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Best free SEO tools #5: better meta tags with Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider

SEO isn’t a mystery: it’s more like the virtual equivalent of good housekeeping or car maintenance. And if we extend that idea, we’d have to say that optimised meta tags are like making sure you empty your vacuum cleaner or oil your engine: not a key daily task but things will go more smoothly if you do.

Today, we walk you through an easy way to touch up your title tags. By using an SEO Spider, which you can download free from creators Screaming Frog’s website, you can streamline your online marketing efforts.

We’ll even walk you through some processes and explain best practise basics. So, bookmark this page for future reference and then we’ll get started...

What are meta tags?

If you are like many small business owners, then you may be thinking “what is a meta tag”? Well, the easiest way to describe them is “instructions for search engines that you’ll see in search results”. The title tag is the blue area at the top of each result, while the description tag is what appears underneath.

One Meta description and title

“Why are they important?” we hear you cry. Well, the title is one of the most significant pieces of information that search engines consider when assessing what a page is about. Getting them wrong is about the worst start that you can make, apart from having a page that is either empty or has poor quality content.

As for the meta description: Google has stated for some time now that meta descriptions have no impact on page ranking. But that’s only if you take a very narrow view of the whole concept. Here’s a fact: search engines assess sites largely on user engagement, which is partly based on the number of “clicks” through to the site.

So you can draw an instant logical correlation: if your meta descriptions are poor or misleading, then you could lose clicks and therefore lose traffic and credibility in the eyes of search engines.

Meta tag best practice

If you want to make the most of your meta tags, then you should consider the following guidelines:

  • Meta titles should ideally fit within a limit of 482 pixels to ensure that they aren’t truncated by Google
  • Meta descriptions should ideally be no longer than 155 characters for SERP displays on desktop computers
  • This number drops from 155 to about 117 if you want your search results to be fully visible on smartphones as well

So you need to figure out if your potential customers often use mobile devices when searching for services like yours. You can find this by using Google Analytics. Follow the steps below to see if your home page has many visitors who use smartphones.

  1. Log in to Google Analytics
  2. Go to the All Web Site Data view for your Property
  3. Click on this link to a Desktop versus Mobile Audience Dashboard
  4. Check your Mobile/Tablet figures and decide if you have enough traffic to justify optimising for smartphone displays

You should also consider how the shape of internet browsing is changing. Google did research in 2013 that suggested more and more people shop online using multiple devices. They might research a purchase on the bus home, but then carry out the transaction on their desktop before supper. It’s really up to you how you want to optimise your site.

Using a meta tag analyser

On to business: how do we use Screaming Frog to optimise your meta tags? Firstly, you need to paste your URL into the field marked “Enter URL to spider” and then hit “Start”. You’ll soon see the results of the crawl appearing in the upper half of the display.

As noted, there are many different views and applications for the SEO Spider, but what we want to focus on right now is meta tags. That means looking at the following areas of the display:

  • Page Titles
  • Meta Description
  • SERP Snippet

You can see these areas highlighted on the picture below. Please note that your display may look slightly different as ours was adjusted for better image quality, but you should get the idea.

Two Screaming frog tabs

In the right-hand panel of your screen, you’ll be able to see a number of statuses under each particular SEO element. The main ones we want to focus on today are:

  • Page Titles – Over 482 Pixels, Below 30 Characters
  • Meta Descriptions – Over 156 Characters, Below 30 Characters
  • Both – Missing or Duplicate

Now, highlight one of these problem areas like we have below. In this case, we’re looking at a Page Title with “Over 482 Pixels”. If we then click first on one of the offending pages, then on the SERP Snippet tab, what we get is a little preview of the problem area.

Three Screeming frog data

FYI – SERP stands for Search Engine Results Page, which is why the “snippet” looks like a Google search result. It gives you a little preview of what that page would look like online. Note that in the image above, the meta title (or page title) has been cut off and finishes “…”

This is not a disaster, but it does leave an incomplete message, which means you could miss out on displaying vital information. If you scroll to the right, you can see a breakdown of the two elements “Title” and “Description” and whether they are truncated (cut off) or still have characters remaining.

Four Screeming frog data

If you now scroll left and then down to below the SERP Snippet, you will see some fields that contain a copy of your title and description tags…

Five screeming frog data

Here comes the great part: you can edit the entry within Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider interface until you get a satisfactory result, as below. Then simply copy the new and improved tag into your CMS and you’re ready to go!

Six Screeming frog data

SEO-friendly meta tags: a quick guide

To get a good idea of what makes up a good meta description, check out our blog article on writing better meta descriptions for your website. It demonstrates neatly which key components should be included.

In terms of titles, we are currently recommending that you follow the tongue-in-cheek guidelines below, based largely on how Google currently re-writes titles that aren’t optimised.

Home Page Title -
Businessy Business: Doing Stuff | Place, UK
Businessy Business: Doing Stuff | Place, UK
Other Page Titles -
Stuff Services | Place | Businessy Business UK
Stuff Services | Place | Businessy Business UK
The most important considerations are to ensure that you get all relevant information for each page into your title, and then reflect that info in a well-written description. Complete examples of title and description tags would be as follows.

Home Page

Title –

Businessy Business: Doing Stuff | Place, UK

Description –

Based in Place, Businessy Business are just super at doing stuff. Call us on 01234 567 890 for a free quotation.

Other Pages

Title –

Stuff Services | Place | Businessy Business UK
Stuff Services | Place | Businessy Business UK

Description –

Businessy Business provide qualified stuff services in Place. Contact us on 01234 567 890 for a free no-obligation quote.

As you can see in the descriptions, each of the items in bold represents a key item from the page title, while the parts in italics are areas mentioned in our meta descriptions blog article:

  • Call to action (“Call us”)
  • Contact details (phone number)
  • Unique selling point (“free quotation”)

Just remember – don’t duplicate title or description tags as you’re basically telling search engines and the people who use them that you have exactly the same information on each page! As we have said before about page content, duplication of content is typically a bad idea.

So, with the guidelines above and a little help from the outstanding SEO Spider tool, you can have optimised title tags across your business website in no time! Bookmark our blog page and then come back in future weeks when we’ll have more handy info to share.

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