Whether you’re new to the world of Search Engine Optimization or a seasoned pro, working with metadata is in your future. A meta description is a small amount of text (up to 160 characters) that summarizes the content of your webpage.
This text is sometimes visible to your readers as they skim through search results, but its primary purpose is to help search engines understand whether the information on your page can help answer someone’s search query. That being said, let’s talk about how to write a good meta description.
Table of Contents
- What is a meta description?
- Why write a meta description?
- How to write a good meta description
- Keep it under 160 characters
- Include your focus keyword
- Make it different from other meta descriptions
- Write in active voice
- Make sure it’s clear about the contents of the page
What is a Meta Description?
A meta description is an HTML element that shares information about a page’s contents with search engines. As I mentioned before, this text will usually appear underneath the search result as shown below.
My Meta Description Is Showing Up Differently
You’ll sometimes notice that the meta description you so meticulously crafted is not appearing the way you wrote it.
In the above example that returned our article How to Create a Killer Brand Voice and Content Style Guide, our search query was, “brand voice template.”
The meta description for this page is actually as follows:
“A brand voice and content style guide is the secret to stellar content marketing. Follow these steps to create a content style guide that your team will use and love.”
As you can see, the text in the search result is different from the text we wrote. This occurs because search engines have learned to scan indexed pages for the term or phrase that was typed into the search bar.
Google replaced some of our meta description with other relevant text from the blog that shows the reader key parts of their initial search term. This is a good indication to the reader that the page contains the information they are attempting to find.
If you find that this is happening to you, don’t panic. Google is trying to help! This is not to say that writing a meta description serves no purpose if it’s going to get auto-filled by a search engine. This only happens sometimes, and you still need your meta description so web crawlers can understand whether your content is worth displaying in the search results.
Why Write a Meta Description?
Because your meta description offers people a summary of what they can find on your page, writing one can significantly improve your odds of getting a click. And what happens when you get more clicks? Search engines will consider your content valuable and rank it higher in search results.
According to Search Engine Journal, the first organic search result has an average click through rate of 28.5%! Positions two and three have a click through rate of 15% and 11%, respectively. Looking at that data, it’s easy to see that the lower you rank in the search results, the lower your odds of getting a visit to your website for that search query.
A meta description is an opportunity to show readers that your content has the answers to their questions. It’s your chance to showcase the value your page offers, which ultimately improves your chances of getting that click.
How to Write a Good Meta Description
So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it. What does a good meta description look like, and what does it need to strengthen your website and SEO?
Keep it under 160 characters
Google has a habit of changing its algorithms and changing its metadata rules. This is done with good intentions to help improve the user experience, but this means you have to keep up to date with the ever-changing rules of SEO.
A few years ago, Google bumped the recommended length to 320 characters. In 2018, they reverted the recommendation to 160 characters, and it has been the suggested length ever since.
Exceeding 160 characters will not negatively impact SEO, but the long text will prompt search engines to truncate your description. Generally, you won’t need more than that to effectively summarize what a reader can find on your page. Cut out the fluff and get right to the point to take advantage of the limited space.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
Include your focus keyword
Remember the Google search query I mentioned earlier? Ideally, you should be optimizing your content for relevant, high-volume keywords — search terms that people frequently use to find information, entertainment, a product, service and more.
You should include a page’s target keyword in its unique meta title and meta description.
Make it different from other meta descriptions
Many online businesses make the mistake of copying/pasting the same meta description across all the pages on their website. Duplicate meta descriptions won’t penalize your site, but this practice makes it difficult for search engines to differentiate between the pages on your website.
If a person searches for “white t-shirt” and you have a page designated strictly to white t-shirts, you would want that page to appear in the search results for that query.
If your meta description says nothing about white t-shirts or if it’s exactly the same as your meta description for black t-shirts, you’re making it difficult for search engines to determine which page is the most relevant to the inquiry.
Write a unique meta description for each page to help draw these important distinctions.
Write in active voice
When you write in the active voice, you ensure that your content is clear to your readers. It follows that this should be your standard practice across your website.
When you’re trying to build trust between your customers and your brand, you must be clear and concise. No one wants to feel like they need to read between the lines to understand your meaning.
Make sure it's clear about the contents of the page
This final component is also about clarity. You need to briefly summarize what a user will see if they click on your link. It’s essential to get this right because if users don’t find what they expect, they’ll bounce off the page to look for something else.
High bounce rates can demote your page in the search results, so be careful not to misrepresent the content on the page with a poor title or meta description.
A clear meta description will not only help readers understand your content at a glance, it will also help search engines identify which questions your content can answer.
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