In SEO, what's the difference between a 60 character page title and a 160 character description (other than 100 characters)?

This morning, I was asked by a client with a WordPress website that uses an SEO plugin: “What’s the difference between a 60 word [I think he meant character] page title and a 160 word [again I think he meant character] description (other than 100 words [characters])? Are they both just a collection of phrases from the website to draw people in?” An example would be useful if that won’t take you more than a couple of minutes… [of course it’s going to take more than a couple of minutes!]
Following was my answer which I thought might be of use to other people wondering what the difference  between and purpose of the title field and the description field in a WordPress SEO plugin is. [Edited slightly and using examples from my own and other websites to keep my client anonymous.]
[Note: The label used in the SEO plugin for the “meta description” field is “description” but I am of course referring to the meta description everywhere I use just description.]

The short answer: Yes, the purpose of the Title and Description of a web page is to improve search engine optimization as well as to draw people to the site. The title is obvious, the description is a synopsis of the content.

The long answer [although, as I mentioned to my client later, probably not the full answer] with examples:
The “Title” (that I refer to for SEO) is what you see at the top of the web browser (I will call it SEO title) as opposed to the title you see on the page (I will call it page title) and is what you see on a search results page (the bold link in the search list). [Note: Usually I would refer to “browser title” but since we were referring to the “title” field in the SEO plugin, I figured this would make more sense to my client.]
The page title and the SEO [or browser] title are usually the same (or as close to the same as possible).
The SEO title is supposed to be 60 characters (as that’s all that usually fits on the search page) and usually includes the website or business name – so you would need to deduct the number of characters in your website name and write a title with the remaining number of characters.

Using my own website as an example, if I were to include a location such as “Cambridge” in my website name (e.g. Kaz Design Works, Cambridge), for additional search engine optimization for my services in Cambridge, I would deduct “Kaz Design Works, Cambridge” from 60, and that’s what I’d be left with for the SEO title (just 33 characters).

The SEO Title is the MOST IMPORTANT thing to consider when writing for SEO as it’s the first thing search engines look for. If they find keywords in the SEO title (i.e. words people have searched), they then look in the description, the page title and the content to see if those same keywords are repeated. If the keywords in your SEO title are also in your description, page title and content, your website will be ranked higher than someone else’s website that does not have those keywords in all 4 places.
If your page title – combined with the name of the website – is more than 60 characters, the SEO Title will need to be a shortened version of your page title [this blog article’s title is a prime example].
In some cases, the SEO title may be a longer version of your page title, i.e. if your page title is very short (e.g. About Us or Services) and does not include appropriate keywords (although I do not recommend short page titles such as about or services).
The Title (page or SEO) needs to entice visitors as well as help search engine optimization, so it needs to be crafted so that it a) GRABS ATTENTION and b) includes the PRIMARY KEYWORDS for the page.
Some examples:

Using my “about the owner” page as an example: The page title is “Kaz is an experienced and creative Graphic and Web Designer,” which sounds much better than “About the Owner.” I used a slightly altered version for the browser title, “Kaz: Experienced and creative Graphic and Web Designer” which I felt reads better as a title on Google.


Using my “Why Choose Kaz” page as an example, my page title is: “Kaz will help create, evolve and maintain your company image in print and on the web!” which is too long to use for the SEO title, so it has been shortened to: “Create, evolve and maintain your company image.”
I could have chosen an entirely different SEO title depending on what I thought people were looking for the most (e.g. I could have used “Maintain your company image in print and on the web”). Over time, I might try different wording to see what works (alternating titles or writing up slightly different pages)…but the page and browser titles should match somewhat.


Another example: If you operate a coaching and counselling business, and the page title for your services page was just “Services” (which I do not recommend), you might expand the SEO Title to “Counselling and Coaching Services” (although my advice would be to ensure the page title is also Counselling and Coaching Services not just “Services” – you can always shorten the link in the menu bar if the actual page title is too long.
If your page title was: “Counselling, Coaching and Consulting Services to help you grow your business” because you want to be more specific – this would be too long for the browser and search results page, so you might shorten it to “Counselling, Coaching and Consulting” or “Counselling, Coaching and Consulting Services” (depending on how many characters are available when you include your business name) – or you may just use “Help Grow your Business” because that might be what people actually type when they are searching for business coaching.

The Description (which in SEO terms is called Meta Description) briefly describes in 160 characters or less the content on the page, and is usually the 2 or so lines you see under the “bolded link” on a search results page (or on Facebook and other social media statuses that include a link to a web page).
Combined with the Title, the meta description not only helps get your page ranked higher on search results pages, how it’s worded can determine whether people come to your website or not. I.e. it needs to gain your potential visitors’ interest as well as improve search engine optimization.
So it needs to be crafted a) to include the PRIMARY KEYWORDS (the ones used in your page/SEO titles as well as in your content) to help get it to the top of search results pages, b) to GAIN your potential visitors’ INTEREST and DESIRE for your services so they actually click the link, and c) to be a true reflection (description) of the content on the page.

In the case of a life coach, for instance, the meta description has got to touch on their emotions – the reason for their search, what they are looking for to improve their life, to stop from feeling anxious or to help motivate them, etc.

However, if you have a page which listed a bunch of services in bullet format that then go to other pages with more detail, then the description for that page may indeed just list the main services (keywords) – it won’t be very attractive, but it will be to the point (the odd page like that does not hurt, but for the most part descriptions should not appear like a list).
If you do a google search for some of your keywords, see what comes up on a search results page in terms of titles and meta descriptions. What is at the top of the page? What grabs your attention? What entices you to click? What’s at the top of the page, may not necessarily be the one that entices you to click. Your website needs to do both! Click on some of the links – even the ones that you wouldn’t normally click (just to see whether the websites provide what you’re looking for).
See what works for other businesses, and try doing the same for yours.