It’s not often that we can show you one small, simple change that can help you get more traffic to your site almost instantly. But every once in a while there’s that little gem that’s been sitting right in front of you the whole time and you didn’t even know it. That’s exactly the case with what we’re fixing to talk about: meta descriptions.
Meta descriptions are one of those pesky little meta tags that many people don’t understand or don’t want to bother with. Now it should be acknowledged up front, that by optimizing your meta description, you aren’t going to get an increase in your search rankings. At one time, it was a factor in rankings; but marketers abused it and over-optimized it to game the system, so today it’s not really a ranking factor at all.
So why even bother with it, then? Because the fact is, meta descriptions can be the key to getting users to click through to your site from the search results page. What you put in your meta description is normally what shows underneath your site name in the search results.
In the above screenshot, you can see that the first search result I’ve put an arrow by didn’t make good use of the meta description at all. Does it entice you to click through? Of course not. But the second one could. Hmm, you say to yourself as you read: customized baby shoes that are made within 24 hours? Nice. I’d click that one. Wouldn’t you, if you were searching for blue baby shoes?
Your meta descriptions play a big role in whether someone actually visits your site — even if you’re already ranking at the top. Take advantage of this and use them wisely.
Your meta description will also be what social media users see when your page is shared. If someone shares your site on Facebook, the share will show your meta description. Yes, they could click on it and change the content, but most users won’t bother to do that. See below:
If you share something on Google Plus, it’ll also reproduce the meta description. Here’s an example:
Create a helpful description so searchers know whether your site has what they’re looking for. Use a call to action to get their attention and make them want to click through and visit that page. But keep it short. Try to limit it to 150-160 characters at most.
Clicks are thought to be one of the most important forms of online currency when it comes to digital marketing. If an advertising campaign generates 1,000 clicks to your site, it’s clearly more valuable to your bottom line than a similar campaign that only generates 100. There are thousands of articles dedicated to explaining ways you can get more clicks, including many on this site, but none of them explain just how valuable one click to your site is.
Each site has a unique purpose, a unique product, and a unique customer base, so one click to you may not be as valuable as a click to one of your competitors. Nevertheless, it is possible to calculate approximately how valuable each click to your site is with a few simple steps:
This is the easiest step, but here you’ll have to decide a specific point of reference. For example, you might choose to look at clicks over the course of the past month, or over the course of the past year. Generally, the wider range you look at, the more accurate your “average” is going to be, but going wider isn’t always a good bet if you’re in the habit of changing your strategies often.
Log into Google Analytics and take a look at your total web traffic across all channels. We’ll be divvying this up a little later, but for now, find the total number of clicks you achieved for your chosen period of measurement. For example, let’s say you had 3,000 visits in the past month.
Now, you need to find your total number of onsite conversions. If you’re looking at a landing page, this is probably going to be higher than if you’re just looking at your site in general, but keep your focal point consistent—if you calculated 3,000 clicks to your main site, determine how many conversions happened on your main site. Factor in any conversions you received, no matter where on the site they came about. For example, let’s say you had 20 conversions in the past month.
This can be tricky, depending on your business model. If you’re a simple e-commerce site and your only counted conversions are completed orders, you can start by calculating the average value of an order. This will give you a rough estimate for how “valuable” each new conversion is—it doesn’t take into account the fact that a click might result in a lifetime customer who orders multiple times, but theoretically those new orders would happen only after the user clicks back in.
For B2B companies or subscription-based companies, conversions generally rely on filling out an information form. From there, information is collected in a lead pool, where each individual stands a small chance of converting to an actual lifetime customer. Take this value and divide it by the number of conversions it takes to get one real customer—this is the average value of each of your conversions. For example, let’s say the value is $100.
Now, take the total earned value of your given period—in our case, this is 20 conversions times $100 for $2,000. This value represents the total amount of earned revenue you received from your inbound traffic. Now for the magic—take this value and divide it by the number of clicks you got in a given period. In our case, this is $2,000 divided by 3,000 clicks, which results in approximately $0.67 per click in value.
The “missing piece” when it comes to evaluating site traffic as a measure of return is the number of conversions you receive. Conversions are defined differently for different businesses, but no matter how you define yours, it’s a measurable form of engagement of a user with a brand that results in some measurable gain. It might be the purchase of a product or a signup to an important form—whatever it is, it’s a sign that a particular visitor is of consequential value to your brand, and not just a tire-kicker or a passerby.
This isn’t to say that traffic isn’t important, or even that conversions are more important than traffic. Instead, know there is a delicate relationship between the two. If you have a high conversion rate but little traffic, you won’t be in a much better position than if you have lots of traffic, but almost no conversions. You’ll have to analyze and understand both sides of the coin to properly direct and improve your campaign, and try to keep each in balance with the other.
To some, marketing is a necessary budget item like a utility bill—you pay a certain amount of money each month, and continue to receive necessary services. Of course it would be nice to gain better, more effective services, but profitability isn’t the main concern.
This is an ineffectual conclusion. In fact, profitability should be your main concern in any content or inbound marketing campaign. Instead of thinking of your marketing budget as a utility bill, think of it as an investment. You have X amount of capital to invest in the smartest, most efficient way possible, and it’s your responsibility to make sure that money is invested wisely. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you invest in a marketing campaign as long as it is profitable; low-budget campaigns can be a boon for a business, and high-budget campaigns can be a disaster. It’s all in how profitable your campaigns end up being.
For as long as SEO has been around, search optimizers have debated how much “user experience” factors into a search rank. According to some data, qualitative factors like how long a user spends on a page can influence how that page ranks—but you could also make for a case of correlation influencing this relationship, rather than causation. On the other hand, you have classic “standbys” as ranking influencers, such as inbound link quality, with all other measurable ranking factors being secondary, correlational, or purely coincidental.
Now, thanks to some insights from Google engineer Paul Haahr, we may have a clue as to whether one of the most hotly debated topics in the user experience debate (click-through rates) is just a myth, or if it truly does influence how your site ranks in Google.
The concept behind CTR influence is pretty simple, and it’s likely the reason so many search optimizers have found it easy to believe that it’s a verifiable ranking signal.
Google has an anticipated spread of CTRs for its various search results ranks. For example, let’s say it expects 1,000 click for the top query, 200 for the second, and 100 for the third. Now, let’s say after a while, the three sites in these positions offer a major discrepancy; the first site is only getting 400 clicks, the second site gets its expected 200, and the third gets 700. That’s an anomaly, and Google might come to the conclusion that this third entry is way more relevant than the other two. Accordingly, it may boost its rank.
(Image Source: SearchEngineLand)
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to account for this pattern in a controlled experiment, keeping all other ranking factors consistent.
There have been some interesting and, admittedly, persuasive studies in the past that have seemingly disproven, or at least suggested evidence to the contrary of the idea that organic CTRs influence search rank potential. One in particular used a “click bot” to automatically click on certain results for a small range of keywords as a controlled experiment to see if additional clicks from searches alone were enough to move the rankings of a particular entry. The results, as you might imagine, were nonexistent. There was no upward momentum whatsoever.
(Image Source: SearchEngineLand)
However, as others have pointed out, there’s a serious flaw in this study: it used click bots. Google is no stranger to the use of bots in manipulation of search ranks (and other online advantages), and it has precautions in place to guard against these negative techniques. While the experiment is interesting, it doesn’t offer conclusive proof that organic CTR isn’t a ranking signal.
A recent experiment done by Wordstream (and published by Moz) illsustrates a very interesting relationship between CTRs and search, and it goes a step further by drawing in possible effects from RankBrain, which helps Google decipher and understand semantically complex user queries.
Here’s the basic rundown of the experiment. Wordstream examined the relationship between CTRs for given search queries and how they relate to a given search position. The key here is that basic keyword “head terms” are plotted separately from long-tail keywords, which is a major focus of RankBrain.
(Image Source: Moz)
As you can see, long-tail keywords tend to carry a higher CTR, on average, than their basic counterparts. The same keyword niche was used to attempt to isolate variables that may have otherwise influenced the difference—so what could account for this?
You could make the argument that the big difference here is the fact that long-tail keywords have a higher likelihood of premeditated user intent, which in turn could influence higher CTRs in general. However, note that in high-position ranks, long-tail terms greatly outperform basic keyword phrases, while in lower organic ranks (10 and lower), the difference is almost negligible.
Keep that in mind when looking at this graph of similar keyword terms in paid results:
(Image Source: Moz)
The same pattern is not visible here. In the top ranks, the differences between shorter and longer keyword phrases is much tighter together, following a much more linear path as the ranks get lower.
What’s the key takeaway from this study? There’s something interesting going on with CTRs and specifically organic search ranks. There’s just one thing stopping us from certifying this as evidence that CTRs positively influence search rank.
The big problem is that CTRs and search ranks are co-dependent variables. Assuming that CTR does influence search rank, the two become mutually inseparable. Did a search rank increase because it got a higher CTR, or did its CTR grow higher because it got a higher search rank? It’s almost impossible to isolate the factors here.
As there’s no direct proof of causation between CTRs and organic search ranks, and because even if there was, there are dozens of factors that are more important (including site structure, content, and external links), this shouldn’t affect your strategy too much. Click-through rates are still a good thing, and you should still aim to optimize for them with compelling title tags and accurate meta descriptions, but they may not directly affect your search ranks. Until we have more information, keep user experience optimization as a strategy separate from your SEO, and improve both for the best possible results for your site.
If you’re managing an active online presence, the more traffic you can get to your site, the better. Finding ways to drive more clicks and more visits to your site is a surefire way to get more visibility for your brand, more conversions on your site, and of course, a greater stream of revenue as a result. With a myriad of external links pointing to your website embedded or sandwiched in text, if you can optimize that text to increase the likelihood of viewers clicking through, you’ll enjoy the benefits.
Whether you’re working on building your domain authority for SEO through external links or building your brand reach through syndicated content on social media, there are dozens of places where you post links to your site on a regular basis. Cleaning up the text you use to introduce those links will give your users a more concise, more compelling message, which will increase their tendency to click your link and visit your site.
In a Google AdWords advertising campaign, you’re only going to pay for people who click on your advertising, up to your set budget. Therefore, increasing your total click-throughs will not increase the total traffic to your site—it will just help you hit your budget faster.
However, increasing your click-throughs on an AdWords campaign has a ton of other benefits. It can increase your Quality Score, which can indirectly give you a boost in rankings (if your rankings have previously dropped), and simultaneously lower your average cost per click and minimum bid—making your entire campaign cheaper in the process. High click-through rates are a sign of authority and quality, both of which are favorable qualities to Google, and Google always rewards the sites that play by its rules.
No matter what types of campaigns you run, you can use these strategies to optimize your text to get the greatest number of click-throughs:
There are a lot of links floating around on the web, and most of them are garbage. The average user is aware of this fact, and generally browses past hundreds of links a day without clicking a single one of them.
If you want to attract someone to click your link, you have to explain why it’s valuable for them to click it—either directly or indirectly. Complicating things even further, you have to explain why it’s uniquely valuable—why would your user click this link before any other similar links he/she encounters?
For example, if you’re posting a link on social media to a recent how-to guide you’ve written about repairing an old sink, don’t just post a link that says “Sink repair guide.” It’s too general, and it doesn’t explain what the benefit is of reading it. If, however, you dress up your language using something like “Learn how to stop your leaky sink and save moneyon your water bill,” you’ll be giving your users plenty of reasons to click through.
Using indirect language that compels a reader to take action is a subtle strategy that increases the chances of a user eventually clicking. You can’t be too blunt with this—using wording like “CLICK HERE!!!!” is going to alienate your users and earn you scorn from Google.
Instead, strive to use your language more subtly. Command words that start sentences like “Read how…” or “Join us” lead people to a natural conclusion that taking action is necessary. Imbuing your text with a sense of urgency, using words like “now,” “today,” or other time-related modifiers, can also increase your average user’s chance of clicking.
For example, if you’re running a promotion that includes a discount on users’ total orders, the phrase “Significant discounts applied to your entire order on our site” doesn’t exactly call a user to take action. On the other hand, something like “Join today and you’ll earn discounts of up to thirty percent on your next order,” calls the user to action immediately and also explains the unique benefits of clicking.
This strategy is especially useful for content marketers trying to entice people to read more of their stories. You might see this strategy used for article teases that pop up on your news feed, and while it can be annoying if overdone, it can also be highly effective if used tactfully. Consider the article title, “This dog walks into a liquor store, and you won’t believe what happens next!” It’s bona fide click bait that will earn more links than a flat headline but might also give users a bad impression of the brand—the point in this exaggerated example is to show how the writer teases the full story without giving everything away.
You can do the same thing for your articles to increase their appeal. For example, if you’ve written an article about a new exercise routine, you can tease it by saying something like, “Three weeks, and this exercise routine will have you six pounds lighter and happier than ever.” It implies the full body of the content without giving everything away up front. It lures the user to click so he/she can read more.
Each phrase you use in your introductory copy should be as specific as possible. That doesn’t mean contradicting the mysteriousness we set in point 3, but it does mean refining your word choices to be as unique and specific as possible. In the example from the above point, we call the user out with indications of “three weeks” and “six pounds,” both highly specific values. If the title read, “This new exercise routine will make you lighter and happier than ever,” it wouldn’t carry nearly as much click power. Use numbers and specific adjectives whenever you can.
Users crave specificity because there’s a lot of content on the web, and if you write ambiguously, your text will fall into a pit of white noise, never to be seen or clicked.
This step can be difficult, especially if you’ve added several words to make your text more specific, in compliance with point 5. However, cutting out any unnecessary words from your introductory text is a perfect strategy to put the final polish on your copy.
As much as users crave specificity, they crave conciseness. Fleeting attention spans and infinite volumes of content have significantly shortened the chance you have to capture a user’s attention. If your text has too many filler words, it will be gleaned over. If your text is too long, it will be ignored entirely. Study every word in your sentences and evaluate their necessity in your copy. Eliminate any that aren’t absolutely necessary for your message.
There are some intangible factors that affect click-throughs, which can’t be concisely identified in a bullet point. Some users prefer the texture of certain words over others. Some prefer subtlety while other prefer frankness. You won’t know for sure until you test in the field.
Use AB tests to measure different variations of your copy against each other. Set each to run under similar circumstances, at similar times of day and on identical platforms, and measure which variation is more effective at generating clicks. Do a few rounds of this, and you should be able to form a clear conclusion on which text works best, and apply those findings to the remainder of your campaign.
Put these strategies to good use when writing any new text around your external links. Measure the results of your efforts, make adjustments when necessary, and eventually you’ll hone a near-perfect strategy to attract more people to your site through links.
Bonus: Content and links are what we do! Let us help you with our custom link services!
If you rank well in the search engines, don’t let your meta descriptions be the stumbling block to getting visitors to actually come to your site. Even if you aren’t ranking as high as you’d like, remember that your meta descriptions get circulated when people socially share your site, too!
Either way, we can help you with your SEO needs, starting with an SEO audit and then on to a quality link building outreach. We can show you how to optimize your descriptions, get your site set up so they’re easy to manage, and even help you push your site upward in the search rankings, too. Simply contact us if you’d like a free consultation and quote.