Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one of those things that as website owners/managers we’re aware of, and we know that it is important, but often don’t know what exactly is it and how do you do it?
It can be a specialised subject and there are many people and companies who solely specialise in providing SEO services. If you haven’t already read it, our quick guide to charity website SEO is a good primer on the subject.
Here I’m going to concentrate on a ‘low-hanging fruit’ task that you can do in 10 minutes to boost your site’s SEO power: customising the Meta Title of your homepage and other important pages.
What are Meta Titles?
The ‘Meta Title’ is a HTML tag that isn’t printed out in your web page content, but it is used to tell Google and your browser (e.g. Chrome, Firefox) what your page is about.
So for example for this website’s home page is:
Charity Web Design Agency | Run by ex-charity staff | Charity & Biscuits
In your browser it appears as the title of tab – like this:
OK – so no-one really takes much notice of the titles up there. But more importantly it is what Google uses in the search results list: (You can see that mine is a bit too long for the current Google algorithm and has been truncated)
Why make sure your Meta Title is properly crafted?
- The Meta Title is a SEO ranking factor. Experts argue about how much of a factor, but pretty much everyone agrees it is an important one. So any keywords that are in your Meta Title will be used by Google when it ranks web pages that it thinks are relevant to those keywords.
- You can make your listing more visually appealing – It’s much more prominent than the url. If a user is faced with a Google listing of 10 results on a page then you can make yours stand out by making it short and nicely descriptive.
What should your Meta Title be?
I mentioned earlier that Google uses keywords in it as a ranking factor. So should you therefore stuff it with relevant keywords and see your site rise to the top of page one?
Google’s algorithms are far too clever to allow their system to be ‘gamed’ like that. But if you’re an animal charity then you definitely should say so in the Meta Title of your homepage. Especially if your charity name doesn’t contain those words.
So for example if your charity name is something like Barnardos or Oxfam – then your name alone isn’t descriptive of what you do, in the same way as names like WaterAid or Save The Children are.
Now if you are a huge blue-chip charity with a brand name like Barnardos or Oxfam then it’s less of an issue because everyone knows who you are and your site likely ranks pretty well anyway. Lucky you!
But if your charity is called Avenues and you provide drug and alcohol counselling – then it does you no good if your Meta Title is just your charity name. ‘Avenues‘ isn’t really the search terms you’d hope to rank for, ‘Drug and alcohol counselling charity‘ are.
So by default your Meta Title for your homepage might be something like this:
Home | Avenues
Argghh – that’s no good. In 3 minutes you could give your SEO a shot in the arm by changing it to something like
Avenues – Drug and Alcohol Counselling Charity | Free advice service in London
(Punctuation pedants take note – using camel-case (i.e capitalising the first letter of each word) tends to be the preferred method.
The top 100 charities must all be examples of good practice when it comes to Meta Titles, right?
Well one thing in their defence is that they are mostly well trusted, authoritative household names who do just fine with their SEO anyway. So it is less important for them to pay attention to their homepage Meta Titles than it is for the rest of us who struggle to get shown on the first page of Google’s search results.
I’ve compiled a spreadsheet of the data as it’s easier to see in Google Sheets than to reproduce it here.
What surprised me is that a LOT of them could easily be very quickly improved. At a glance I’d say there are only about 20 that are great just as they are. There’s definitely room for improvement in the rest of them.
Here’s some of the ones I think are good (and have probably been hand-crafted)
StepChange Debt Charity – Free Expert Debt Advice.
The Lullaby Trust – Safer sleep for babies, Support for families
Give homeless young people a future | Centrepoint
Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity (Those guys always seem to have a good SEO presence).
These ones could perhaps, ahem, do better:
We are WWF | WWF
Home – Sustrans.org.uk
RNIB – See differently –
This matters for smaller, non-brand-names: if your charity name is an acronym then it’s a good idea to use the full version on your homepage. So instead of RNIB – See differently – you could use something like RNLI – Royal National Lifeboat Institution – Saving Lives at Sea
And in the case of Sustrans – just using their url isn’t of much use. I would be inclined to change it from Home – Sustrans.org.uk to something like Sustrans – Sustainable Transport charity. Championing walking and cycling
And it’s not just the homepage. If they just change the name of their Site Title from Sustrans.org.uk to Sustrans | Sustainable Transport Charity then that’s what will be used in the Meta Title of their hundreds of pages. So their About us page for instance would go from About us – Sustrans.org.uk to About us – Sustrans | Sustainable Transport Charity. That’s a big SEO win for a 30 second job.
How much of a difference will changing the Meta Title make?
Let’s face it, you’re not going to suddenly outrank Oxfam because your homepage has a better Meta Title than theirs. The fact that the top 100 sites don’t all have great Meta Titles for their homepages suggests that it’s not a huge issue for them.
But if it tips you up a place from 11 to 10 then you’ve gone from the obscurity of page 2 to the front page of the search results – then that’s really worthwhile. If you don’t have hundreds of pounds a month to spend on SEO consultants, then I think this is the most effective DIY thing you can do in five minutes. If you don’t do anything else, then at least do this!
Bonus: Charity site Meta Descriptions
Whilst you’re editing the Meta Title for your homepage and other important pages, you should take a couple of minutes to edit the Meta Description too, as that’s likely to be lurking nearby.
A webpage’s Meta Description is less important than the Meta Title in the sense that Google doesn’t use the text in the Description as a factor in its ranking algorithms. So any keywords in there will be ignored. However, although it isn’t an SEO ranking factor, it is an important SEO display one.
Along with the Title, this is what users will be scanning through on the results page whilst they’re looking for something relevant to them. So a nice concise description of what you do (and ideally, how you can help them) is always more visually appealing than whatever Google will use by default if it has to try and generate the Description itself based on the text it finds within the page.
It’s worth noting that any words in the search query are often shown in bold if they appear in the Description. For example in the screenshot from earlier, the search term was ‘Charity and Biscuits’ and look how Google has bolded the words charity and charities in the Description.
On the spreadsheet linked to above, you’ll see that on the whole, the Meta Descriptions of the 100 websites are in better shape than the Meta Titles, but plenty could still use a bit of a tidy up.Could do better? There's room for improvement in the SEO Meta Titles of these top 100 charity websites: Click To Tweet
How to change your site’s Meta Title and Description
If you’re using WordPress then you most likely use the popular Yoast SEO plugin. They often change their interface but it’s usually a job of going into the Edit screen for the page in question and then pressing the ‘Edit snippet’ button. More or less like this:
Look out for the ‘Meta tags’ tab at the bottom. It is somewhere in there (or used to be, anyway). Don’t worry about filling in any Meta Keywords – those are long obsolete.
With a bespoke CMS system
You’ll have to ask your developers to do it. It really should be a very simple fix, whatever system is involved. If they charge you £200 and take two weeks to do it, then you should probably consider switching to an open-source CMS when you next come to redo your site!
How did you pick these ‘top 100 charities’?
Not very scientifically.
It’s actually based on a list of 107 charity website urls which I pulled together a while ago. Please don’t be offended if your website isn’t in the list.
Note also that the data in the spreadhseet is automatically generated, I didn’t personally visit all 107 sites and copy and paste the content. Empty cells don’t necessarily mean that the data is missing – but the charities concerned would be advised to double check that their pages are being indexed properly by Google.
There’s loads of articles about SEO and Meta tags out there. Some sources are more reputable than others, but Moz are well thought of and it’s worth having a look at their more detailed pages about Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions.