We need to get something about meta descriptions out of the way first and foremost: they do not matter to Google's ranking system.
If there's one thing you can count on from Google, it's foggy and hidden information about what's best for search engines. Meta descriptions are not exempt from the murkiness.
In fact, even the allowed length of search descriptions has gone up and down over the years (jumping up to 320 characters in December 2017, only to go back down to 160 characters in May 2018). Keeping up with these changing numbers is a frustrating but necessary battle on the road to a higher click-through rate (CTR).
You might wonder what the point of the rest of this post is, then. If Google doesn't care about meta descriptions, why should you bother expertly crafting them? If your SEO efforts are unrewarded, why not skip them and head to the next optimization tactic?
Meta descriptions may not be part of Google's ranking system, but they ARE a boon to your SEO strategy. They help improve the chance that a user will click through to your site, and at times they are the first and only chance you get.
In this blog post, we're going to tell you why you should write meta descriptions, how you should write them, and what to remember to get the best CTR. Let's get started!
What is a Meta Description?
Let's start by defining a meta description. According to Moz:
The meta description is an HTML attribute that provides a brief summary of a web page. Search engines such as Google often display the meta description in search results, which can influence click-through rates.
You've seen a meta description even if you don't know what it is off the top of your head. It's the excerpt that you find under the meta title in a search result.
It's easy to see why these little descriptors are so important. They can be the only information a user has to decide whether they'll click the link to your site or move on to someone else's. In short, meta descriptions let the user know whether or not your page can solve their problem.
The interesting thing is that Google doesn't always show your meta description. Research by Moz shows that custom meta descriptions are shown by Google only 51.3% of the time. This is due to several factors, including relevance, and is heavily dependent on the keywords used in the user's search (more on that later).
Why Does a Meta Description Matter?
Should you write a meta description? Of course. SEO is all about combining tactics to elicit a boost for your site on search engines, and meta descriptions are too easy a tactic to skip.
Consider these two-sentence-wonders your first-contact click-through bait. After you've input your search, the meta description is the first thing you'll see on the SERP (if the engine has used your original one, of course).
Meta descriptions also matter because they're often used by social networks to showcase information when you link a page. Omitting them can harm your social sharing efforts.
What Makes the Best Meta Descriptions?
Meta descriptions should follow all of your copywriting rules of engagement: power words, verbs, and calls to action. If you ever watched a Vine back when they were a thing, you know that shorter doesn't mean less powerful. Shorter can mean harder to execute, but a powerful punch when done right!
You want your description to describe the page to a user accurately but also to convince them that the page will solve their problem. Your description should support those goals.
To craft a masterful meta description:
- Concentrate on condensing the point of your post as accurately (and vibrantly) as possible
- Use relevant keywords (Google will bold these in the description)
- Use your brand's usual voice
- Tell the user what to do with direct calls to action
- Communicate the most important information first
You get 160 characters to write out your masterpiece meta description, but do your best to do it in 155. That way your descriptions show up in full. Maintaining this length may not always be possible, and that's okay! You can still help your descriptions show up if you:
- Avoid duplicates that might look garish when piled together in search results
- Use relevant calls to action and keywords
- Describe what's actually in your content
- Use your verbs!
- Don't use quotation marks (Google will cut off your description at the quotation)
- Stick to under 155 words whenever possible
- Use copywriting best practices — you are trying to PERSUADE
How Can You Make Sure Your Meta Descriptions Show Up on Google?
It's important to know how meta descriptions work to take advantage of them. Search engines are looking for specific keywords and phrases that a user types into the search. That means your description needs to include phrasing that matches your content enough to match a user's search.
There are tools to make the process a lot easier. Using a plugin like All In One SEO helps you keep your meta descriptions unique, and it also helps to create and update them easily.
Tip: Use a website crawler like Screaming Frog to find pages or blog posts with missing meta descriptions. That way you can go in and optimize, optimize, optimize!
Your meta descriptions are an easy and essential part of your SEO strategy. Mastering these two- to three-sentence wonders will give your search engine optimization a significant boost, and everyone could use help for that these days.
Keep our strategies in mind, and you'll be writing meta description masterpieces in no time!
Do you fill in your meta descriptions on every post? Let us know your strategy in the comments!