Since the dawn of time in SEO, meta descriptions have played an important part in the search engine optimization process.
Meta descriptions may be a short summary of your web page, but they have a long-lasting impact on your SEO efforts and your organic traffic.
While Google has said that meta descriptions don’t directly influence a webpage's ranking, they still affect the click-through rate (CTR) from organic search engines.
How do meta descriptions work?
Well-written meta descriptions can increase your click-through rate and drive organic traffic to your website from search engines results pages (SERPs), like Google.
Plus, they play a huge role in delivering the right first impression to potential customers.
So, what are meta descriptions and how important are they in 2021?
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about writing meta descriptions and their role in SEO. We’ll then show you how to write great meta descriptions that convert and look at some killer meta description examples from other brands out there.
What is a meta description?
A meta description is an HTML tag that search engines use to provide searchers with a brief description of your website content in the form of a snippet.
Their purpose is simple: they’re designed to give searchers (and search engines) a preview of the contents of a web page before they click on it.
Meta descriptions are displayed beneath the page title, or title tag, and URL of your website, and appear like this on a search engine results page:
It's advised that the ideal meta description length is between 155-160 characters, so the optimal length for a meta description is anywhere between 140 to 156 characters. If it's too long, then it will cut off and this could affect the click-through rate.
Behind the scenes, the meta description sits in the meta HTML part in the <head> section of a website’s code:
You have control over the text in your meta description, via the HTML code or your website’s CMS. If you don’t have a unique meta description in your code, Google will automatically generate one for you based on the content on your site, which is not optimal for users.
Why are meta descriptions important?
Meta descriptions are important because they encourage users to click through to your site. When written well, they can help to drive clicks and visits to your business.
More often than not, meta description tags serve as the first impression of your company. People on the internet have a very limited attention span, and you only have a few seconds to impress a potential customer in a way that they’ll want to click.
Your website could have a flawless user experience, your product and pricing top of the line, you could even rank highly on popular search terms, but without a quality meta description tag, don’t expect anyone to come through the door via Google. With so many sites competing for the same spaces you are in, a meta description can prove to be the final reason people visit your site over others.
Whether you’re a small-time travel blog looking to entice people to read every post they write or a multinational corporation seeking online dominance, a meta description is all but a necessity for consistent organic visits.
Are meta description tags a Google ranking factor?
Since 2009, Google has maintained that a meta description doesn’t count as a factor in its complex algorithm.
SEO experts also back this up. According to SEO giants Moz, meta descriptions don’t affect the ranking factor of a web page — regardless of how many keywords, or search queries, are incorporated into the description, or how long the description was.
With that being said, why does a meta description matter for SEO?
While they might not have a direct impact on SEO, a meta description is an important part of the customer journey and they help to improve the search intent.
Think of it this way, when a person runs any search in Google, they’re looking for information and they want to find the most relevant, trustworthy source for that info. Your meta description is an opportunity to advertise your company, capture their attention, and encourage them to click on your result.
So, while not directly affecting SEO, a meta description tag can significantly boost site visits and business sales!
Good meta description examples
First, let’s take a look at a good meta description example for “surfboards Los Angeles”:
Immediately upon reading the meta description you know exactly what this company offers to you including its unique selling proposition - customized surfboards from leading shapers from the region. What’s more, it ends with a call to action that encourages people to visit your sites’ pages and learn more.
Similarly, let’s take a look at this result for the “best pizza in Brooklyn”:
While The Infatuation’s meta description is short, it answers the user’s search query. It’s sharp, natural and piques interest. Plus, it’s unique and it stands out.
Finally, let’s take a look at this great description for “pet hotel San Francisco”:
While the meta description is above 160 characters, the compelling copy makes up for it. The Pawington uses emotive language, such as “beautiful”, “five star”, “luxurious” to highlight their unique selling proposition.
Bad meta description examples
Let’s look at a result for “vegan restaurants in Portland”:
The result shown here is not an optimised meta description. It's showing content that is being automatically pulled from the on-page content - which is why you should always write your meta description.
Similarly, take a look at the meta description from a result for “best cafe in Texas”:
Now, you might think this gives the person all the information they’d ever need with this query. While potentially true, this meta description is a major detriment on CTR for this web page by providing all the answers right away!
Let’s take a look at a result for “chocolate store Charlotte nc”
Unfortunately for this site, Google is being blocked from reading the meta description tag by a robots.txt file that disallows the search engine from properly reading through the page and as a result displays this tag instead. So while they’re ranking for the search term, aside from their business name, there’s no reason why anyone would visit their site link at all!
What happens if my meta description is too long?
Don’t fret, your company won’t be penalized for having a meta description tag that is too long. However, you’ll likely have a meta description that is truncated or cut off instead of the one you desire. Let’s take a look at some examples
While not a major detriment to your search rankings, your click-thru rate might not be fully optimized if part of your description is missing. Here’s a truncated meta description tag:
Once again, while answering the user’s needs, by being too long, Google has taken it upon themselves to edit the description, potentially leaving out vital information you wish to convey.
What should I write in meta descriptions?
A meta description should include the following:
Your target keyword
Up to 160 characters
A description of what your page is about
A call to action
A. Choose a relevant target keyword
Let’s start with the first one: your main keyword.
Google might not count the keywords in your meta description when indexing your page, but it’s still advised to include your important keywords, as Google highlights them for users.
Notice how the keywords “bookstore” and “Chicago” are in bold in search results? That’s Google’s way of drawing the user’s eye to search results to help entice clicks.
By incorporating the keyword into your meta description, you’re serving the user intent. However, it’s extremely important to avoid keyword stuffing in your meta description.
B. Have an optimal character length: Up to 160 characters
Character count is tricky. Truth be told, there is no universal best character count or specific character limit.
But, while there is no definitive answer, Google itself has the following 159 character meta description for its search page:
<meta name=”description” content=”Search the world’s information, including web pages, images, videos and more. Google has many special features to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.“>
A general rule of thumb is to keep the description on every page above 140 characters and below 160 characters. That way you can ensure that any search result that’ll link back to your site shows, regardless of device and where you rank, shows all the words you spent hours working on in your description.
C. Follow an optimal format
So much to say, so few characters. Many brands struggle with the meta description because of one simple reason. It’s tough to summarize your on-page content, while also incorporating your target words.
Ultimately, think of your meta description like a teaser. It should clearly describe the type of on-page content on your website to ‘advertise’ it to searchers.
Keep it short and sweet, spark intrigue, and make sure it’s relevant to the keywords on your web page and in your page title.
D. End off with a powerful call-to-action (CTA)
While your meta description doesn’t NEED a CTA, it helps — particularly if you’re targeting keywords in the purchasing stage of the customer journey.
A simple CTA, such as “learn more now” or “get started today” can provide the little push a person needs to click on your page.
How to write great meta descriptions
To help you write a great meta description, here are 6 of the best practices, tips, and tricks to keep in mind.
1. Write meta descriptions in the active voice
Whenever possible, ensure every meta description is written in the active voice, not passive.
An active voice is much more impactful, especially when you only have a limited character count to get your point across.
2. Avoid duplicate meta tags for SEO
All meta description tags across all pages of your website should be unique. While it’s tempting to hit Ctrl+C on an existing meta description, this doesn’t play out well in search results and is an overall bad practice for SEO.
Want to see it in action? See below:
Image credit: Search Engine Journal
The best way to do this? Write your own meta description manually. While it takes time, you will write a better meta description because of it and can ensure that it's consistent with your brand tone.
3. Don’t use double quotations
While double quotation marks are an important part of writing, steer clear of these in your meta descriptions. The reason is simple: in HTML, quotation marks are used to contain pieces of information, like so:
<meta name="description" content="OPSM opticians provide professional eye care, prescription glasses, sunglasses and contact lenses. Book an eye test online or find your closest optometrist here!">
If you include a quotation mark in your meta description, Google thinks that’s the end of your description, and will cut off the description at your quotation mark, which is sub-optimal for your website's SEO.
4. Consider search intent
User intent, or search intent, is important because it helps you craft the right message for your meta description. If you want to create a truly high-converting meta description that drives traffic and revenue, you need to consider intent.
When you consider the motivation behind the search, you can tailor your meta description appropriately to answer it.
For instance, if a user runs a search for “cheap flights from JFK to LAX”, it might pay off to include a price point to entice them to click.
Meanwhile, if someone is looking for “home renovation inspiration” it’s better to take an editorial approach with your meta description, like Elle Decor:
5. Differentiate yourself from competitors
One of the best ways to ensure your business stands out amongst the sea of results in Google? Keep your meta description fresh and unique and avoid duplicate meta descriptions when you can.
Run a search for your target keywords and have a look at the descriptions for the other websites out there on the search engines. Try to differentiate your description from theirs to entice potential customers to click.
6. Write naturally
We get it — keywords can sometimes sound a bit confusing. But in your meta description, it’s important to try and keep your tone as natural as possible. The goal is to answer the user's query in your snippet and demonstrate that your webpage has high-quality content.
For example, this plumber in Australia has included the target keyword, “plumber north sydney”, word for word in the description:
While their services might be flawless, the first impression a user gets is that the website may be spammy.
Meanwhile, this example from a different plumber is much more natural:
Remember the golden rule: write for people, not search engines. Do this, and your descriptions will naturally flow and the clicks will follow.
Last but not least...
Test your meta descriptions and optimize them for keywords, click-through rates and conversions. Hop on to Google Search Console (or your SEO tool) to see which pages are performing best and don’t forget to run a few Google searches yourself to monitor how your meta descriptions are appearing in organic search results.
If you want to maximize your organic traffic from Google search, meta descriptions are an essential part of your SEO strategy. With the right character length, clear and descriptive copy, and optimal keyword incorporation, you’ll drive more clicks (and conversions) from search engines.
And remember: meta descriptions are just one part of SEO. Pair this with fantastic on-page SEO, link building, brilliant content marketing such as an informative blog post or article, and you’ll create an experience that customers will constantly head to your site for.
To truly elevate your SEO marketing efforts, you’ll need to give yourself the right tools and resources. For more handy information on what you need to do to get incredible ROI from your SEO, take a look at our free A-Z SEO Guide here. This expansive article provides all the tips, tools, and resources you could ever need to transform your business into a digital marketing beast!