There’s a lot of noise surrounding meta descriptions. Some people claim they aren’t worth writing anymore as search engines often rewrite them to better match the search query. Others still believe in them! But what is a meta description? And should you still write one?
A meta description is an HTML tag of up to 160 characters that summarizes a page’s content. Search engines display this snippet when someone enters a query to encourage them to click through.
We’ll cover what is a meta description, where the tag goes in your code, and how to write a compelling one.
What is a meta description?
You should have a meta description for every page and post on your website. A meta description is an HTML tag that lives in the head section of a page’s code.
A page’s meta description briefly describes what the page is about. It’s typically displayed by the search engine as part of the search results, usually under the page’s title.
The searcher will use this sentence to decide if clicking through to the page is worth it or not. Hence, the need to make every meta description compelling.
If we look at Google’s search results, we see the URL, title, and then the meta description:
Looking at the HTML code of a page, it looks like:
<meta name=”description” content=”Google may replace your meta description and instead show text that better answers the user’s query. But what is a meta description and should you write one?”/>
Why write a meta description?
Think of your title and meta description as an advert that’s shown on the results page after someone enters a search query. If it’s compelling and enticing, the user will want to click on your URL and read your post or page. Without these, the user is taking a stab in the dark.
Search engines are quick to state there’s no SEO benefit from having a meta description. Their ranking algorithms don’t use them at all. However, Google, Bing, and other search engines use click-through-rate (CTR) to determine if your page is a good answer to the user’s question.
You’ll see a slight ranking boost if most people click on your result as Google will consider your website to be one of the best answers available. So, it’s important to write compelling meta descriptions and titles.
Google often rewrites the meta description to best fit the user’s query, usually pulling text from your page. That said, you should still write one for every post and page on your website.
What goes into writing a good meta description?
Writing your first meta description can be a challenge. If you follow a few suggestions, the process is far easier. Plus, after a bit of practice, you’ll be writing more compelling titles and meta descriptions!
Our top tips:
- Keep it under 160 character
- Make it unique
- Include your keyword
- Make it actionable
- Summarize your content
#1 Keep it under 160 character
You have up to 160 characters to entice the user to click on your URL. So, you have plenty of space to write a concise summary of your content. Remember, make it snappy and compelling to encourage the user to click or they’ll look at the other results.
Sadly, we have no control over what Google displays in the search results. Sometimes, it’ll show your meta description exactly as you wrote it. Other times, it will grab a sentence or two from your copy and use that instead.
Most CMS, including WordPress (via an SEO plug-in such as Yoast or Rank Math) and Wix, will count your meta description length for you. If not, you can use Grammarly or Meta Tags, both are free and only take a millisecond.
Whether or not the search engines show the meta description you wrote, it’s best to keep it snappy to stop them from truncating it as this could lower your CTR.
#2 Make it unique
In most cases, a blank meta description is better than a duplicate one. One of the few exceptions is category pagination, where you have content arranged into multiple pages. However, you should deindex all but your first category page.
If you run an eCommerce store, it can be tricky to write unique meta descriptions for similar products (such as different colors or sizes). However, it is possible as you can vary your call-to-action (CTA).
#3 Include your keyword
All search engines will highlight every mention of your query (or closely related terms) in the results. So, it’s critical to use your target keyword in the meta description and title.
Users are more likely to click on your URL if their query is highlighted and is wrapped within a compelling sentence. Aim to use your keyword once but don’t overdo it.
#4 Make it actionable
As you’re trying to get a user to visit your page, you have to encourage them to click on your result. So, you want to use an active voice and make it actionable.
If your description is dull, difficult to understand, or confusing, no one will want to visit your page. Instead, tell the user what they find, learn or discover by reading your page.
One way to create interest is to end with a question or a call-to-action such as “learn more” or “book free trial”.
#5 Summarize your content
When Google crawls your page, it reads your content. So, if you’re trying to trick visitors by writing a clickbait meta description or one that’s false, Google will know. You might find your website being penalized.
One thing is certain, your bounce rate will be high. Our goal is to keep visitors on our website for as long as possible. So, people leaving your website in microseconds is counterproductive.
The end goal is a meta description that compelling describes the outcome of reading your page in under 160 characters and without boring the reader. (that’s 148 characters, so well within the limit!)
Best starting point for writing lots of meta descriptions?
Now you’re convinced that you should go back and write unique meta descriptions for every page on your website, you might wonder where to start. You have a few options.
One starting point is to start with the most popular pages. You can discover which pages receive the most search traffic by looking at your analytics package.
Another option is to start with critical pages on your website, such as your home page, about page, and product pages. Next, you can map out the most logical way to ensure all pages have a meta description.
Finally, you could create a list of all your website’s pages missing a meta description and work through the list.
As you add meta descriptions to your pages, you should note them down in your Content Keyword Map document, as this helps you keep everything in a single place.
Can I repurpose my meta descriptions?
If you’re spending a while writing a catchy meta description, you’ll probably want to reuse it or at least allow it to inspire you. Don’t worry, your effort isn’t wasted.
Here are a few ways you can reuse them:
- Social media (Pinterest descriptions, Facebook posts, tweets, etc.)
- Teaser line for emails
- Excerpts on category pages.
I regularly use all three of these options, and having a well-crafted meta description helps me stay inspired or at worst gives me a starting point.
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