The humble meta description remains an important part of organic search. These short snippets convey lots of information to people and search engines, and make a big difference to your site’s clicks, traffic and leads.
Optimising meta descriptions may sound like an old hat strategy, but it’s a powerful way to encourage click-throughs and engagement. On a competitive SERP (search engine results page), a considered and intelligent meta description will show users that you can help them – and that’s what creating high-converting meta descriptions is all about.
Here, we show you how to write meta descriptions to gain more traffic and conversions. Use the links below to navigate the guide.
- What is a Meta Description?
- Why Use Meta Descriptions?
- How to Add a Meta Description
- Tips for Writing Meta Descriptions
- Know the Right Length for Meta Descriptions
- Treat Meta Descriptions like Ad Copy
- Avoid duplicating Meta Descriptions Across Pages
- Use Relevant Keywords With Care
- Always Include a Call to Action
- 4 Types of Pages Need a Meta Description
- Never Use Special Characters in Meta Descriptions
- Focus on the User, not the Search Engine
- Understand That Meta Descriptions May Not Always Be Used
What is a Meta Description?
A meta description is a snippet of text that summarises the content of a webpage. Meta descriptions appear under the title and URL of a page in search results, giving the user a taster of the page contents. They can also appear elsewhere, like when a page is shared on social platforms.
Over the years, there’s been a lot of debate about the value of meta descriptions from an SEO perspective. In 2009, Google confirmed that it doesn’t count meta descriptions as a ranking factor, but this hasn’t stopped brands from using them.
Why Should You Use Meta Descriptions?
While meta descriptions don’t directly affect rankings, they do affect a page’s clickthrough rate – which is a ranking factor. Alongside page title and URL, meta descriptions show the user that your page can answer their query, so it’s well worth taking the time to create meta descriptions which do a good job of summarising your content.
Another reason you should use meta descriptions is to take advantage of the fact that Google now highlights keywords in bold. This gives greater relevancy to your page, showing the user that your content aligns with their search intent. Here’s an example:
Google emboldens keywords in meta descriptions throughout the SERPs, even if they aren’t an exact match with the user query. For instance, in the example above, the words ‘digital’ and ‘agency’ would still be made bold if they weren’t next to each other.
Google ranks pages more favourably when terms in the meta description align with what the user has searched, so it’s important to use relevant keywords when creating meta descriptions for your site.
So, to summarise, here are the three main reasons why meta descriptions matter to your website:
How to Add a Meta Description to a Page
Adding meta descriptions to your web pages is easy, and there are a couple of ways to do it.
You can add a meta description to any web page using a simple line of HTML code, which needs to be inserted between the <head> </head> tags at the top of the page. Use this code to insert a meta description:
<meta name=“description” content= “This is where to write your meta description.”>
Depending on which type of CMS your site is hosted on, adding meta descriptions may be even easier. On WordPress sites, for example, the SEO plugin, Yoast, makes it easy to a meta description to individual pages, and even offers hints and tips on how optimised your descriptions are.
Tips for Writing Optimised Meta Descriptions
They may be short, but there’s an art to writing a powerful meta description. Below, we look at things to consider when writing meta descriptions that will win your site more traffic and leads.
Know the Right Length for Meta Descriptions
Most meta descriptions served by Google average around 155-160 characters, so that’s the length to aim for. Any more than this and it will be shortened by default, so always aim for a maximum of 160 characters.
Less can be more when it comes to writing meta descriptions, and Moz recommends an average description length of 50-160 characters. Provided your copy offer value and aligns with the user’s search intent, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t keep your descriptions short. We find, however, that longer descriptions deliver greater value, relevancy and context.
Treat Meta Descriptions Like Ad Copy
Like all great ad copy, meta descriptions should focus on how you can help make the user’s life better. Meta descriptions are often the first piece of content a user will read about your brand, so it’s vital that they highlight your value proposition and how clicking through to your site will benefit the user.
Here’s an example of how meta descriptions can be used to showcase the merits of your business:
Assuming that the user is looking for help with setting up and managing a paid media campaign, the example shows how a meta description can be used to promote your value proposition and help the user – which is key to a high-performing meta description.
Avoid Duplicating Meta Descriptions Across Pages
If your site has lots of pages, you may be tempted to use the same meta descriptions for each as a means of saving time and resources. But, duplicate meta descriptions can signal to search engines that your content is spammy or of poor quality, impacting how well your pages rank.
Creating unique meta descriptions for each page is always the preferred option, but if this isn’t feasible, it’s better to have no meta description than one that’s a duplicate of other pages. In instances where there isn’t a meta description, Google will pull out a snippet of content from your site which is relevant to the user’s search query.
Use Relevant Keywords with Care
While keywords aren’t integral to the performance of organic search, they’re a good way of adding context and relevance to meta descriptions and title tags. Used sparingly, keywords can align your content with user search intent, and provide those all-important bold characters which can make your description look more attractive and relevant to the user.
Here’s an example of how using relevant keywords can add value and context to a meta description:
In this example, the search query was ‘Danube river cruises’. You can see that Google has emboldened ‘Danube’, ‘river’ and ‘cruises’, treating each as a keyword term. The meta description works well because there is a combination of both exact-match keywords and non-exact terms, and they appear naturally throughout the snippet. The exact-match keyword is also found in the CTA, reinforcing the value proposition that users can expect when they click through to the page.
Always Include a Call to Action
This brings us on to our next tip: including a CTA in your meta descriptions. As touched on above, meta descriptions form the start of the user journey, guiding users towards a conversion. A relevant and clear CTA can prompt the next step on this journey, showing the user what they can expect by clicking through to your site.
Whether your site is informational or transactional, every user wants to know what’s in it for them by clicking the link to your page in SERPs. Providing a considered call to action that aligns with their search intent guarantees the best chance of capturing their click, and also highlights exactly what they’ll find by visiting your page.
4 Types of Pages Where You Need a Meta Description
While it is possible to rank for key terms without including meta descriptions on every page, some areas call for meta data because they’re pillar pages which drive traffic to other areas of your site. Here are four types of web pages where you should always include a meta description:
Never Use Special Characters in Meta Descriptions
With a limited character count to work within, some people resort to using special characters in their meta descriptions as a means of saving space, but this is never a good idea. Em-dashes (–), plus signs (+) and ampersands (&) are among the most commonly used symbols used in place of words in meta descriptions, but experts like Moz believe that search engines have a hard time reading these, and may rank pages lower as a result.
Rather than using special symbols, try to write meta descriptions like you would any other content on your website. Use standard punctuation marks and sentence structure, including keywords as naturally as possible whilst staying within the character count parameters.
Focus on the User, Not the Search Engine
One of the most common mistakes brands make when writing meta descriptions is focusing on appeasing search engines, rather than users. While using keywords remains an important step in creating an optimised meta description, the copy shouldn’t be built around this as a means of pleasing bots; it should target the user and align with their search intent.
The thing to keep in mind when writing meta descriptions is that Google is more interested in the number of click-throughs a page accrues, rather than how many keywords are in the meta description. And, one of the best ways to improve click-through-rate is to write your meta descriptions for people, not search engines.
There’s also the matter of social sharing to consider. When a user shares a page on their social feeds, the meta description (or at least a small snippet of it) will feature beneath the post, providing a description of what it contains and prompting others to click and share. By writing your meta descriptions for people, you can encourage more social shares and engagement, harnessing the power of social to drive organic traffic to your website.
Understand that Meta Descriptions May Not Always be Used
While we’d always recommend adding a unique meta description to your web pages, there are instances when Google may decide not to display your custom text on a SERP. In this instance, their algorithm serves the user a snippet of content from your site which is more relevant to the search term – delivering a better user experience and encouraging click-throughs.
Say, for instance, that a user is searching for a price which relates to your products. Rather than displaying a generic meta description for a product or category page, Google may instead display text which gives the user the information they’re searching for. This makes it more likely for the user to click through to your site, so essentially, the search engine is doing you a favour.
As noted, we’d always suggest adding meta descriptions, particularly given their importance in social sharing. But it’s worth remembering that Google may input more relevant copy from your site when it sees fit, which is why it’s so important that your site is populated with relevant, user-friendly and optimised content.
If you’re looking to grow the traffic and leads to your website, our organic search team can help. Using innovative processes and a tailored content marketing strategy, we can help improve the performance and visibility of your brand. Click here to learn more or call us today on 0345 459 0558.