When putting together content for your website, you may find that the task of crafting meta descriptions places a giant question mark above your head. What are they for, really? What purpose do they serve? And how on earth do you write a good one?
Lucky for you, these questions and more are what we’ll be answering here today. With a few guidelines in mind and some tips and tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be a meta description writing pro in no time. Or, at the very least, you’ll be competent at the task.
What is a Meta Description?
Starting out with a solid definition is often the best way to establish footing when learning about a new subject. It helps to clear up any potential confusion, too. So, in case you didn’t know, a meta description is an HTML tag that describes what a web page is about in 160 characters or less. These brief tidbits appear in search engine results, typically directly beneath the clickable web page headline.
If you want to see a meta description as coded on a website for yourself, just go to any site you prefer then right-click on the page and select either View Source or View Page Source. This gives you access to the HTML of a given page. Look for the meta description tag. It should look similar to this:
<meta name="description" content="[custom description goes here]”/>
When this information appears in a web page, it gives search engines the information they need to tell what the page is about and what information to serve to searchers.
Why Do I Need Meta Descriptions?
Beyond the basic “they give people more information about your web page,” factoid, meta descriptions are also helpful in a number of other ways. In fact, they can be highly beneficial from both SEO and reader perspectives. Let’s discuss three key reasons you need meta descriptions.
1. Increased Clickthrough Rates & Visits from Organic Search
The inclusion of a well-crafted meta description in search results can make all the difference in whether or not a someone clicks a link (the organic CTR). So even if your site appears within the top ten results in the SERPs, not all of these links will attract the same number of people. Nor will they be clicked with the same frequency between them.
The key to getting more clicks is to a) appear higher in the results and b) provide greater contextual clues as to what your content covers. Schema markup or rich snippets are a great example of the latter.
So, you need to rank higher to get more clicks but you need more clicks to rank higher. Tricky, huh? The solution is to offer as much information as possible to searchers so they will be more likely to click on the link to your content — even if it appears lower on the search engine results page (SERP).
Writing an eye-catching and informative meta description can do a lot of this legwork for you.
2. Give the Right People the Right Information at the Right Time
When someone is doing research on a particular topic, they may input a bunch of different keywords into Google to find the information they seek. Ensuring your meta description is well-optimized will make it more likely that your content appears in these searches centered around your niche. This also means that the content they find on your site is more likely to be aligned to what they were actually searching for. This spells profits if you do affiliate marketing or sell a product of some kind.
3. Increase Visits from Social
Taking the time to write fantastic meta descriptions and optimizing them well can also spell an increase in social media sourced visits. Meta descriptions show up on social network posts as well, thanks to Open Graph data.
This information will automatically populate links inserted into social media posts unless the poster disables this. Should your meta description be posted in a social link, it will do the same work for you as it would in the SERPs and can drive traffic to your website in similar fashion.
Meta Descriptions: Fast Facts
Before we dive headlong into the tips for writing extremely compelling meta descriptions, let’s first get a few “fast facts” out of the way first. Quick, this is your lightning-round knowledge boost:
Meta descriptions should always fall within the same range for length. And really, you don’t have much room at all to say what you need to say, so a focus on brevity and concise writing is necessary.
150-160 characters is what you need to aim for. Fall outside of this range and it’ll either be too short and a poor use of the space or too long and the entire write up won’t appear on the SERPs.
Both aren’t great and can hurt your chances of getting more clicks and more eyeballs on your content.
A matter-of-fact style or tone often works best in meta descriptions. Honestly, you don’t have a lot of room to work with so avoiding flowery language and fluff is a matter of necessity here. Get to the point, be precise, and make every word count.
Duplicates Are a No-No
If you have a few pages with similar content or that cover related areas of content (like posts in a series, for instance) it may be tempting to copy and paste the meta description and use the same one for all of these pages. However, this would be a mistake. It just looks plain lazy. Yes, it’s extra work, but taking the time to write custom meta descriptions for every page makes links to your site look professional in the SERPs.
Tips & Tricks for Writing the Best Meta Descriptions Ever
So you know how important meta descriptions are and why you need them. You’ve also picked up a few pointers along the way. But now it’s time to get into the details. How can you write meta descriptions that are effective, check all the right SEO boxes, and drive visitors to your site? Let’s explore.
1. Use Your Primary Keyword in Full
This is an absolute must. If you don’t use your full keyword (learn how to find keywords here) in the meta description, you’re wasting a valuable opportunity to clue the search engines in on what that page is about. You never want to keyword stuff or go overboard with it, but including your full primary keyword and your secondary keyword can be super helpful for improving SEO.
If you are using an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO, which includes content analysis, it will also tell you to include your focus keyword in the description.
2. Avoid the Dreaded Meta Description Cut-Off
If you don’t keep your meta description within the 160-character limit, it’ll appear cut off in the search results.
Sometimes, this might not matter all that much, especially if the headline is super descriptive and what’s readable of the description conveys the page’s content.
However, it just looks unprofessional and could turn some people off from clicking through. It’s a competitive world out there on the Internet. Don’t give people a reason to give your site a pass, especially over something so small.
3. Tease the Answer to a Frequently Asked Question
Another way to ratchet up the value of your meta descriptions is to indicate that you’ll provide some real answers to important questions on your site. One way to do this is to tease the answer to the question in your meta description. Or, at the very least, indicate you’ll be providing an in-depth answer.
Sometimes leaving people hanging can be a good thing as it’ll motivate them to click.
4. Be direct and to-the-point
We’ve mentioned this point already above but it warrants its own spot on this list, too. You don’t have a lot of space to work with here so make every word count. We can’t stress this enough. A meta description is not the place to wax poetic or to ease into a topic. Be direct in what the page is about. You can certainly be creative about it but no word should be wasted here.
5. Use Sales Language
You can think of a meta description as an ad for your website. Whenever someone searches for a topic related to your site and they come across your listing in the SERPs, the description can serve as a selling point for your content.
So instead of writing these descriptions as though they are encyclopedia entries, write them with some flair and personality. And most of all, be persuasive. You’re trying to sell potential visitors on the idea of clicking on your site link. Make whatever you’re offering sound too good to pass up.
6. Skip the Special Characters
Special characters definitely have their place. Who doesn’t love the good ol’ ampersand? But we’ve got to be honest, special characters like “&” and “@” and others look like absolute garbage in meta descriptions.
Plus, they often get converted into their HTML counterparts. So “&” becomes “
&” and a quotation mark becomes “
"”. Basically, your entire description won’t look right if it’s populated with these special characters. It will look broken and unprofessional, two words that don’t exactly inspire people to click.
7. Invest Time in Writing Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions can often feel like an afterthought. A thing you do right before you publish a blog post or website page. Writing them is just one little task to do on your SEO checklist, nothing more.
However, thinking of them in this way would be a mistake. It’s a much better idea to think of meta descriptions as an important section of the page you’re writing. Or, you could think of it like another headline or call to action that you need to craft. That’s how much care and attention you should be giving them. Besides your headline, these little blurbs are what act to convince searchers to give your site a try.
So, if you normally spend two hours writing up a blog post, allot yourself at least another 15 minutes to come up with a compelling and engaging meta description, not just a few seconds. It might sound like a lot of extra work at first but it’ll be well-worth the effort in the end.
8. Skip Meta Descriptions When Appropriate
Believe it or not, there are times when skipping out on this whole meta description business is your best bet. Unconventional pages with changing content or collections of content typically apply here. Big lists of “best of” articles, shopping carts, an email newsletter archive, or similar content probably won’t benefit from a custom crafted meta description.
Instead, you can let Google populate this for you or opt out of the meta description altogether. These situations are definitely exceptions to the rule, and rare at that. But it is important to note when your time may be better served elsewhere.
Final Thoughts: Writing Persuasive Meta Descriptions
Figuring out the best approach to writing meta descriptions might feel like a difficult task at first. But once you dive into the details, it’s easy to see how there is a concrete way to approach crafting them that values SEO and human readers, alike.
The benefits of these pint-sized blurbs are numerous, from increasing site visitors to improving search engine rankings. Having a clear understanding of this will likely make it easier to carve out the time required to put together descriptions for each page of your site.
Writing meta descriptions well does take some work. But so long as you keep the core tenants discussed here in mind like using precise language, minding the character limit, and treating them like sales copy, you’ll see the results you desire.
How do you approach writing meta descriptions for your website? Do you have any tips you can share with the rest of us?