Technical SEO

What is a Meta Description? How to write one for SEO

Written by

Haley Carroll

Last updated:

July 6, 2020

You're browsing Google and seeing a lot of results returned, as you typically do. Beneath each of these results though there's a little description that appears to describe the page - where does that come from?

And does it help those pages boost their rank?

That description is called the 'meta description' by SEOs and yes, it does help you boost your rank. But not in the way you'd think.

A lot of SEO focuses on making your website rank higher and look more attractive on the SERP. But with thousands of results being shown on the SERP, how do you make the result for your website stand out more than the competition's?  

In this article, we will be honing in on one aspect of your website’s SERP result that you can optimize as a simple but surefire way to get more clicks: the meta description.

Questions remain including what is a meta description, what is its purpose and how can you use it effectively?

What is a Meta Description?

A SERP result is made up of three different components: the website title, its URL, and the meta description.

A meta description is a brief snippet that provides a summary of the target page’s contents.

It is an HTML tag that is editable by the website owner. While you'll see something like the above in search results this is what Google looks for in analyzing your content:

If the meta description is not customized by the site owner, a search engine will usually just display a snippet of text from the main body of the webpage’s copy by default. Sometimes, the snippet that is automatically displayed will make sense as a meta description and sometimes it won’t. This reality is why it is a good rule of thumb to customize your meta descriptions.

But why do you have to worry so much about what that little snippet says? Do meta descriptions really have an effect on SEO?

What impact do meta descriptions have on SEO?

Meta descriptions can have a massive influence on whether a visitor chooses to visit your website, because the searcher often uses it to judge if the information on your site will be relevant and useful to them or not.

Google claims that meta descriptions and meta keywords do not affect your website’s ranking on the SERP, but research has found time and time again that there is definitely a relationship between meta descriptions and increased click through rates.

This means that more people who see your result will actually click on your website. Though this may or may not affect your website’s SERP ranking, a higher click through rate leads to increased traffic to your site.

Writing high quality and engaging meta descriptions cannot be refuted as a good business practice, and your website will undoubtedly benefit from it.

What makes a meta description “good?”

Following the guidelines outlined below, your website will surely be in a better position, and gain a significant advantage in search results.

What should I write in a meta description?

Before we dive into best practices, let's take a look at what you should be writing in your meta descriptions.

Your meta description is your elevator pitch as to why someone should visit your page over the other hundreds, thousands, or millions of search results. You need to be clear, concise, and descriptive as to what your content is about and why someone should click through to read it.

Craft a readable, compelling description using important keywords in order improve the click-through rate for a given webpage. That's what goes in a meta description, now it's time for some best practices in optimizing your descriptions.

How to Write a Good Meta Description

Let's run through some essentials in optimizing your meta descriptions.

How long should a meta description be?

The rule of thumb is to keep the meta description in the range of 156 to 160 characters.

Google has been expanding the character count over the years, and has not committed on a hard count as evidenced by the continued chatter on the topic:

https://twitter.com/dannysullivan/status/936708405363843072?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E936708405363843072%7Ctwgr%5Eshare_3&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fd-1593993301278834758.ampproject.net%2F2010132225003%2Fframe.html

Even web trends analyst John Mueller has been mum on the subject, giving a vague wishy washy answer:

https://twitter.com/JohnMu/status/996046766217875457?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E996046766217875457%7Ctwgr%5Eshare_3&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fd-1593993301278834758.ampproject.net%2F2010132225003%2Fframe.html

155-160 was a standby for years though, and we still recommend shooting for it but not obsessing over it.

This length will allow you to maximize the available space on the search result and provide the most information possible to the searcher, without the description getting cut off or truncated.

When searchers are able to get a complete idea of what your page offers, bounce rates will decrease. If you find that you can provide a detailed and complete description in less than 156 characters, feel free to keep it more brief.

Stick to your brand's voice and engage the reader

Your meta description should give the searcher an idea of your brand’s identity and its unique characteristics while also describing the benefits your website provides.

It is important for the meta description to differentiate your website from its competition and persuade searchers that your site is worth their time.

Optimal meta descriptions will contain a call-to-action to help drive clicks, and the tone will be crafted to resonate with the searchers you are targeting to reach on your page.

Use wording that users are familiar with and will be easily understood. Keep in mind that the meta description must always represent your website accurately. Do not make false claims or over exaggerate in your meta description, as this will irritate your visitors and drive them away from your site.

Use the right keywords, and use them in the first half

One of the most important aspects of the optimal meta description is the use of the right target keyword.

Why?

Google will bold the words in your meta description that are also contained in the query, and this can draw attention to your search result.

Like this:

Using the keyword in the first half of the description, if possible, can help draw the searcher to your content and increase your chances of getting a click through.

Your keywords must follow the intent of the searcher. Analyze and research why the user is typing those certain words into a search engine, and craft your meta description based on that intent.

It’s good to track what your competition is putting in their meta descriptions, paying attention to which phrases stick and which words are taken out over a span of time.

If a particular word or phrase is used by many competitors or for an extended period, this is a good indication that it is an effective keyword to use. This research will help you determine what keywords to put in your own meta description.

Put these effective keywords at the beginning of your description. This strategy will ensure users will know your site is relevant to them when they first start to read, and it will prevent them from dismissing the page as useless and scrolling past it looking for a more relevant result.

Use a unique meta description for each page

Make sure each page's description is unique.

If a search query results in a list of many pages with an identical meta description, this may confuse the searcher and cause them to avoid all the pages.

It will also lessen the effect that your carefully crafted meta description will have on searchers. It is possible to incorporate a program to create new meta descriptions for each automated page, however it is always better to edit them yourself for an optimal description.

Keep your meta descriptions up to date

Once you write a meta description for a page, it can’t stay the same forever.

You need to keep up with what words and phrases people are searching for in order to keep appearing in the SERP. Following popular trends and headlines can actually give you clues to what people will be putting in their queries.

Keeping your phrasing fresh can make a huge difference in click through rates and site traffic. You need to be in tune with the contemporary culture of the people you are trying to attract. This does not only apply to meta descriptions you are creating for new webpages. You need to update your older meta descriptions as well, because it can attract new visitors that would have otherwise scrolled right past if it weren’t for the eye-catching and modern description.

Summary

A meta description is the component of the SERP result that is a brief text snippet that describes the webpage’s contents.

People use them to determine if the webpage will be relevant to their needs and so it is important for meta descriptions to be an accurate and compelling portrayal of your site.

Your meta descriptions should be kept concise, include relevant keywords, and be unique to each webpage on your site. If you follow these guidelines, you will surely see an improvement to your click through rate and increased traffic to your website.

Start mastering SEO today

Learn more about Centori