Learn the Definition and Purpose of a Meta Title for a Webpage

The meta title is used by both searchers and search engines

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The meta title of a webpage gives searchers and search engines a brief description of the contents on the page. It serves as both an attention grabber and a summary of what the article is about so that readers can make an informed decision on whether they'll find what they're looking for if they click that link.

Meta titles are a critical component of search engine optimization. When set up correctly, the meta title can be the deciding factor between someone clicking on a link or going elsewhere. For this reason, choosing a meta title wisely is important, as is making it as accurate as possible to reflect what's on the page.

The meta title isn't only seen on search engines. It's also visible at the top of the page tab in many web browsers, is usually the subject of an email if the link is sent as such, and is often saved as the title of a bookmark or favorite if a user chooses to save the page in a browser.

Identifying a Meta Title

Screenshot of several meta title examples on Google

When a search engine indexes a website, it reads its meta title and then uses it to display the same text to a user. Search for anything on Google or any other search engine, and you'll see each page's meta title.

With most search engines, the meta description is displayed just below the meta title and provides even more information about the article. There's also usually a small space reserved for the date that the article was last published.

Screenshot of a meta title as seen in the HTML code

If you're on the editing side of the web page and looking through the HTML code, the meta title is located in the head of the document. Here, the meta title is set apart by "title" tags such as <title>This Is the Meta Title</title>.

A meta title should not be confused with the headline for a page, which is created in the body of the HTML coding and appears as part of the webpage text.

How to Make a Good Meta Title

Users see the meta title, and search engines use it when indexing the page. You should use keywords and phrases in the meta title that help both the user and the search engine know what your page is about.

Users click on the meta title when they see it displayed in search engine results. Keep that in mind when you're writing one. The meta title should not be ambiguous. If you want search engines to bring up your page when users are searching for it, use keywords and phrases they might use in their query. 

For example, if your article is about how to best prepare soil for planting grass, use a meta title that speaks about that. Instead of having a meta title that reads "Best Garden Tips" or even worse, "My Favorite Tips," use something like "How to Plant Grass" since it's much more precise and relevant for the article's topic.

The meta title should be sufficiently long but not excessively so. Keeping the title at or under 55 characters provides the best display in search engines. That number includes spaces and punctuation. Use the keywords and phrases only one time in the title; don't repeat them.

Your web creation tool should allow you to edit the meta title. You can change it before or after you create and upload the page. Write the meta title in title case, with the first letter of most of the words capitalized except for articles, conjunctions, and prepositions with fewer than four letters.

Screenshot of a meta title editor
Editing a Meta Title.

You should also use a unique meta title for each web page, even if the pages have similar content. You want to let the reader and search engine know that they are not duplicates. However, that being said, if the content is the exact same and the meta titles are the only difference, you should consider another approach—like merging the two into one article and redirecting one article to the other.

Some web creation tools use the meta title or headline to create the URL. In this case, you might want to use a shorter version of the meta title when you first publish and then lengthen it after the URL is created. Otherwise, you'll end up with a long and messy URL.

Something else to consider if your publishing tool uses the meta title to build the URL is to avoid using dynamic wording, which is when the tool builds a URL automatically based on the text in the meta title. Since the article might change to reflect newer information in the future, you want to make sure the URL doesn't give the impression of older content.

For example, if your article talks about how to update Firefox to the newest software version, instead of creating a URL like \update-firefox-to-v40\, which won't ever change even if the article is actually about version 50, you should keep it simple like \how-to-update-firefox\. Doing that gives the impression to anyone looking at the URL that the how-to is as fresh as every new version, and you can update it as often as you like with new versions without having a URL that tells a different story.

Not All Meta Titles Are Accurate

Some web content might be completely different than what the meta title makes you assume. These types of articles are often called clickbait, or the meta titles themselves are called clickbait titles.

Someone might publish clickbait to increase page views, often in an attempt to create a viral article or to generate more revenue. This type of article draws you in to click it based on the false meta title, but then doesn't deliver what the readers assumes would logically be there.

Some web page creators might trick you with a false meta title so that you'll go to their website and download malware. For example, the page might say something like "100% Virus Free Software!" but really be full of viruses.

There really isn't any way to avoid clickbait articles except to avoid websites that are known for producing them. If you find yourself always landing on the same website each time you find yourself in a clickbait situation, start paying closer attention to the domain name in the search before you click the link, and click elsewhere instead.