How to create the right meta description

Paul Bradley -

The meta description is a snippet of up to about 155 characters – a tag in HTML – which summarizes a page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched-for phrase is within the description, so optimizing the meta description is crucial for on-page SEO.

What does a meta description do?

The meta description is an HTML tag, which looks like this in the HTML code for the page:

<meta name="description" content="A page's description, 
  usually one or two sentences."/>

The purpose of a meta description for your page is simple: to get someone searching on Google to click your link. In other words, meta descriptions are there to generate click-throughs from search engines.

Search engines say there is no direct ranking benefit from the meta description – they don’t use it in their ranking algorithm. But there is an indirect benefit: Google uses click-through-rate (CTR) as a way of working out whether you’re a good result. If more people click on your result, Google considers you to be a good result and will – based on your position – move you up the ranks. This is why optimizing the meta description is so important, as is optimizing your titles.

 

Characteristics of a good meta description

Just about every article on meta descriptions will include some of these, but I have combined all characteristics that make sense to me here:

1. Up to 155 characters – and sometimes more

The right length doesn’t really exist; it depends on the message you want to convey. You should take enough space to get the message across, but keep it short and snappy at the same time.

Every now and then, Google changes the length. Nowadays, you’ll mostly see meta descriptions of up to 155 characters, with some outliers of 300 characters. At least, try to get crucial information in the first 155 characters of your meta description.

2. Actionable and written in an active voice

Of course it should. If you consider the meta description the invitation to the page, you can’t just make it “A mixed metaphor describing a non-existent, yet implicitly high level of qualification.” That’s a dull description and people won’t know what they’ll get. I’ll explain this further with some examples later on.

3. Including a call-to-action

“Hello, we have such and such new product, and you want it. Find out more!” This overlaps what I said about the active voice, but I wanted to emphasize it. It’s your sales text, where your product is the page that is linked, not the product on that page. Invitations like Learn moreGet it nowTry for free come in handy here.

4. Containing the focus keyword

If the search keyword matches a part of the text in the meta description, Google will be more inclined to use that meta description and highlight it in the search results. This will make the link to your site even more inviting.

5. Possibly showing specifications

For example, if you have a product for the tech-savvy, focusing on technical specs of the product could be a good idea – manufacturer, SKU, price, things like that. If the visitor is specifically looking for that product, chances are you won’t have to convince them, and the presence of information like the price will trigger the click. Note that you could, of course, try to get rich snippets for this as well.

6. Matching the content

This is important. Google will find out when meta descriptions trick visitors into clicking and might even penalize the sites that do this. But apart from that, misleading descriptions will probably increase bounce rate. It’s a bad idea for that reason alone. You want the meta description to match the content on the page.

7. Unique

If your meta description is the same as those for other pages, the user experience in Google will be hampered. Although page titles might vary, all pages will appear to be the same because all the descriptions are the same. If you intentionally want/need/are tempted to create a duplicate meta description, you’d be better off leaving the description blank. Google will pick a snippet from the page containing the keyword used in the query.

 

Read more about meta descriptions in Yoast's blog post 

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