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Meta description best practices

When improving your website’s SEO, there are a number of factors you will need to consider, including the quality of your meta descriptions. The fact that meta descriptions do not directly affect search rankings means that they often get overlooked by website owners. However, writing good meta descriptions can have a number of benefits on your website traffic, which we will go onto, explains later in this article.

What is a meta description?

First let’s take a look at what a meta description actually is. Basically it is a short paragraph of text that appears under a page title on search results pages. The purpose of a meta description is to give users a flavour of the content they should expect to find on that page, kind of like an advertisement. From reading the meta description of a search result, users can decide whether or not the page is likely to provide them with the information they are looking for.

Below we have provided an example of the Online Media Direct meta description.

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The Online Media Direct meta description tells searchers what they can expect to find information about on the website, in this case internet marketing, web design, SEO, social media and content marketing.

Why bother with meta descriptions?

Many webmasters overlook the importance of meta descriptions as they are not directly related to their websites’ search rankings. Meta descriptions are however important in increasing your websites click through rate on search results pages. The better meta description you write for your website, the more likely people are to click on your link. Providing you offer users the information on your website that you teased in the meta description, you will stand a good chance at converting them into paying customers.

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Effective meta descriptions can generate higher click through rates.

Meta descriptions are also particularly important for websites that have a lower ranking on a given SERP. The lower down the search results page your website appears, the less likely people are to click on it, as they tend to go for the top results deemed most relevant. However if the results at the top of the page don’t have good meta descriptions or a searcher simply wants to see what else is on offer, they will scroll down the page and may come across your result. Providing you have created a detailed, relevant and appealing meta description, there is no reason why you don’t stand a good chance of these searchers clicking on your link.

What makes a good meta description?

Your meta descriptions should include relevant keywords that you are targeting in your SEO campaigns. They should also be written in a way that appeals to users and makes them want to click on your link. Below we have provided information on meta description best practices to help you improve the quality of your descriptions and increase your click through rates.

Write compelling copy

The more compelling your meta description copy is, the more likely searchers are to click onto your link, visit your website and convert into paying customers. Remember your meta description is serving as a type of advertisement, therefore you need to treat it as such. Craft a description that attracts people’s attention by teasing the information they can expect to find on your website.

Be sure to include keywords, as these will be highlighted in bold by Google (if they match the search query) and will be typically what stand out to users browsing results. Keywords that have been highlighted in bold by search engines tend to increase click throughs.

Whilst it’s important to use relevant keywords in your compelling meta descriptions, it is important not to over-stuff them. Your meta descriptions need to be easy for people to read and make sense or they may end up thinking your site is spammy or low quality and will refrain from clicking on it.

Think about user value

Every time you write a meta description for a web page, you should be thinking of how you can express the value of your information to users. Search engine users will always want to know what’s in it for them by clicking on your link, therefore making it essential that your meta descriptions shows exactly what you have to offer.

If you need a little inspiration, check out the meta descriptions of some of your competitors. Once you’ve got the general idea, go ahead and write better ones. If your meta descriptions offer users more value than your competitors’ descriptions, they are more than likely going to click on your website rather than theirs.

Include a call to action / offer

We love a good call to action and meta descriptions provide the perfect opportunity to include them. Basically a call to action is a statement that informs users what you want them to do. By directing users to click on your link or buy your products, they are more likely to do so. Use action-orientated terms in your meta descriptions such as ‘learn,’ ‘find out’ or ‘grab’ and you will stand a better chance at getting a click through.

Many companies also find it beneficial to include a short offer at the end of their meta description to entice users. For example, if you were offering a thirty day free trial for your service, you could simply put ‘30 day free trial’ at the end of your description. Including an incentive or offer is likely to result in you achieving a higher click through rate.

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Adobe often includes offers at the end of their meta descriptions for their product pages as a way to drive click through rates and conversions.

Ideal length of meta descriptions

There is not a set limit on how long or short a meta description has to be, but it is worth keeping in mind that if your meta description is too long, search engines will tend to cut it off. This can often make the search result for your website look strange and untidy to users, putting them off from clicking on it. If on the other hand your meta description is too short, you may not provide users with enough information to give them confidence in clicking on your link.

We believe that the ideal length of a meta description is between one hundred and fifty and one hundred and sixty characters. This usually works out as a sentence or two and should allow you to give people just enough information about your website to keep them interested.

Keep in mind that Google cuts off meta descriptions over 160 characters. As you can see in the screenshot below, Matalan’s meta description is too long, so Google has cut it off randomly.

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Matalan’s meta description for their women’s page category is a little too long so Google have snipped it off.

Create unique meta descriptions

If you have been reading up on SEO best practices, you will understand the importance of keeping your website content, blog content and page title tags completely unique. The same goes for your meta descriptions. In order for your meta descriptions to be proactive in increasing your click through rates from search results pages, they need to uniquely describe the page.

Although search engines do not use meta descriptions as a ranking factor, if they see you are using the same meta description for numerous webpages, they may think your website is spam. If you think you may be guilty of using the same meta descriptions for your web pages, head to Google Webmaster Tools, click on Search Appearance and then HTML Improvements. If this is found to be the case, Google will have highlighted the descriptions that need changing.

If you prefer to write your website content in a spreadsheet before putting it online, simply create an extra column for your pages’ meta data. Doing this will prevent you from forgetting to write meta descriptions for your pages.

Remove non-alphanumeric characters

Google and other search engines aren’t so fond of non-alphanumeric characters in meta descriptions and tend to cut them off. So if you are planning on using a quote in your meta description, it is probably best to change your mind or alternatively use single quotation marks rather than double speech marks. This will prevent awkward cut offs that can discourage users from clicking through to your website.

Read your meta descriptions out loud

We recommend reading your meta descriptions out loud to see how they sound. What tone does your copy have? Is it welcoming enough? If your meta description sounds stale or uninviting, people aren’t going to click on your link. Your meta description should sound enthusiastic and intriguing so that users are enticed to visit your website.

Don’t deceive searchers with your meta descriptions

Although it is unlikely that you would do such a thing, it is important not to deceive searchers with your meta descriptions. If a meta description promises content that is not delivered when they click through to the web page, they are going to be left feeling rather disappointed. It’s likely they will click off your web page within seconds, which will result in you having a high bounce rate and may have a negative impact on your search rankings. There is no point deceiving users with your meta descriptions, as at the end of the day, it is only your website that will suffer!

When it’s ok not to write meta descriptions

Although we have been saying how important it is to write good quality meta descriptions for your search results listings, there are some cases where it isn’t strictly necessary or beneficial.

For example, if you have a web page that has been optimised to target between one and three phrases, it is a good idea to write a meta description that highlights those keywords to users performing the search. However if you have a page targeting long tail keywords it’s often best to let the search engine choose the relevant information from your page to use as a meta description.

When search engines extract information to use as meta descriptions, they always choose the keywords and surrounding phrases to match them with what the user has searched for. Creating your own meta description for these pages may detract from the natural relevance of your result and could hinder your click through rate.

In the video below Google’s Matt Cutts explains why it isn’t strictly necessary to have a meta description for each of your web pages.

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Meta descriptions are not counted as one of Google’s search ranking factors.

Meta descriptions are NOT a ranking factor

We have mentioned it numerous times throughout the article, but just to reiterate one last time, meta descriptions are not a ranking factor. This means that unlike inbound links collected from link building schemes and quality website content, they do not influence Google’s algorithms in their decisions to rank your site higher or lower in a particular web search. Google and other search engines simply use meta descriptions alongside page titles as a way of offering users a snippet of the information they can expect to find on a particular web page.

For a quick summary of meta description best practices, check out the video below.

Conclusion

Although they don’t have a direct influence on your website’s SEO, this doesn’t mean that meta descriptions don’t matter. If you do not put effort into writing effective meta descriptions, you may end up missing out on a lot of website traffic and potential conversions.

It is best to think of your meta descriptions as your last chance to attract searchers to click on your link. Follow our meta description best practices and you will be well on your way to capturing the attention of search engine users, driving them through to your web pages and increasing your conversion rates.

Contact us

For more information on SEO best practices, see our hub page. If you require assistance writing effective meta descriptions for your web pages, get in touch with Online Media Direct today/

Image credits: mj0310, Tim Franklin Photography, mj0310, mj0310 and infocux Technologies,

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