Search engines can make or break websites. Getting your site to show up on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) often isn’t enough. You also have to get people’s attention, so they’ll click on your links over the hundreds of other options.
At their core, meta descriptions give potential visitors an overview of what kind of content they can expect. They tend to be just a few lines long, so small differences in the way you write your meta descriptions can be enough to boost your click-through rate significantly.
In this article, we’re going to talk about what meta descriptions are, why they’re necessary, and what elements they should include. Then we’ll walk you through five tips to ensure that your meta descriptions hit home every time. Let’s get to it!
Meta descriptions are the snippets of text you see underneath the title within SERPs, as in the example below.
The main goal of a good meta description is to give you an idea of what the page is all about. Naturally, titles also play a vital role here, but there’s only so much information you can fit into a single headline.
Meta descriptions provide you with up to a couple of sentences to expand on your page’s content. You can either write them yourself or have search engines generate them automatically based on each user’s search query.
As convenient as having search engines do the work for you sounds, however, we strongly recommend that you write your own meta descriptions. That way, you get full control over what shows up on the SERPs and on social media sites while also increasing your chances of engaging users.
Let’s take a look at some meta description examples for a specific line of shoes. You can tell the meta description below was generated automatically, and it doesn’t give you much to go on.
It’s important to understand that meta descriptions only give you a limited number of characters to play with. On desktops, that can be up to 158 characters, whereas mobile users will only see 120 of them. Roughly speaking, that means you get about two lines of text.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is all about competition. You compete against every other site that appears within the results pages for a given search, each hoping to get the lion’s share of the clicks.
When it comes to the SERPs, several factors determine how many views your links get, including:
Out of all those factors, you get full control over three of them: your title, schema markup, and meta descriptions. It’s only logical that you should optimize those elements as much as possible.
If you take another look at the previous section, you’ll notice just how much of a difference a good meta description can make. Letting search engines generate yours will often result in descriptions that look like gibberish.
Two lines of text aren’t much, but more often than not, it’s enough to cover a few key elements. Most often, this should include:
If a meta description is too vague, then you’re not selling users on the idea of visiting your website. You’ll still get clicks, of course, but not as many as you might have otherwise.
Let’s say, for example, that you wanted to write a meta description for this article. Here’s a not-so-good example:
Have you ever wondered what meta descriptions are? Wonder no more, because we’ll tell you everything you need to know.
While it hits on the article’s primary topic, it doesn’t do a good job of previewing the page’s actual content. Now let’s give it another go, keeping in mind the fundamental elements we want to include:
Meta descriptions are key to any site’s SEO. In this article, we’ll break down why and help you optimize your own descriptions. Read on to find out more!
This is short and to the point, and we even had enough characters left over to include a simple Call to Action (CTA). It may not win any literary awards, but it will get the job done.
At this point, you know the basics of what a meta description should include. However, if you want your descriptions to really hit home, here are five tips to help you optimize them further.
1. Use Relevant Keywords
If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the concept of keywords. Ideally, you’ll use them organically throughout all of your content, and that includes metadata such as your descriptions.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re writing a recipe and you want to optimize it for the search term “how to cook a healthy lasagna.” That’s an easy to term to work into a meta description:
Learning how to cook a healthy lasagna is easier than you might imagine. Let’s go over a recipe you can cook in under two hours!
Including keywords within your meta descriptions is a smart SEO practice. It gives search engines a better idea of what your content is all about. However, as always, make sure to work those meta keywords in organically. That means not stuffing your descriptions full of keywords; make your description still reads like something a human (not a bot) would write.
2. Don’t Obsess Over the Character Count
So far, most of the examples we’ve shown you have come in well under the maximum character count for the major search engines. You want to get some mileage out of your meta descriptions, but in practice, obsessing over the character count isn’t as serious as you might think.
To build on our earlier example of a healthy lasagna recipe, you could easily expand on its description to cover more information:
Learning how to cook a healthy lasagna is easier than you might imagine. For this recipe, we’re substituting meat with eggplants, which means it will cook faster and feed up to four people.
That example goes over the character limit for both desktop and mobile meta descriptions in Google. In practice, it would get cut off and look something like this:
Learning how to cook a healthy lasagna is easier than you might imagine. For this recipe, we’re substituting meat with eggplants, which means it will cook …
That snippet still provides plenty of information, so you don’t necessarily need to change it. What matters is that you include the essential details early on, so whatever does get cut off is just supplementary information.
3. Optimize for Rich Snippets
Most search results look pretty dull — a sea of titles, meta descriptions, and URLs. However, in some cases, your results will look a bit more lively.
Those are examples of rich snippets. To create them, you add structured data markup to your pages, providing more information on what their content includes. Search engines can recognize that information and structure your results accordingly.
This practice offers two key benefits:
For a real example, let’s take a look at the results for “how to cook a healthy lasagna.”
Two of the top results are featured snippets. Without even clicking on them, you can see an image, cooking time, rating, and even the number of calories in the recipe.
Keep in mind that not all types of content lend themselves well to rich snippets. However, they’re pretty easy to implement, once you know how to add the right structured data markup to your pages.
4. Avoid Duplicates
When it comes to meta descriptions, there are two kinds of potential duplicates. It’s good practice to avoid both of them:
Overall, duplicate content is almost always bad news when it comes to SEO. Moreover, it can hurt your click-through rate if you have several pages competing for the same search terms.
For practical purposes, there’s no reason all of your pages shouldn’t have unique meta descriptions. If it takes you more than a couple of minutes to write one, then you’re probably overthinking it.
5. Use Interesting Words
Most meta descriptions are pretty boring, at least linguistically speaking. The need to cover so much information in such a limited space doesn’t lend itself well to innovation.
One way to make your meta descriptions stand out is by using compelling language. To do that, take a look at what other websites are writing for the keywords you want to rank for. Let’s say, for example, that you’re looking for a cast iron pizza recipe.
A lot of the content will be similar, which means their meta descriptions will share elements as well. However, not all descriptions are equally effective.
Some of our favorite hits from the above example include the words ‘crispy,’ ‘buttery,’ and ‘chewy.’ There are five results here, but the first and last stand out due to their word choices.
Think about it this way — if you’re staring at that page trying to decide which recipe to follow, you’ll probably pick the one that sounds more delicious. At that stage, you don’t know how good the recipe will be, so your only indicators are the title tag, picture, and word choice in the meta description.
When you boil it down, SEO is a competition. You’ll never be the only website within a niche, so you need to look for ways to make your pages stand out in the SERPs. Fortunately, an informative, unique meta description is a great way to catch potential visitors’ eyes.