Basics of Search Engine Optimization

Learn how to write descriptive titles and description tags that maximize traffic from search engines


5 min read

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the technique of tuning content to rank higher on internet searches. It is crucial to utilize SEO to reach your target audience and to advertise content.

A beginner at SEO only needs to focus on having a strong title, a clear description, and powerful keywords.

The Basic Idea of SEO

A helpful analogy for SEO is the title and description of a book.

Photo of books by Ashley Byrd on Unsplash

Photo by Ashley Byrd on Unsplash

Let's say I'm shopping at a bookstore and I see a book I'm interested in. The cover and spine of the book will have a title written on them. The title is the first thing I see and should give me some idea of what the book is about. If I want to know more, I'll open the cover to read the description written on the inside fold. The description provides more information about the book like plot, genre, and/or reviews.

The title and descriptions on websites serve the same function as they do for books. They provide users an overview of what the content is about and why they might be interested in it.

Now suppose I love mysteries. I walk into our hypothetical bookstore looking for a page turner. I can ask a store clerk for some mystery book recommendations. With the keyword mystery, the store clerk can find me books that will suit my interests.


Google and other search engines are like bookstore clerks for the internet. They use specific keywords as cues for recommending things you might be interested in.

Writing Titles and Descriptions with Keywords

To write strong titles and descriptions brainstorm ideas that fit the webpage you are optimizing for.

Once you have brainstormed, edit and revise for clarity and conciseness. Titles should fall within 40 to 50 characters and descriptions should be between 140 to 160 characters.

Consider having someone examine your possible titles and descriptions. At the end of the day, it is important that individuals are interested in clicking on your page.

How Users Experience Titles and Descriptions on Google

Titles and descriptions aren't just used to rank search results. They also help Google create the actual listing on the page. The title is used to create the blue page link and the descriptions forms the small body of text underneath.


  • Title: Google - Wikipedia
  • Description: Google LLC is an American multinational technology company that specializes in Internet-related services and products, which include online advertising ...


An important part of writing good titles and descriptions is making sure they contain keywords that users will search for. The more keywords you include, the more likely the search engine will rank your results.

Google provides a keyword planner that shows how popular words are.

Google's Keyword Planner

While including keywords is important, focusing only on keywords will make your titles and descriptions less understandable. Search engines will punish keyword stuffing, so focus on including a few powerful keywords in readable titles and descriptions.

Examples of Title and Description Tags

On my personal site,, the title tag is Sean Coughlin - Software Engineer. My description is Sean Coughlin | Sean Coughlin is a Software Engineering Professional. The title and description on my site state who I am and some basic information that hopefully interests a reader to learn more. They contain the keyword software engineering which makes my site more likely to appear in searches related to software engineer. meta tags

The blog posts I write also contain titles and descriptions to optimize the content for placement in search results. One of my previous posts, Hosting an API with GitHub Pages, contains the title Hosting an API with GitHub Pages and description Hosting with GitHub Pages is an easy way to build a public JSON API.

The keywords here are API, GitHub, and JSON. These technical terms let search engines know this content is related to a technical topic and someone who searches for creating an API might be interested in reading it.

Hashnode example SEO tags

Seeing Search Engine Rankings

The focus of SEO is driving more clicks to your content. Measuring how many clicks you receive is an important way of judging SEO effectiveness.

Google provides the Search Engine Console to "help you measure your site's Search traffic and performance, fix issues, and make your site shine in Google Search results." Bing's Webmaster provides similar support and will help you rank higher in Bing results.

Remember, it is called search engine optimization. The process is less about getting it right the first time and more about tuning overtime and measuring performance. If you change a page title or description, use Search Engine Console to see how rankings and traffic change.

Every search engine runs on a different algorithm so there will be differences in SEO. A helpful technique for beginning is to focus on just one search engine. With close to 90% of the search market, Google is by far the most important search engine to optimize for.

Editing SEO on Tags on Websites

Most blogging and website platforms have some way of customizing your SEO. They often include options to edit title and descriptions elements.

When writing on Hashnode the settings tab contains fields to edit titles and descriptions.

Hashnode example

Titles and descriptions are contained within the HTML meta tags on websites. So if you manage your own site, make sure to add title and description meta tags to the <head>.

<!-- Meta -->
<title>Sean Coughlin - Software Engineer</title>
<meta name="title" content="Sean Coughlin - Software Engineer">
<meta name="description" content="Sean Coughlin | Sean Coughlin is a Software Engineering Professional. ">

Online generators are a great tool for creating these tags with the correct formatting.

Learning More About SEO

Title and description tags are the basics of SEO and despite how simple it is to add these elements, they will greatly improve the traffic to your site.

If you want to learn, more consider exploring additional techniques like backlinks, canonical links, or sitemaps.

Google's documentation on SEO is another great resource for learning more about search engine optimization.

If you found this content useful or learned something about search engine optimization, please give it a reaction - thanks!

Did you find this article valuable?

Support Sean Coughlin by becoming a sponsor. Any amount is appreciated!