Understanding Meta Descriptions and How Best to Use Them
Even if you don’t realize it, you probably see meta descriptions on a daily basis. Although many people don’t give meta descriptions much thought, they can play a huge role in determining what websites we click and how much traffic a given page will receive. Whether you’re running a new website or trying to boost traffic to your company page, it is important to understand what meta descriptions are and the role they play. Stay tuned to learn more about meta descriptions, how long they should be, what information they contain and why they matter.
What Are Meta Descriptions?
Before diving into the value and purpose of meta descriptions, it is important to define exactly what they are. The short definition is that a meta description is an HTML attribute that briefly summarizes the content of a particular webpage. An HTML attribute is a way to provide additional information about an element using code. This makes it possible for search engines to understand and display information correctly.
The longer definition of a meta description is that it is the information that a user will see when on a search engine results page (SERP). Say, for example, that you go to Google and search for “vacation destinations near Boston.” When you click search, you’ll see the first page of results. Each of those results will have a title tag, which is like a headline, and underneath that will be the actual link to the page, known as the slug. Both of those items are clickable, which means that users can click on them and be instantly directed to the webpage. Below those elements, there is a brief description in black text. This description is the meta description. It summarizes the content of the page linked above it, and it helps users determine which of the links on the SERP will be most valuable to them.
Using Meta Descriptions to Boost SEO
SEO is the acronym for search engine optimization. The objective of SEO is to get more users to your website organically. The goal is to have your website appear in SERPs and then have more people click on your website to learn more. There are many different ways that you can boost SEO through metadata, but one of the most effective is through the use of meta descriptions.
Think about the last time that you navigated onto a SERP. You probably faced at least 10 results on a single page, not to mention endless other pages with countless more results. How do you choose which of these results to click on? Many people will click on the first link on the results page no matter what, and others will look for a website name they recognize. Others, however, will pay close attention to the meta descriptions under each link to find out which website is the right fit for their query.
If your meta description is appealing and accurate and it communicates the right amount of information, then users are more likely to click on your link. Over time, this increases your traffic substantially. Perhaps even more importantly, it shows search engines like Google that users prefer your content to the content of your competitors, boosting all of your content over time.
The Value of an Up-to-Date Meta Description
In terms of timeliness, there are two major types of content: Timely content and evergreen content. Timely content is only relevant for a short period of time, but evergreen content can be valuable for years to come. Take a look at these two examples of timely and evergreen content titles:
Timely Content: 10 Ways to Celebrate New Year’s in 2019
Evergreen Content: 10 Fun Ways to Ring in the New Year at Home
Often, websites go back and update older content so that it remains relevant. While this can be a great idea, don’t forget to update the meta description as well. If a webpage talks about 2019 fashion trends but the meta description still talks about 2017, then both Google and users will skip over your content in favor of something more relevant.
Plus, you want your meta description to be an accurate reflection of the content it is summarizing. If your meta description promises an in-depth analysis of the 2018 election but your content talks about something different, then users will leave your page quickly in search of the information they are truly after.
What Is the Ideal Length of a Meta Description?
There is only room for a sentence or two underneath the title tag and web address in a search engine results page. Because of this, you’ll need to craft a meta description that can sum up your content in a set amount of words. Ideally, your meta description should be at least 11 words long. This ensures that it contains enough information to be informative to users as well as to search engines.
In the past, Google has recommended that meta descriptions be anywhere from 135 to 160 characters. However, that has recently been updated to a maximum of 230 characters. If you use more than 230 characters in your meta description, there is a risk that it will be cut off. To include the whole description, cut it down until you’re confident that it is somewhere between 135 and 230 characters.
Crafting the Perfect Meta Description
Now that you know how long your meta descriptions should be and why they are so important, it is time to learn how to write the perfect meta descriptions. The following are some of the top tips to keep in mind when writing meta descriptions.
Keywords or Key Phrases: One of the most critical things you’ll need to include in your meta description is a keyword or a key phrase. This ensures that search engines know when to suggest your content and your page. If you’re writing about restaurants in New York, be sure to include those exact words in your meta description. At the same time, don’t stuff keywords in your meta description. The writing should be natural and geared toward readers, not toward robots.
Include a Call to Action: What do you want people to do after they read your meta description? Most of the time, the goal is for them to click on your link. Don’t be afraid to include a call to action right in your meta description to encourage them to take the next step. Great words and phrases to include could be some of the following:
– Click here
– Check it out
– Learn More
– Read on
Summarize Your Content Accurately: It might be tempting to elaborate or embellish within your meta description. However, that can be a mistake. Your meta description should always accurately depict what users can expect to find if they click through. Accurate descriptions mean that users will be pleased with the results. If they click through and leave immediately, that won’t help your business or your rankings on search engines like Google.
Make Each Meta Description Unique: A surprising number of websites use the same meta descriptions for each of their pages. While that might save a little time, it won’t help your SEO rankings. Your meta description should be specific to each page, so using the same description twice isn’t going to be accurate. Every single time that you create new content in the form of an article or a blog post, make sure that you also take a few minutes to create a brand-new meta description for that content. Typically, it is best if the author of the content also writes the meta description.
Use an Active Voice: To encourage people to click through to your link, and to excite them as they read your meta description, aim to use an active voice. Keep the tense present whenever possible since using past tense can make the description feel dry or outdated. Think about how you might talk to a friend. You’ll probably have a conversational tone, and that’s the same tone you should strive for when writing meta descriptions.
Google Updates That Impact Meta Descriptions
Google has made it very clear that meta descriptions do not factor in their algorithm when ranking websites. That might sound discouraging, but don’t stop writing meta descriptions just yet. Your meta description will still impact the CTR, or the click-through rate. The better your meta description, the more people will click through to your link. Google does take the CTR into consideration when ranking pages. So, in a roundabout way, meta descriptions can impact your rankings over time.
It is also important to know that in some cases, Google will override your meta description. If search engines don’t feel that your meta description is accurate, or if they feel a different snippet of your webpage is a better representation of your content, they can replace your meta description with alternate content from your page.
Meta descriptions are incredibly important, and they should be written with care. Once you understand the value of meta descriptions, you’ll start to see just how much they can impact everything from click-through rates to web traffic. With the right meta descriptions, your content will be seen by more users organically.
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Digital Marketing Agency ph 31. May 2019 - 2:47
Brilliant ideas, thanks a lot for sharing this information. I really appreciate your tips.
Vicky Toomer 1. November 2019 - 14:59
A great article and gives some great details for beginners and provides a good understanding of Meta descriptions.