Meta descriptions are almost invisible. They’re only seen by search engine bots and by incoming users who see your content on SERPs, so many webmasters and marketers simply ignore them, or fill them with fluff for the sake of filling up space.
The reality is meta descriptions are useful for more than just adding crawlable content to your site—they can actually make or break your ability to get users from SERPs to your website. With an effective meta description, you can convince a user to take the next step and click into your site. Without one, they might go somewhere else.
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What Are Meta Descriptions?
When someone searches for a term on Google, they get pages of results with individual links that can be clicked to satisfy the answer for the query. This is known as a search engine results page, or SERP.
Each result on one of these pages consists of three main elements.
The first element is the “title.” This is the bolded portion at the top of the result that tells you what the page is about. (If it’s a blog post, it’ll typically be the title of the post, followed by the name of the website or blog.)
The second element is the “URL.” If the URL is short, it’ll show the entire web address. If the URL is on the longer end of the spectrum, it may be truncated to save space.
The third element is the “meta description.” In the simplest terms, a meta description is a concise section of text that appears directly below a link in the search results page. The purpose of the meta description is to describe what the page’s content is about. In other words, it helps people know what a page will be about before they click.
Meta descriptions are written by the website owner, not Google. In other words, you get to decide what the description says. Google has the ability to truncate it if it’s too long, but they will never change the copy.
Why Are Meta Descriptions Important?
At first glance, meta descriptions seem like a tiny detail in the grand scheme of SEO and website optimization. But don’t mistake their small size with insignificance. They play an extremely important role in multiple areas of search. This includes:
- SEO benefits. While Google claims that meta descriptions do not count as a ranking factor within the Google ranking algorithm, it’s hard to believe this is 100 percent true. (And other search engines certainly use it as a ranking factor in their algorithms.) What we do know is that good meta descriptions increase click-throughs and average time on site. So, if nothing else, they have an indirect impact on search rankings.
- Click-through. When it comes to determining which result to click, a user only has a few select pieces of information to work with. Outside of placement on the SERP, there’s the link, title, and description. If your description is more compelling than the next one, you’re likely to earn the click.
- Organic ad exposure. Even if somebody doesn’t click on your search results, they may read it and/or subconsciously process the text. In this sense, it acts as organic ad exposure. (People pay top dollar to serve snippets via Google AdWords. The meta description of an organic result acts very much like an ad. Use it wisely!)
When the topic of meta descriptions arises, we inevitably hear people ask about “meta keywords.” But the truth is that you don’t need to worry about them. They’re an outdated element of SEO and Google no longer looks at them. Focus your time and energy on meta description instead.
10 Tips for Writing Effective Meta Descriptions
Anyone can write a meta description. But if you want to stop using this element of search as filler and transform this valuable real estate into a powerful tool for your brand, you need to learn how to write effective meta descriptions.
Here are a few of our top tips and suggestions:
1. Keep it to 156 Characters or Less
This is a basic best practice you’ll have to follow if you want your meta descriptions to have the most impact. Technically, you can write a longer meta description without penalty, but Google is only going to look at the first 156 characters of your message.
If your meta description appears cut off, it’s going to attract less people to your site. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to write your messages as close to 156 characters as possible without going over, maximizing the visual space you occupy without alienating your readers.
It’s also important that your meta description isn’t too short. Again, you aren’t going to get dinged for it, but it might hurt your click-through rate. Generally speaking, somewhere between 135 and 156 characters is ideal. (But we’d recommend erring on the longer side of things.)
On a related note, avoid using quotation marks in any way in the body of your meta description—Google will get rid of them.
2. Nix the Keyword Stuffing
Since there is a correlation between meta descriptions and search engines, many people mistakenly assume that including many keywords in a meta description is a good idea. In actuality, search engines don’t use the content in a meta description to calculate rank.
Instead, meta descriptions influence user click-through rates, and if your click-through rates are higher, you’ll rank higher. With this understanding, forget everything you know about optimizing text in conventional ways to please a search engine. Instead, focus only on what a user is going to want to see, and what’s going to make them click through to your site. The same conservative strategy goes with your link building: focus on the user, not on search engine rankings.
3. Write Better Copy
While it’s true that keywords in the meta description are not a Google search ranking factor, this doesn’t mean you should exclude them altogether.
As you know from being a Google user, search terms actually get bolded in the SERPS. Thus if someone searches for “dog food” and you have the word “dog food” in your description, it’ll bold that word. The result? Increased visibility for your search result.
4. Stay On Brand
Meta descriptions are an extension of your brand. It’s important that you stay on brand and use the same voice and tone that you use in the rest of your content and marketing.
If your brand voice is technical and direct, be technical and direct. If your brand voice is conversational, be conversational. You want to be as natural as possible. (Remember, this is a teaser of what visitors should expect when they visit the page. If your meta description gives one style and the content on the page conveys something else, you risk a poor user experience and high bounce rates.)
5. Be Descriptive and Specific
The more accurate and concise your description is, the better. Stuffing your description with fluff is going to register as white noise to anyone scrolling through, but if you let your users know you have exactly what they’re looking for, they’ll be far more likely to click through.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your description is accurate—don’t make false promises or sensationalize your page. If a user feels like your description is over the top, they won’t click, and if you don’t offer what you say you’d offer in the meta description, they’re going to bounce immediately, which can hurt your ranks over time.
6. Tease to Spark Curiosity
While it’s important to be descriptive, you also don’t want to give everything away up front. If you reveal your entire proposal or your whole offer in the body of your description, your user might never even venture into your site to begin with. Instead, try to leave your description off with a tease that invokes users’ curiosity. Something along the lines of “you’ll never guess how we solve this problem” indicates exactly what the purpose of your article is, but doesn’t give away the secret. Just be careful not to sound overly salesy or spammy.
7. Speak to Your Target Audience
In order to write effective descriptions, you have to know your audience well, and your target demographics can’t be “everyone.” Focus on specific niches within your audience to go after, and segment them based on the types of pages you’re writing descriptions for. For example, if you have multiple product lines, the audience for one set of meta descriptions may not match the audience for another.
Envision your target audience in terms of buyer profiles, and think about how you would talk to that type of person in real life. What’s important to them? What would get them to take action?
8. Include Action-Based Keywords
Action words are always a good idea, both for meta descriptions and for attracting general conversions. When people see action words like “learn,” “start,” or even “take action,” they are subconsciously prompted to take some sort of action. In this case, that means they’re more likely to click through. However, don’t include the word “click” in a command in your description—asking for clicks directly is a sure way to get penalized.
9. Prioritize Solutions
Let the titles of your pages sell the problem you’re trying to solve. If someone searches for a specific question or problem, your title will make your article more likely to show up. On the other hand, your description should be focused more on the solution to a problem. It’s a way of showing the audience that you know what you’re talking about, and that your article has real weight.
10. Optimize Every Page on Your Site
Start by ensuring that all your core page’s meta descriptions are optimized—that means your home page, about page, contact, and the main sections of your primary navigation. From there, start working on some of your other prominent pages, and ensure that all your blog posts from here on out have an accompanying meta description that’s optimized for both search engines and potential searchers. In time, you should see your organic traffic rise as a result.
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