Pirate Marketing: Page Descriptions and What Your Competition Doesn't Know

Pirate Marketing: Page Descriptions and What Your Competition Doesn't Know

I was working on some SEO materials for a customer last week. Part of that task was writing the Title Tags and Meta Descriptions for the pages of their new eCommerce website. It’s important to get these things as good as possible right from the start for two important reasons:

  1. This information is what the customer “sees” in the search results. This makes it important for getting click-through.
  2. While content on the pages might change periodically, these items tend to be “sticky” – changing infrequently.

As I was explaining this to my customer, it’s item number two that pinged in my head as something to write about here. That’s because Google recently made some changes to how information is displayed. And since a lot of marketing and website folks leave those descriptions and tags alone, it looks like an opportunity to steal a little attention and search-share from your more complacent competitors.

And it’s easy to do.

So we have something easy to do that steals search real estate from unwary merchants. Sounds like pirate marketing to me. Argh marketers! Let’s be getting our share of them easy pick ‘ins!

Title Tag and Meta Page Description Basics for eCommerce Websites

Back in the old days when websites were carved on stone tablets and mobile phones were for making phone calls, there was a whole series of META Tags that were important for websites. Nowadays, almost all of them just don’t matter at all. They’re like dinosaur saddles and Blackberry smartphones … no one knows or cares. But two of these META Tags are still relevant. Some would argue that they are even critical to success. We’re talking about Title Tags and Page Descriptions.

Title Tags

There are three similar, kind-of-related things in website marketing that some people get confused about – Page Titles, Title Tags, and URLs.

Title Tags are not necessarily the same as page titles. Page Titles are important too (for all the same reasons). But Title Tags are what will appear in search results as the large, usually blue text. Importantly, they do not (necessarily) appear on the actual page. The Title Tag exists in the page code. If you are using a major eCommerce platform like Shopify or Big Commerce – or a major CMS like WordPress – you will be able to create Title Tags in the admin area for that page.

Target 70 characters or less for your Title Tag. If you do not create a specific Title Tag, then search engines will display the first 70 characters or so of your Page Title.

This is different from Page Titles and URLs in important ways. The Page Title is whatever you name the page. Page Titles are usually what appears in your website menu navigation – not always, but usually. So they are usually shorter. This is another reason to use Title Tags. You get a longer string to help with SEO and generating clicks.

The URL (Universal Resource Locator) is the detailed web address for each page – usually displayed in green directly below the Title Tag in search results. By default, most eCommerce platforms and website CMSs create a custom URL based upon your page title or the first few English words that appear on the page. But the first few words on the page could be things that do not help you at all for SEO and clicks – words like “the,” “and,” and “on” just do not help at all. You should use the URL editor to make sure that this important SEO real estate is not wasted.

META Page Descriptions

This is where I think a little hidden pirate gold is buried.

Page descriptions are not necessarily the words that actually appear on the page. I think that they should be similar, but different. If you do not create a unique Page Description, Shopify and BigCommerce will create one for you by default using the first few recognizable English words on the page.

Don’t let that happen. Here’s why.

Page descriptions are the chunks of descriptive text that appear under the Title Tag and URL in search results. So you want to use Page Descriptions as relevant ads to get folks to click through to your page, and then you want page text content to do something else entirely … build confidence, set the tone, immediately buy, etc. Since the text is intended to do different things, you should write them differently.

And that brings us to the current opportunity to do a little pirate marketing. Argh!

A Narrow Window for Pirate Marketing

Google “officially” says that the content of META Page Descriptions do not impact search ranking. Marketers have been debating that point forever, but let’s take Google at their word and say that it is not about ranking. The value of Page Descriptions is not “just” about SEO. Once your search result is displayed, your Page Description is text that – hopefully – summarizes that page’s content and convinces a visitor to click on your link. And importantly, a well-written Page Description that uses all of the available characters takes up more space on the search results page. It’s like making your ad bigger for free.

Back in December, Google made a change. Previously, page descriptions were limited to about 160 characters. This is about two lines of text when displayed in search results.

Note that I said “about 160 characters.” That’s because Google’s results some times show a few more, sometimes a few less based upon a mysterious “completeness” score that only the dark wizards of Google truly understand.

Anyway … the ~160-character display has been around for a REALLY long time and virtually every established website marketer has that hard-wired into their brain at the moment. Now here’s the Google change that your competitors might not be paying attention to.

Optimal Title Tags and Page Descriptions for eCommerce Websites - Shopify BigCommerce


Bigger is Better

Starting in late November, Google started rolling out longer Page Descriptions. The process was completed during December. Now, instead of about 160 characters, Page Descriptions will be displayed to about 320 characters – it's been doubled. Google did this to help users better identify the best search result for them.

If you are trying to market your eCommerce website, you see this change differently. You see that instead of two lines of free advertising on search results, you now get four. But almost all websites out there have not responded to this change … yet. Remember that the old Page Description length has been around for a long time and marketers are not used to updating them frequently, if ever. That means that you might have a narrow window of opportunity to beat them to it and capture a little more link juice and a few more clicks from the competition while they aren’t paying attention.

Get it? It’s kind of cool.

How much additional attention will you get? No one knows since this is a brand-new thing and NOBODY has metrics on it yet. But it’s free and easy, and all it takes is a few minutes of your time. In the battle for attention in a crowded field, having your “free ad” on search results take up more valuable visual real estate than your competitor just can’t be a bad thing … ever.

Try it for yourself. Go out and search some keywords that you know that both you and your competitor are using. Look at how long their Page Descriptions are displaying and read them. Are they taking advantage of the full number of characters available? Does the wording of the Page Description do its job of persuading you to click?

There are only two possibilities. Either your competitors are doing a good job on their page descriptions and beating you at it or they are not and you can beat them. In either case, grab your eye patch and bottle of rum. Yo Ho Ho … it’s time to get busy.

Thanks for reading!


PS: I was not able to find an official response to this change coming from Microsoft Bing, Yahoo!, or Baidu search engines. And they still appear to be displaying only two lines of Page Description text. But since Google has a nearly 92% market share, optimizing for Google is just smart business practice, right?

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