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.
Fortunately, writing an effective meta description is something of a science, and with these seven tips, you can optimize yours:
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. On a related note, avoid using quotation marks in any way in the body of your meta description—Google will get rid of them.
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.
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.
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 sales-y or spammy.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.