This past week a client of mine who is also an associate messaged me in a pretty agitated state. “What’s wrong with my Meta Titles” he asked. “Is Yoast (WordPress SEO plugin) broken?”
“What do you mean?” I responded.
“None of my meta titles or meta descriptions are showing up right”, he said. “Every time I try a different search term to bring up my company pages the title and description are different! Is Yoast broken or is something else keeping it from working? This is terrible, all the time you spent on making things so they conformed to Google best practices is wasted! Now I have to delete (expletive) Yoast and start over!”
“Hang on while I take a look”, I responded. I am not one to get all excited over things like what he was describing. If it was a conflict between his WordPress theme and the Yoast plugin it wouldn’t be that hard to figure out. Admittedly he has one of the most difficult WordPress themes I have ever tried to deal with but everything had been holding together so it didn’t seem like that was the cause.
The Yoast SEO plugin is very stable and I have not seen many conflicts with it which made me doubt that as the source of his perceived problem. For that matter, from what he was saying I was not even sure there WAS a problem. My first step was to eliminate the obvious.
I asked him if he or his team had been doing anything new with the theme recently. He said they hadn’t so that ruled out the most obvious possibility. Then I went to his site, logged in and checked out the plugins myself. Everything seemed to be in order.
I asked him what exactly he was seeing. He said that every time he did a search on Google that had always brought up his website with the meta title and description we had specified for his home page something different would show up. I asked him for a couple of the search terms he was using and repeated the searches from my office. He was right. Each search brought up his home page but in each case either the title or the description or both were different than what was specified in his meta tags.
Meta Tags Put To The test
I then repeated the search using my own website as the subject. Sure enough the search engine modified the site description and meta title in response to the search query. Here is a series of images that will show you how the Street Punk Productions website came up using various simple search queries. Notice that it is the same URL being displayed in each case. Only the title and or description have been changed using information available on the page to better match the search query.
As you can see in each case either the title or description displayed are different even though every one of the results is giving exactly the same URL (page) in response to the various queries. This is the magic of Semantic Search. The search engine tries to use the information that is available on the trillion or so web pages in it’s index to create search results that best answer each different query.
Semantic Search uses all of the data on a web page to create search results. Does this mean that meta title and description tags are no longer needed? No, not at all. Meta Tags allow you to provide descriptions for your content that are what you consider to be the best representation of what your page is about. As you can see though, without a rich variety of content on your pages, those handy little tools can also limit your appearance in search results.
If, for example, you have a home page on your site that consists of little more than your header image and a huge image or image slider that makes up the content on the page you are sacrificing any chance you have to add meaningful content to the page purely for the aesthetic benefit of a pretty picture. You are also sacrificing the many different ways that your page might show up in search for many different related queries.
This is why it is so important to have a Content Strategy that is based on Google best practices for your website. There is no “magic pill” to make your site appear on the first page of Google Search. There just isn’t. If there was more SEO companies would be able to be on the first page of Google search themselves.
What? Do I mean that the SEO companies who email or call you every day offering to put you on the front page of Google search can’t even do the same thing for their own companies? Yes, I mean exactly that. To confirm this all you have to do is search “SEO” on Google.
I put together a screen shot of the results of such a search and added some annotations of my own in the image to the left. I want you to see how Google is currently presenting search results. The only way the SEO companies that tell you they will put you on the first page of Google search get there themselves is through Adwords advertising (they pay for it).
This does not mean that SEO is dead or that using meta titles and descriptions is pointless. However there are other meta tags which I believe now carry a great deal more weight in helping search engines decide what your page is about and if it is the best one to show in answer to a particular query.
Meta Data/Rich Snippets Changes Everything
These other tags are called Rich Snippets (structured data) and if you don’t know what they are then your website very likely does not have them incorporated into it’s design. I find that most web designers do not include them or much else in the way of the tools that are necessary to run an ongoing content strategy for a website. If you don’t know what they are then you will never have them. Most SEO companies don’t have them either. If you want to test your website for Rich Snippets you can use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.
Let me leave you with an example of what a good content strategy can do for your website. I will again use my own site as the example. My site has all of the tools that I need to both optimize the static pages on the site for search and to run a successful ongoing content strategy. As a result when I write new content (such as this post you are reading) I know that it will probably do well in search results.
There are many factors which work together to make a piece of content successful. It does take time to start seeing top notch results form even a very well put together content strategy. But, once everything is in place and the site has had a bit of time to “mature” the results you will see more than pay for the cost of setting up and running a good content strategy.
In the image below you see the result of a search on the query; seo rules for 2014 and beyond
Admittedly this is something of a setup because I searched on exactly the title of the post. However it illustrates why it is important to select titles that are something an average person might use as a search query. The post is intended first to inform readers about what has changed in SEO in the past year and to project what is coming in the near future. similar searches also provide a listing for this story just not always in position #1 out of ten million possibilities…
My story on a topic that is relevant to the focus of my website and to the current time frame has beaten out every other website in the world for the number one spot in Google search. That includes amazon which is currently ranked as the number 11 site in the world according to Alexa.com.
My website is nothing special. Just a business site for a small ad agency in a small town in Pennsylvania. Therefore this is an excellent example of what a properly designed and executed content strategy can do for YOUR small business too! It is possible to put you on the first page of Google search results but it takes a lot of work and you can’t trust anyone to do it for you that can’t do it for themselves. Its as simple as that.
I will be holding a Google Hangout On Air on Wednesday June 18th at 1pm EST to talk about content strategies. My guest will be the President of a site called WriterAccess which is essentially a ghost writing company that provides affordable, professionally written content to businesses. I think that this type of service can be an effective part of your ongoing content strategy and I invite you to join us for the HOA.