When focussing on SEO it can be easy to get wrapped up in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and completely forget why it is we have a website in the first place (hint: to attract visitors and get them to buy!). A strong SEO campaign should focus on two things in equal parts; search engine rankings and conversions.
What is a Meta Description?
A meta description is an HTML attribute used to tell everyone exactly what each page is about. We see them most commonly below the link text in the SERPs to explain what it is that you have to offer and how it is relevant to their search terms.
In the HTML
Just like the title tags, you will find the meta description in the <head> section of each page, they will typically look something like this:
<meta name="description" content="Enter your meta description here.">
Not Counted as a Ranking Factor
In 2009 Google officially announced that meta descriptions and meta keywords are no longer ranking factors. This doesn’t make them any less important to your SEO campaign since a properly written meta description will be displayed to users on the SERP. Without a quality description users have no easy way to see just what your website is all about.
Write For the User
Meta descriptions are essentially marketing copy and should be used to entice users to click your link. You are likely to be one of millions (billions?) of results for your search term so you need your title tag and meta description to stand out.
As with all web content, you should be focusing on the user first and foremost. There are a number of factors to keep in mind when writing your descriptions:
- Keep the description concise and on point
- Avoid using unnecessary stop words like “a”, “the” and “as”
- Include a call to action
- Focus on the user and what benefits they can expect from your product; avoid talking about yourself!
Keep it Short
Just like title tags, a meta description that is too long will be cut short and replaced with an elipsis (…). While the actual limit is more to do with pixel width than characters, the general rule of thumb is to keep yours between 150 and 160 characters; 155 is generally recognized as the optimal length.
Having your full meta description displayed is pretty important so we like to drop each of ours into SEO Mofo’s Google SERP Snippet Optimization Tool. It is a simple way to see exactly how your title tag and meta description will look in action.
Stand Out From the Crowd
Keywords matching the user’s search terms will always be displayed in bold so here comes the tricky part. We need to make sure that the meta description is written for the user while incorporating our target keywords as well… without going over the character limit.
Think about when you’re searching for something important. The links most likely to catch your attention are probably going to be the ones with the most bold in them. Why? Because without reading a single word you can see which pages are talking about what you’re searching for.
It is for this reason that you should also be trying to incorporate “exact match” phrasing wherever possible. For example, if your keyword was “Car Hire Brisbane”, working that exact phrase into the meta description will ensure you have the entire search term highlighted in bold.
Lets take a look at some examples:
Weak meta description – While this description is within length and contains a call to action it provides no focus on the reader and contains almost none of the target keywords.
Strong meta description – This time the focus is almost entirely on the reader and how the product will benefit them while incorporating the exact match keywords.
Even though your meta descriptions are not factored into Google’s ranking algorithm it is still important to avoid duplication. Your description should be informative and specific to each page and if you do happen to get two results on the same SERP it can look quite spammy and robotic if they both appear identical.
Sometimes its ok to Leave Them Out
Typically you want to spend a bit of time crafting your meta descriptions to give you the best chance of being seen but there are a few occasions where you are best to leave them out entirely.
When Google sees that your meta description is either missing or low quality it will provide a snippet from the page content instead. This can be helpful for pages that cover a wide range of topics like a product list. The Google-provided snippet will contain the relevant keywords and nearby text so anyone searching for one of the many products on that page will essentially be presented with a relevant meta description instead of a manual, one that attempts to cover everything.
Don’t Use Quotes
Finally, do not use regular quotation marks (“) in your meta descriptions as Google will truncate everything from that point onward. If you insist on having a quote in your description, replace each one with an apostrophe (‘) instead.