Meta Descriptions are important for driving traffic to your website.
…but not in the way you think.
In this article we’ll explain what meta descriptions do, clear up some common misconceptions, and teach you how to write better meta descriptions.
What Is a Meta Description?
A meta description is a snippet of code that concisely describes your webpage.
In theory, it controls the sentence directly under your page title in search results.
This screenshot shows where the meta description shows up…
A well written meta description can increase website traffic and click-through rates, but a poor description will probably get thrown away and never used (we’ll cover more about that in a moment).
Meta Description HTML Code
In code, a meta description looks like this:
<meta name="description" content="Your description goes here." />
Just copy the code and replace “Your description goes here.” with your description.
Are Meta Descriptions a Ranking Factor?
The short answer is “no”.
But the long answer is a bit more nuanced.
According to Google’s own documentation Google does not use meta descriptions as a page ranking factor. Here’s a quote from developers.google.com:
Even though we sometimes use the
descriptionmeta tag for the snippets we show, we still don’t use the
descriptionmeta tag in our ranking.
–Matt Cutts, Google Search Quality Team
The “snippet” means what shows up in Google search results.
Notice how he says “we sometimes use the description meta tag”?
The reason Google only sometimes uses the description tag is many are poorly written. Many websites try to stuff description tags with keywords, desperately hoping they’ll rank higher.
In response, Google changed the way they look at meta descriptions. Now they look at the quality of the description. Good descriptions are used and rewarded. Bad descriptions are thrown away, and Google will usually write its own based on content from your webpage.
Should I Bother Then?
Absolutely, Yes! But it needs to be done thoughtfully.
Well written descriptions encourage people to click on your website, which improves your click-through rate which in return improves your ranking. So the meta tags do affect SEO, but in an indirect way.
So remember this…
Meta descriptions are for people, not algorithms.
Your meta description is not the place to stuff keywords or worry about pleasing search engines. It’s a place to entice readers.
The bottom line:
Don’t hastily add a meta description so you can check it off your to-do list. Write a description that clearly explains what your page is about and why someone should click on it.
What Makes a Good Meta Description?
Feeling overwhelmed? Fear not! You don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway to write a good meta description. You just need to be thoughtful. We need to walk before we can run so let’s first focus on what makes a good meta description.
A good meta description will…
- be between between 140-160 characters
- be related to your content
- include your keyword no more than once
- be unique to that page
Good meta descriptions accurately summarize the content of the page. They’re not stuffed with keywords, but are written for human beings to read. 🙂
Meta Description Length
Meta Description should be 140-160 characters in length. That’s usually one or two sentences. If you’re using WordPress, Yoast SEO will automatically show you if it’s correct length or not. You can also use wordcounter.net.
What Makes a Great Meta Description?
A truly great meta description will encourage more clicks. That’s the whole reason we’re writing it in the first place.
A great meta description will…
- Tell people what to expect
- set you apart from your competition
- target an emotion
- include a call to action
This is where the art of writing comes in. To help make this less abstract, let’s look at a few examples…
Great Meta Description Examples
This local carpet cleaning company does a number of things right.
First, they position themselves with: “Carpet Cleaning Rexburg ID” so the reader knows what to expect.
There’s a gentle emotional appeal with: “setting a higher standard”.
Then they set themselves apart with: “we pay attention to every detail. Dry in 1 Hour”.
And conclude with a call to action: “Call us today!”.
It’s all 154 characters which puts it right in the sweet spot (between 140-160).
Lonely Planet does a great job of telling visitors what to expect, and selling their brand. The concise “plan and book your perfect trip” tells users what to expect and touches readers’ emotions with terms like “your perfect trip”.
It also lists what content can be found “expert advice, travel guides, destination info, and inspiration from Lonely Planet” so readers know what to expect.
This uses fun language like “for a steal” and “look smart”. It tells you what to expect “suits, ties, cufflinks”, and it has a call to action: “Shop now for your next occasion, up to 60% less.”
Hello Fresh tells you what to expect: “weekly recipe subscription box filled with pre-measured ingredients” and includes a gentle emotional appeal: “fun dinner recipes”.
Consider Hiring a Professional
Writing great description tags is one aspect of SEO, but there are many others including:
- Writing SEO-savy title tags
- Including H1 tags with keywords
- Having consistent NAP listings
- and a lot more…
If you need help with your website’s SEO, call the professionals at 800-627-4780.
Hopefully this demystifies the Description Meta Tag. It’s not a magic fix, but when used correctly, it’s a powerful tool to increase click-through rates.
Have any thoughts or questions? Let us know in the comments section below…