyword phrases, not keywords.

3. As to which of the tags will rank better in the search engines, there's no way to say because the title tag is only one area that the search engines look at. Optimize your entire page in a manner that naturally targets your keyword phrases, write your title tags accordingly, and you should be good!

4. Yes, typically all the words you're targeting in your title and description tags should be used within the body content of the page. It wouldn't really make sense otherwise, would it? There is no number of times that will be right for every page. Use them as many times as it makes sense in order to get your marketing message across to your users and entice them to buy your products or services.

Good luck!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

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Post Comment

 Janepoe said:
Follow up about how many times words can be used in the body of your page. My boss (who is a huge follower of you) says that you used to teach that using a keyword or keyphrase more than 4 times in describing your page is considered spamming. Is this true?
 Laura Crest said:
@Janepoe: I would agree with your boss, up to a point. Generally, 3x/page is good practice. But there is no substitute for your own "inner voice" as a writer. The keywords/phrases should flow smoothly and "fit" naturally with your copy. If you're writing your copy around clunky keyphrases, it will show. A great suggestion from Heather Lloyd Martin is to read your copy aloud. If it sounds clumsy and unnatural, stuffed w/keywords and -phrases, then it most likely is.
 Jill Whalen said:
Hi Janepoe,

Nope, I never gave any numbers for how many times phrases could appear in the copy. More than 4 times is certainly not spamming as a general rule, but of course if there were only 20 words on the page, then your keyword phrase being used 4 times might seem a little overboard, no?

There are no general rules about a number of times you should use a keyword phrase in the copy, despite what others might tell you.

It's all about using your judgment and common sense.

Always makes me laugh the things that others attribute me as having said!
 Laura Crest said:
@Jill Whalen Well said! "Keyword Density" is an outmoded, arcane concept from pre-Google days. Yes, common sense and your own judgment are the rule.