Winning Clicks in Search Results Pages

Title tags and meta-descriptions are your search results ad copy. Too many people focus entirely on their SEO value. But

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Written by Damon on May 21, 2009

Title tags and meta-descriptions are your search results ad copy. Too many people focus entirely on their SEO value. But titles and meta-descriptions not only need to rank in the search results, but also need to sell the idea of a click. I’m going to use the AIDA sales model to better understand selling the click.

AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire, and action and is a simple model of the sales process. Using just your title, description, and URL your page needs to take the searcher through the complete AIDA sales process ending with a click.


Attention is the first step. For our purposes, there are 2 basic components of attention.

First, do you even appear in the search engine results pages (SERPs)? In some cases you can control this based on the strength of your writing alone, but for competitive search terms you need to get links and other off-page ranking factors right.

Second, does your entry stand out in the SERPs and convince the searcher to click?

It is this second component that I’m going to focus on.

Give yourself one second to look at these search results for the phrase Vancouver Tourist Attractions. Which results seem immediately relevant to the search terms?

Vancouver Tourist Attraction SERPs

Vancouver Tourist Attraction SERPs

Here’s my analysis listed in order:

  1. The 1st result gets the benefit of increased attention. People typically scan search results in an F pattern, so this result gets more attention so it’s not a big deal that the critical word, attractions, is at the end of the title.
  2. An exact match at the beginning of the title makes this a clear winner.
  3. Even though it’s buried in the middle of the title, the exact match still gets attention, particularly because it is sandwiched between 2 other exact matches.
  4. See number 2.
  5. The critical word, attractions, is buried in the description.  Not a very good title for this search.
  6. All of the highlighted word in the title help, but it doesn’t really grab attention without attractions.

Which results grabbed your attention and why?


Interest takes us a little deeper. Think about how relevant each result is to the query. Do you think each page in the search results will have the information the searcher needs?

Now look at the search results again, this time giving yourself a few seconds, and decide which results are most likely to be interesting to someone who is looking for Vancouver tourist attractions. In other words, is it relevant to the search.

Vancouver Tourist Attraction SERPs

Vancouver Tourist Attraction SERPs

Again listed in order, my analysis:

  1. The broad focus of the first search results, hotels, accommodation, and attractions, makes me think the site either doesn’t have exactly what I’m looking for, or is going to make me dig for the information.
  2. Without even looking at the description, adding guide to the title makes this result even more intriguing.
  3. Top 10 Vancouver tourist attractions? can we say click.
  4. The short, bland description is enough to make it clear that the page is relevant.
  5. The title is a little too general and the comprehensive directory of Vancouver attractions seems a little too boring.
  6. Vancouver Tourist Information is likely relevant to my search even though there’s no mention of attractions.

Which results do you think are most likely to be relevant to the search?


Ahh, persuasion. This is where things get interesting. Who gives the searcher a good reason to click?

Instead of listing my analysis in the order, I’ll only cover the results that give the searcher a reason to click because I want to keep things positive.

The big winners are the 2nd and 3rd results.

Our guide helps in planning where to go and what to see in Vancouver aligns with the average searcher’s goal of planning what to do while in Vancouver. It makes a concrete promise “planning where to go” with an implied, but obvious, benefit of helping me accomplish the task at hand.

A guide to the top 10 Vancouver tourist attractions! Find out the best things to see in Vancouver, what they cost, how to get there, and tips on when to … also aligns with the searcher’s goal by promising to offer the just the best in an easily digestible format. This is perfect for someone in a hurry or who doesn’t have hours to spend researching.

Both of these search results provide good reasons to click.

The 5th and 6th results are interesting because they signal credibility. In these cases, it’s their official status, as City of Vancouver and Vancouver Tourist Information, but awards, accomplishments, and testimonials can all be signs of a credible source of information.


I don’t really know if it’s necessary, but there aren’t any calls to action in the search results. No one inviting the reader to learn more. A link alone may be enough of a call to action in the search results where the appropriate action is obvious and repeated regularly by anyone with a passing familiarity with the Internet. It still would be interesting to test whether calls to action in the search results encourage click-thrus.


  1. The first result gets more attention and doesn’t need to be as sharply focused as other results.
  2. The best results were either for sites about tourist attractions, or for sites that had dedicated tourist attractions pages. Focused pages do better simply because there are fewer possible searches that you need to be relevant for.
  3. Make sure your critical words are in the title. For the search Vancouver Tourist Attractions, Vancouver and tourist are scoping the search while attractions really defines what the searcher wants. Look at your key phrases, figure out which words are critical and make sure these find their way into the title.
  4. Just because a particular search result doesn’t work well in one situation, doesn’t mean that it is poor. Depending on how competitive your industry is, your search results ad copy will rank for a number of different searches. How narrowly you target your search results ad copy has to be a strategic decision. Including lots of different keywords will make it seem relevant to a wider range of search words attracting attention and interest at the expense of desire.

The final decision on whether to balance SEO and selling the click or using your titles and descriptions exclusively for SEO depends on your site and your resources. Giving the searcher a reason to click will help you get more clicks when you are seen, but may affect how often your search results ad copy appears and gets attention.

If you have the budget for lots of separate pages of content, then each page can have a narrow SEO focus which gives you more words to use for selling.

If you have a small site in a non-competitive market, then you can probably do very well with broadly focused SEO and limit your efforts at persuasion; if there’s no competition, you don’t really need to convince the searcher your the best, only that you have what they are looking for.

I’m sure I’m missing other factors, so please let me know in the comments.

Image credit: fs999.

1 reply to “Winning Clicks in Search Results Pages

  1. DVogel

    Thank you for this analysis; it’s made me rethink the way I write page titles! Specifically, it looks like I need to pump up the “desire” aspect of my titles, and start taking advantage of meta descriptions. My feeling in the past was that viewers overlooked the meta descriptions, focusing mainly on the titles. I think this still may be mostly true, but I like the idea of adding benefits and enticements to the meta description.


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