Since the dawn of SEO, meta descriptions have played an important part of the search engine optimization process.
Meta descriptions are short, but they have a long-lasting impact on your digital marketing efforts.
While Google has said that meta descriptions technically don’t help a website’s ranking, that doesn’t mean you should discount them entirely.
The truth is, a meta description can make a world of difference to your website’s performance on search engines.
Well-written meta descriptions can increase your click-through rate and drive organic traffic to your website.
Plus, they play a huge role in delivering the right first impression to your customers — and it could even push up conversion rates.
So what are meta descriptions and how important are they in 2020?
In this post, we’ll cover all you need to know about meta descriptions and their role in SEO (and beyond). We’ll then take you through how to write meta descriptions that convert, and look at some killer examples from other brands out there.
What is a meta description?
Why are meta descriptions important?
What should I include in a meta description?
How to write a good meta description?
What are some examples of a good meta description?
What is a meta description?
A meta description is an HTML tag that search engines use to provide searchers with a brief description of what your website is about.
Their purpose is simple: they’re designed to give searchers a preview of the contents of a web page before they click on it.
Meta descriptions are displayed under the title and URL of your website, and look like this on a search results page:
They can be any length, but Google typically cuts off any descriptions after 155-160 characters. The optimal length for a meta description is anywhere between 50 to 155 characters.
Behind the scenes, it slots into the meta HTML part in the <head> section of a website’s code. It looks like this:
You have complete control over the text in your meta description, either via your HTML code or through your website’s content management system (CMS). If you don’t have a dedicated meta description in your code, Google will automatically generate one for you based on the content on your site.
Why are meta descriptions important?
Meta descriptions are important because they encourage searchers to click through to your website. When written effectively, they can help drive clicks and traffic to your website, and potentially even boost your website’s conversion rate.
First and foremost: since 2009, Google has maintained that a meta description doesn’t count as a factor in its complex ranking algorithm.
Other SEO experts also back this up. An in-depth study by Yoast found that meta descriptions don’t affect the ranking factor of a web page — regardless of how many keywords were incorporated into the description, or how long the description was.
So why bother?
Because, beyond pure SEO value, your meta descriptions are an important part of the customer journey.
It’s all about that curb appeal.
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 website, get their attention, and encourage them to click on you.
Let’s look at an example for the search results for “vegan restaurants in Portland”:
While the first result does technically incorporate the search term, the constant repetition of “copy link” might come across to some users as spammy or untrustworthy.
Meanwhile, the second result provides a short, clear description of what their page is about, so a user knows exactly what to expect before clicking on the link.
The third result takes a similar approach, but also includes vivid and descriptive copy that might entice users to click through to read more.
By looking at these three examples, it’s pretty clear that an optimized meta description can help increase your clickthrough rate from search engines.
But more importantly, your meta description can help increase your website conversions. It sets expectations and tells your audience what to expect when they click on your page. If they know what your site is about and they still click through, the likelihood of them sticking around is much higher.
What should I include in a meta description?
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. Your target keyword
Let’s start with the first one: your focus keyword.
Sure, Google doesn’t count the keywords in your meta description when considering where to rank your page. But it’s still important to include your keyword, simply because of this:
Notice how the keywords “bookstore” and “Chicago” are bolded in search results? That’s Google’s way of drawing the user’s eye to search results, in order to help them skim and find the best result for their query.
By incorporating the keyword into your meta description, you’re mirroring your target audience’s search back to them. You’re essentially saying, “hey, you know that specific thing you’re looking for? You’ll find it here.”
However, it’s extremely important NOT to stuff keywords in your meta description.
B. Up to 160 characters
Character count is tricky. Truth be told, there is no universal best character count — Google itself changes up the length of meta descriptions. The example above illustrates this point perfectly: the first example is well over 300 characters, while the second is just 142 characters.
But while there is no black and white answer, the next bit of information might help. 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.“>
And this 140-character meta description for Gmail:
<meta name="description" content="Gmail is available across all your devices Android, iOS, and desktop devices. Sort, collaborate or call a friend without leaving your inbox.">
A general rule of thumb is to keep the description above 50 characters and below 160 characters.
C. Page description
So much to say, so few characters. Many brands struggle with the meta description because of one simple reason. It’s tough to summarize all the content on your page in a succinct yet compelling way, while also incorporating your focus keywords.
Ultimately, think of your meta description like a teaser or an introduction. It should clearly describe the type of content housed on the page and ‘advertise’ it to searchers.
Keep it short and sweet, spark intrigue, and make sure it’s relevant to the keywords.
D. A call to action (CTA)
While your meta description doesn’t NEED a call to action, it definitely can help — particularly if you’re targeting keywords in the purchasing part 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, and hopefully convert.
How to write a good meta description: 5 tips and tricks
To help you write a good meta description, here are some extra best practices, tips, and tricks to keep in mind.
1. Write in the active voice
Whenever possible, ensure your meta descriptions are 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
Every meta description on your website should be unique. While it’s tempting to hit Ctrl+C on an existing meta description, particularly for product pages, this doesn’t play out well in search results.
Need an example? Take a look at this below:
Image credit: Search Engine Journal
The best way to do this? Write each meta description individually. While it takes a bit of time, it’s definitely worth it.
3. Don’t use double quotations
While double quotation marks are an important part of writing, steer clear of these in your meta description. 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.
Generally, it’s best to steer clear of double quotes when writing your meta description. However, if you absolutely need to put in a quotation mark, use the HTML version (“" your quote here "”) instead.
4. Consider user intent
User intent is important because it helps you craft the right message for your meta description. Sure, you can simply write a point-blank description of your page and put that as your description. But if you want to create truly high-converting meta descriptions that drive traffic AND revenue, you need to place user intent at the heart of your copy.
When you consider what the motivation is behind the search, you can tailor your meta description appropriately to answer that motivation.
For example, 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 description like Elle Decor:
5. Differentiate yourself from competitors
One of the best ways to ensure your website stands out amongst the sea of results in Google? Keep your meta description fresh and unique.
Run a search for your target keywords and have a look at the meta descriptions for the other websites out there. Try to differentiate your description from theirs, or add something extra to entice searchers to click.
6. Write naturally
We get it — keywords can sometimes sound awkward. But in your meta description, it’s important to try and keep your tone as natural as possible. The goal is to build trust with the searcher that you have high-quality, authoritative and relevant information. If you write unnaturally, it might deter them from clicking.
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 is a touch too spammy.
Meanwhile, this example from a different plumber is much more natural:
Remember the golden rule: write for people, not search engines. Do that, and your descriptions will naturally flow and entice people to click.
What are some examples of meta descriptions?
To help put it all together, here are some awesome examples of meta descriptions that tick all of the criteria and encourage users to click through.
First, let’s take a look at this search result for “gin distillery Sydney”:
Archie Rose’s meta description builds trust by leading with the fact that its Australia’s most highly awarded distillery — then provides clear copy highlighting exactly what products and experiences they offer, and where they’re based.
While the keywords are dispersed across the meta description, they still appear clearly and show that Archie Rose meets the search criteria.
Similarly, let’s take a look at this result for the “best pizza in brooklyn”:
While The Infatuation’s meta description is short, it definitely answers the user’s search query. It’s sharp, sounds natural, and piques interest straight away. Plus, it’s unique and it stands out — just take a look at the other search results around it and you’ll see why:
Finally, let’s take a look at this great example for the search “pet hotel san francisco”:
While the meta description is well above 160 characters, the compelling copy makes up for it. The Pawington uses descriptive language, such as “beautiful”, “five star”, “luxurious” and “state-of-the-art” to communicate their unique selling proposition and differentiate themselves from other search results.
At the same time, this meta description perfectly illustrates our point earlier about understanding user intent.
If someone is dropping off their pet at a pet hotel, they’re most likely on their way somewhere — and that means they’re probably heading to the airport. By mentioning that The Pawington is just a mile from San Francisco International Airport, they’re highlighting the convenience and ease of their service, and enticing users to click through and convert.
However, the description could be improved by removing the “About Our Friendly Resort” description at the beginning.
Last but not least...
Test your meta descriptions and optimize them for keywords, clickthrough rates and conversion. 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 double check how your meta descriptions are appearing in search results.
If you want to maximise 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 great keyword incorporation, you’ll drive more clicks (and conversions) from search engines.
And remember: meta descriptions are just one part of SEO. For more handy information on what you need to do to get incredible ROI from your SEO, take a look at our A-Z SEO Guide here.