What Is the Meta Title of a Web Page?

The meta title is seen by search engines and users

Google search results showing meta data on an Android device

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You may not notice it when you read a headline or skim an online article, but a web page's meta title is an essential bit of information. The meta title is like a name tag for a website. It tells search engines what the website is about, and it provides a user's first impression of an online site.

Here's a look at what a meta title does, how to identify one, how to write a good meta title, and why sometimes a meta title can be deceiving.

A website's meta title is the title of the HTML document. It's sometimes also referred to as a title tag or page title. The meta title is a necessary element in HTML and is noted in the document's header area.

A Meta Title's Function

A web page's meta title gives searchers and search engines a brief description of the page's contents. 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.

A meta title isn't visible only to search engines. Users see it at the top of the page tab in many browsers. It's also usually the subject of an email if you send a link to the page, and it's often saved as part of the title of a Bookmark or Favorite.

Identifying a Meta Title

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

With most search engines, the meta description is displayed just below the meta title, offering even more information about the article. This area will also reveal the date the article was last published, giving users an idea of how current the information is.

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

A meta title shouldn't be confused with a page's headline, which is created in the body of the HTML coding and appears as part of the web page text.

How to Make a Good Meta Title

Since users see the meta title and search engines use it when indexing the page, it's important to use keywords and phrases that let everyone know what your page is about.

If you're writing a meta title for your web page, understand that users will see it during a search. The title shouldn't be ambiguous. If you want search engines to serve up your page when users are searching, incorporate keywords and phrases people might use in a search query. 

For example, if your article is about how best to prepare soil for planting grass, instead of writing "Best Garden Tips," or even worse, "My Favorite Tips," use something like "How to Plant Grass," since this is much more precise and relevant to the article's topic.

The meta title should be long enough, but not too long. Keep it at or under 55 characters, including spaces and punctuation. Use keywords and phrases only one time in the title, and don't repeat them.

More Meta Title Considerations

Your website creation tool should allow you to edit the meta title. 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.

Use a unique meta title for each web page, even if the pages have similar content. This lets the reader and search engine know the pages aren't duplicates. But if the content is exactly the same and the meta titles are the only difference, consider another approach, such as 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.

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, keep it simple with something like \how-to-update-firefox\. This gives users the impression of fresh content.

With a meta title that doesn't date your article, you can keep updating the article with fresh content that doesn't contradict the meta title.

Not All Meta Titles Are Accurate

Some web content might be completely different than what the meta title promises. 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 based on the false meta title but then doesn't deliver the content you expect.

Sometimes misleading meta titles draw users to dangerous websites to download malware. For example, the page might say something like, "100% Virus Free Software!" but actually be full of viruses.

There really isn't any way to avoid clickbait articles except to circumvent 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.

To avoid clickbait, become familiar with the sensationalistic style of these meta titles, which often promise something too good to be true or prompt you to install something.