Learning SEO : Meta Descriptions
The Meta Description
Generally situated just after the title tag in the <head> section of a web page, a page’s meta description is the snippet of text that shows up under the title on the Search Engine Results Page. They can be thought of as something of a preview for a given page Though not directly linked to PageRank, meta descriptions still exert considerable influence on a website’s click-through rates, making them an important part of the optimization process.
Best Practices For Writing A Meta Description
A top-notch meta description intrigues the user, making them want to see what a website has to offer. Similarly, a low-quality meta description either drives them away or bores them - meaning they’ll likely ignore your website altogether. For this reason, it’s vital that your website have well-written, high-quality meta descriptions for each page.
In order to make your meta descriptions as appealing as possible to the end user, keep the following best practices in mind:
- Stay Concise. Although a meta description can theoretically be of any length, Google will truncate any descriptions longer than 160 characters. What that means is that you’ve only got that much space to get information across to the reader. Use it wisely.
- Cut Out Unnecessary Characters. Every character in your meta description counts towards the limit. You want as much space for your message as possible, which means eliminating extraneous words and punctuation.
- Craft A Unique Meta Description For Each Page. Duplicate content is boring, looks lazy/unprofessional, and does nothing for search engine optimization. If you’re just going to copy and paste one meta description for every single page on your site, you may as well not even bother in the first place.
- Be Transparent. Unless you’re looking to destroy your reputation as a webmaster, don’t lie to the user about what they’ll find if they click through to your website.
- Call The Reader To Action. In essence, your meta description is sales copy, and should be treated as such when you’re writing it. Make use of ‘action language,’ and make it clear what you want the user to do - one of the best things you can do in your meta description is ask a question of the reader; one that will leave them interested in what you have to say.
- Demonstrate Value. Again, the meta description is something of a marketing pitch. Make sure it’s clear what you can offer the user - what’s in it for them if they click through?
- Consider Keywords. Aside from the fact that keywords are used to determine relevance, then can also draw the attention of the reader. Google will highlight a search term if it finds it in the meta description on the SERP. As such, if you can do so without making your meta description sound forced or unnatural, consider popping in a keyword or two.
- Drop A Name Or Two. Is your brand associated with a well-known client or technology? Why not mention that in your meta description? People are likelier to do business with a brand that’s demonstrated its value through well-known development or partnerships.
- Ask A Question. Posing a question to the user - particularly one that demonstrates an understanding of their needs - is a great way to hook them in, especially if you make it clear that the answer to that question can be found on your website.
- Never Assume A Meta Description Is “Finished.” You should always be testing, revisiting, and re-examining your meta descriptions to see if there are any improvements to be made. Experiment until you find a tactic that works for you - and then keep experimenting until you find one that’s even better.
- Localize. If you’re optimizing for local search, you might consider including a telephone number or mentioning the city your business operates out of. This will appeal to users who are searching with local intent, and make it easier for them to get in touch with you.
- Remember That You Don’t Always Need To Write A Meta Description. Although it may seem counterintuitive, a meta description isn’t always necessary. If a page’s main text features a number of long-tail keywords, it may actually be better to ignore the meta description section and instead allow Google to draw a relevant excerpt from the page (though we generally wouldn’t recommend this).
Meta Description Mistakes To Avoid
Even with knowledge of the best practices involved in writing a meta description, there are certain flubs the unaware may fall victim to. Thankfully, it’s not so difficult to avoid them, so long as you’re aware they exist. Here, then, are a few of the biggest errors you can make regarding your meta description:
- Simply Forgetting To Write One. The decision to exclude a meta description from a page should be a conscious one, driven by the knowledge that Google will select a suitably relevant section of a page’s copy on its own. If you simply neglect your meta description altogether, you’re likely going to wind up with one that’s weak, uninspired, or generic.
- Keyword Stuffing. According to Hubspot, many webmasters lack an understanding of the meta description, and instead just stuff it full of keywords in an effort to boost their page in the SERP. The end result is a confusing mishmash; akin to a salesman at a retail outlet walking up to a customer and screaming out a string of product names or descriptors. Pointless, and incredibly off-putting.
- Targeting The Wrong Keywords. You can’t just pull out a few keywords that you think will be applicable and target those - many keywords are either so highly competetive as to have no value, or are instead completely irrelevant to your users. You thus need to do your homework. Use Google’s Adword keyword tool to determine the best keywords for your website and target those.
- Not Using Any Keywords At All. Wherever possible, you should be working to incorporate keywords into your meta descriptions. After all, the more attention you can draw to your entry on the SERP, the likelier you are to gain clickthroughs.
- Not Putting Any Effort Into The Writing. In a way, a meta description can be thought of as a sort of “elevator pitch for the web.” Like a good elevator pitch, a meta description should take a great deal of time and effort to perfect. If you aren’t willing to put in that time and effort - or hire someone who can do it for you - then you may as well not bother with the meta description at all.
- Not Viewing The SERP For Yourself. Don’t just write your meta description and wash your hands of things. Have a look at the SERP to see how it looks - and how it’s likely to come across to your users. That way, you can fix any problems that exist before you end up losing out on traffic.
A Few Additional Tips
We’ll conclude this section of the guide with a few final pieces of advice on writing a killer meta description.
- Don’t Forget About Rich Snippets. In addition to your standard meta description (which is also known as a “snippet”) Google’s search engine also features “Rich Snippets.” These segments contain additional data such as review scores, time and date, location, etc. Depending on your website’s format, you might consider using them instead of (or in addition to) standard meta descriptions.
- Remember That Your Meta Description Should Connect To Everything Else. Search engine optimization is a fairly complex process, and not a single step should be thought of as self-contained. When writing your meta description, consider how it connects with the rest of your website, your title tag in particular.
- Use Tools To Make The Writing Process Easier. A number of different tools, platforms, and applications designed to help you write better meta descriptions can be found all over the web. If you’re truly serious about optimizing your site - yet you’re having trouble doing so - you might consider checking out applications such as Site Auditor, Google Webmaster Tools, or SEMofo.
- Read Up On How To Write Persuasive Copy. Since we’ve already established that your meta description is essentially a sort of self-contained sales pitch, it follows that having a better knowledge of sales will help you write better snippets. To that end, it might help to carry out a bit of research on how to write sales copy or simply the art of persuasion.