Previously, we wrote about best practices and advanced techniques for writing SEO headlines, which we followed with a guide on writing irresistible title tags.
We will dive look into the secrets of writing another important staple of SEO and content marketing: meta descriptions.
In this article, we will:
Meta description is an HTML tag that summarizes the content of a web page.
Google and other search engines display meta descriptions to tell the user what they will find on the linked page. A well-written meta description can improve the click-through rates (CTRs).
In fact, studies show that pages with a meta description get 5.8% more clicks than those without a description.
The purpose of meta description is to get searchers to click on your page in search results and generate click-throughs.
Meta description HTML attribute looks like this in the HTML code of the page:
<meta name="description" content="A page's description, usually one or two sentences."/>
Even though meta descriptions are not on the list of Google’s ranking factors, the search engine uses the CTRs as a criterion for evaluating whether your page is a good result.
And Google awards pages with higher CTRs by moving them up in search results.
In other words, optimizing the meta description - just like optimizing your title tags - is important in order to get more people to click on your page.
Your meta description tag will often appear as the text snippet below your listing. So it should include the relevant keyword(s) and be compelling to encourage searchers to click on your listing.
A good summary of your page can provide a positive signal to searchers looking for content such as yours that they have indeed found it.
Even though meta descriptions are not a Google ranking signal, there are other important considerations for them.
Meta descriptions can:
Meta descriptions also appear on social networks when users share web pages. Platforms like Facebook automatically pull the meta tags from these pages to describe the content to the audience.
Before looking into more specific advice for writing compelling meta descriptions, we first need to address some obligatory techniques and best practices.
Think of your meta descriptions as advertising copy: its goal is ultimately the same, to compel the reader to click on your page through the power of well-written copy.
It is a very important part of search marketing because it draws readers to a website from the SERPs.
To maximize the CTR, an enticing description should always go together with relevant keywords.
Google bolds the key phrases that match users’ search queries to draw their attention.
So, make sure you match your meta descriptions and keywords used in them to search terms as closely as possible.
A brand should have a tone of voice in their messaging that reflects and is consistent with their identity, which is the way in which a brand appears to users.
A meta description should be written uniquely and according to the brand tone.
For instance, the tone of voice of a website that sells women’s clothing will sound different to the one that sends hardware - this also needs to be reflected in the tone of both websites’ meta descriptions.
Brand’s voice and meta description tone should be tailored to reach out to different buyer personas that are targeting specific keywords.
It’s advisable to use meta description in order to reach your audience by targeting personas with specific user intent and combining keywords that reflect this search intent.
The users are looking for search results that answer their queries as best as possible. This is why Google highlights keywords in SERP’s meta descriptions to draw them into the most relevant result that satisfies their search intent.
If a meta description satisfies the user’s intent better than other results, it will get higher CTRs.
Understanding user search intent can shape your meta descriptions. If searchers are looking to learn, use your meta description to spark interest. If they’re looking to buy, make sure your description conveys action and value.
Using the right keywords that Google is most likely to highlight when displaying results plays a major role in this.
Prospects and potential leads are not likely to be incentivized by generalized meta descriptions and empty phrases usually found in sales speak.
Meta description should inspire confidence in users that your page is truly the search result that will satisfy their intent and query, first and foremost.
One of the best practices is to be very specific what the page is about and then to deliver on the promise in the page’s content. It should speak about how your prospects will benefit by visiting your page and not persuade them to convert right away.
Best practices dictate that, in order for Google not to truncate meta descriptions in search results, they should be up to 155 characters in length.
In practice, there is no limit to what the length of meta description should be - however, Google shortens these snippets to 155 or 160 characters, although this also depends on the number of pixels certain characters are taking up.
The length of meta descriptions will depend on the message you are trying to convey. Thereby, you should keep them long enough that they are sufficiently descriptive and provide value that drives clicks.
Bear in mind that you can’t always control what Google displays in search results: it may show the entire meta description and sometimes it will simply grab parts of various sentences from it.
This is another reason why you should try to keep your meta description as concise as the topic allows: that way, if Google shows the entire description, it will show it in full.
Now that we have covered the basics, let’s look into some more specific techniques that will add finesse and pizazz to your meta descriptions.
Performing research on your competitors’ actions and keywords to be used is paramount to any industry.
In order to write a perfect meta description, this research should focus primarily on SERPs. it should monitor and identify what your competition is doing.
Efficient SERP research consists of these steps:
A meta description is an invitation to your web page. A dull description that makes room for ambiguous interpretations will leave users confused in regards to what they can expect to find on your page.
Meta description should use active voice that ought to motivate users and address them and your business directly. It should leave users in no doubt about what they will get when they click on the link.
Another reason why you should always resort to active over passive voice is that the length limit of meta description doesn’t allow wordiness.
Active voice is shorter, more readable and cleaner, and it comes across as more authoritative and confident. Writing in an active voice makes you sound direct and strong, while you should avoid sounding vague and as if you’re struggling to form a sentence.
Closely related to active voice is the inclusion of a call-to-action in your meta descriptions. It gives searchers the reason to come to your website and it should be an invitation to complete an action that would also benefit you, ie. a conversion.
Meta descriptions such as “Our new product gives you an advantage over your competitors. Try our solution free today!” or “Our software will streamline your processes. Find out more!” overlap with the above notion of actionable voice, but include that one extra step that invites users to take action.
In our article on writing irresistible title tags, we have advised against using the same, duplicate title tags for multiple pages. The same advice goes for meta description.
Every page’s meta description should be unique and original for these reasons:
In case your website has hundreds or thousands of automated pages, like eCommerce businesses often have, implementing dynamic and programmatic ways to create unique meta descriptions may be the way to go.
By following this example, you can achieve a double benefit:
Misleading meta descriptions will hugely increase your bounce rates because visitors will instantly leave your page in droves when they find that it does not offer it promises.
To enhance the alignment of your meta description with your page’s content, keep in mind the benefits associated with the products or services you are selling.
Try to briefly emphasize the benefits of using your products or the benefits of its features. For instance, that can be saving time because of how fast they can complete a process. Or improving the work process in some way.
Benefits should be oriented towards the audience. They should address and solve their pain points. In general, your meta description’s copy should always be about the visitor - not you.
The best way to know what constitutes a good meta description is by looking at specific examples that contain the best practices and advanced tips we covered in this article.
Here are a few that we think deserve a mention.
Airbnb’s meta description is a combination of several best practices: it starts with a catchy value proposal and then elaborates the direct benefit and purpose of its website, which is finding experiences all over the world.
Taco Bell’s meta description is quite concise and to the point. It starts out with a major announcement that is of interest to many visitors and that captures their attention and then expands on it in the rest of the copy.
Music Man’s brand of guitars Majesty has a page whose meta description is an exception to Google’s rule of a 160 character limit. In fact, this is one of the examples in which Google doesn’t use the meta description made by site webmasters but pulls it itself. The snipped goes great detail to explain the specifics of its product which will be of interest to a very specific group of buyers in this niche.
Vintage clothing website uses the free shipping deal as a main value proposal. They offer searchers what they offer and point out that they have pieces for any occasion which is always a great way to get clicks.
Digital agency Digital Silk uses meta description on their home page to describe right away what they are and what value they provide to their clients in very specific and direct terms: higher conversions, brand engagement and measurable results.
When you do come up with an amazing meta description, how can you be sure that you have got the right one? You can measure its length and other parameters using one of these tools.
The well-written meta description can boost the click through rates by providing an enticing summary of your page.
While itself not a Google ranking factor, CTRs send the search engine the signal that your page is credible and sought after as a source of information. And it awards these pages with rankings.
By aligning the content of your page with your meta description, you boost brand credibility and foster the trust of your audience.