Meta descriptions, though not directly related to search engine rankings, play an extremely important role in improving click-through rates from search engine results pages. In fact, research shows that achieving above-expected CTRs can result in better organic rankings, so by making meta descriptions more relevant to related search queries, webmasters stand to gain an indirect boost in organic search rankings.
What is a Meta Description?
Meta descriptions are intended to provide users with a snippet of what they can expect to find by clicking on your website. Meta descriptions appear beneath a websites URL in search engine results pages.
In this example, we have highlighted the meta-description in yellow. As you can see, the meta description is a short snippet of text which we’ve used to incorporate a strong marketing message to encourage people to click through to our website.
How to Write a Meta Description
|Factors to consider||Guidance|
Meta description length
|Meta descriptions can be any length, but search engines will truncate (cut off) anything longer than around 160 characters. Know what your marketing message for each page is and communicate it clearly within this character limit.|
Unique meta descriptions
|Your meta description is a marketing message for the page to which it is associated. For this reason, we recommend that every meta-description is unique to the page and that it highlights the unique purpose or benefit that each page serves. More importantly, having duplicate meta descriptions can result in sub-optimal rankings for the pages in question.|
Include a marketing message
|Are you selling products or services, or is your page purely informational? What can the user expect to get from your page by clicking on it? Explain clearly why people should visit your website. Use your meta description as a marketing message and ensure it communicates the value the user will get from coming to you.|
Incorporate a clear call to action
|A clear call to action is more likely to elicit the response you want. For example, including a telephone number and the CTA ‘give us a call’ may eliminate the need for people to even load your website in order to find your contact information.|
Include relevant keywords
|If a search query closely matches your meta description, Google will highlight the search term in the description using bold formatting. This makes your listing more enticing to the user by pointing out the relevance to the search query. So think about the keywords you are targeting – which search terms do you hope to appear for? Use those terms in your description.|
Why You Should Use Meta Descriptions
Creating meta descriptions can be a tedious task, especially for larger sites. However, there are various reasons why meta descriptions should be considered important by marketers.
This is the number one reason why I urge marketers to spend time creating relevant meta descriptions for key pages. One tactic we often suggest to improve CTR is to combine keywords with emotional triggers or calls to action to create eye catching meta descriptions. Research has shown that emotions like anger, disgust, affirmation, and fear are proven to increase click-through rates. Moreover, if a search query closely matches keywords included in your meta description, Google will highlight those keywords within the description, as you can see below in the meta description taken from our SEO services page.
With this in mind, be sure your meta description uses the keywords you are targeting on any given page and is written in a way that will encourage searchers to click on your listing!
If you share a page on Facebook, it will look for what’s known as open graph markup on your website. If you do not have open graph markup, social networks like Facebook will use your meta description as the default description included within the link that has been shared.
If you want your shared content to get the most possible clicks on social media, consider creating a strong meta description that will encourage clicks, just like you would do for a search engine results page.
It’s important to note that most open graph plugins generally auto fill the ‘og:description’ field using the meta description field, so you shouldn’t have to duplicate your efforts for search and social as long as you have a relevant meta description in place on each page.
Avoid Gobbledygook in Search Results
If you don’t include a meta description on your page, Google will simply grab the most relevant copy they can find on the page in question and display this in your description field. This often leads to truncated descriptions in the search results which will in-turn produce sub-optimal CTRs.
If you have pages on your website with a low word count such as video pages, then Google will often crawl the first piece of code they can find on the page and return it in your search listing. You can see an example of this below:
If your website has pages that have limited text based content then I would certainly recommend adding meta descriptions to those pages if you want to increase organic CTRs.
How to Change or Create Your Meta Description
Every page of your website should have its own unique meta description. If you don’t write your own, Google will create one for you by pulling information from the page content.
For us, creating or changing our meta description is a simple process as WordPress (our content management system) has been set up to allow this via SEO plugins.
If your website is also based on a CMS (i.e. you can log in to the ‘back end’ to add new content), you should be able to add meta descriptions to your pages relatively easily. For example, if you’re using WordPress, you can use Yoast.
If your website doesn’t have a CMS, you can affect your meta description using the description tag itself, which looks like this:
<meta name="description" content="Your meta description here"/>
Meta descriptions give you a chance to win over users browsing multiple search results, and in doing so improve the CTR of key pages on your site. As we have discussed, meta descriptions should really be viewed as short sales pitches for each product or service your website details.
By disregarding meta descriptions as ‘unimportant for SEO‘, you could be missing out on a huge opportunity to improve click-through rates to key areas of your site.
Do you use meta descriptions on every area of your website? If so, do you have any tips and tools people can use to make adding meta descriptions to their site less tedious? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!