The All-Purpose Guide to Meta Descriptions | The What, Why, and How

The All-Purpose Guide to Meta Descriptions

If you’ve been active in digital marketing, you’ve probably heard some version of this phrase: “write for humans, not for robots”. It’s a saying that pops up again and again, because it’s something that business owners often forget when they get caught up in writing content and marketing their brand. There’s SO MUCH information available on how to optimize your website for SEO that people forget they’re supposed to be writing for their consumers, not for the Google search bots. If you follow this rule, Google will recognize your efforts and boost your rankings accordingly. So although meta descriptions don’t directly affect your website’s rankings, they’re still extremely important for the user experience. Many people skip writing page descriptions entirely because they know their web design platform will automatically fill something in; but this isn’t generally the best thing for your site, or your brand.

What is a meta description?

It’s not as complicated as it might sound; a
meta description is just a summary of a web page. Oftentimes you’ll see them
underneath the URL in search results, like in this example for Petco:

image 1

The meta description explains what the web
page is about, and it’s a major influencing factor when it comes to whether or
not a user is going to click on a link. Think of the meta description as your
chance to “advertise” for the content on your website;
you’re (hopefully) not taking a mediocre approach to other aspects of digital
marketing, so don’t write a sub-par description! (or worse, skip the
description all together.)

Why are meta descriptions important?

To put it simply- they influence a consumer’s
decision on whether or not to click on your website. Although Google doesn’t use meta descriptions or their
keywords as a factor in their ranking algorithm, the descriptions do influence whether a user chooses to
click on your site or someone else’s, and click-through-rate does impact SEO. Neil Patel suggests thinking about meta
descriptions not as a ranking factor, but as a conversion factor.

Additionally, when you share a post on social
media, the platform will either include your description or pull a snippet
directly from the content. That’s why you see so many blog posts with random
sentences from their content listed in the description. For whatever reason,
the first 2 sentences of the post aren’t usually used, so the description can
end up being confusing. Would you pick up a book and decide to read it if the
summary on the back came from a chapter in the middle of the book?

Follow the advice below to find out how to
write your descriptions so that users choose your page over the competition.

How to optimize your meta descriptions:

It’s important to optimize your descriptions
because meta descriptions most often appear in the search results pages when
the word or phrase a user is searching for shows up in the description.

1.
Include keywords (when relevant and appropriate).

That way, when a user types a specific keyword
or phrase into Google, your website is more likely to show up in the SERPs. In
addition, Google and other search engines bold description keywords that match
up to a user’s search keywords which can catch a user’s eye and draw attention
to your website in a positive way. For example, I typed “dog groomers” in
Google’s search box, and the following listing popped up. You’ll notice the
matching keywords (dog groomers) are bolded in the description.

image 2

2. Keep
them short and sweet.

There is no set length for meta descriptions,
but Google tends to cut them off around 300 characters. Most people try to
stick to around 150-200 characters. You want to be descriptive and also provide
value so that users want to click on your link, and it’s up to you to decide
how many characters are necessary in order for this to happen. Try to get the
most important information across in the first 155 characters.

3. Use
an active voice, and include a call to action.

Remember, the purpose of the description is to
get people to click on your link, so be compelling! Include phrases like “find
out more”, “learn more here”, and “try it now!” so that users know exactly what
you want them to do. In the image above, you see they included the phrase “Want
to see who made the cut?” That’s the call to action.

Compare the following 2 website descriptions,
both of which appeared when I typed “how to groom a dog” into Google.

image 3

Image 4

Both webpage titles are relevant to my search
query, so which one should I click? Look at the description! The first article,
“How to Groom A Dog in 9 Simple Steps” has a clearly thought-out description.
It’s readable, short and to the point, and my keyword phrase is included (and
bolded).

Compare this to the second webpage, “Is Dog
Grooming Safe?” The description for this page was pulled directly from the
content and was clearly not written and optimized for SEO. There’s no call to
action and it’s unclear (from the description) what this page is even about.

It makes sense then that the first article was
posted on page 1 of Google, whereas the second article was posted on page 4.
Think about that when deciding when, and how, to write descriptions for your web
pages. What page do you want your site to rank on?

Take
note…

It’s important to understand that just because
you write a meta description doesn’t mean Google will recognize it. There’s no
way to predict when this will happen, but if Google feels that your description
doesn’t accurately match the content on the web page, they’ll overrule it and
post a snippet from the page instead. You can avoid this by just writing
thoughtful, optimized descriptions following the tips listed above. Need some
more guidance? Check out this article by No Risk SEO!

What are your tips for writing engaging meta
descriptions? Comment in the section below!

By Amanda Disilvestro on March 27, 2019

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