We see them every day on Google’s search results pages: meta tags – the title tag that specifies the title of a web page, and the meta description underneath. But what exactly is a meta description? Is it important to have one and how do you write a good one?
These and other questions pop up with regularity among SEO enthusiasts, both beginners and those who should really know better. Let’s take a closer look on the 5 questions everyone seems to be asking to see if we can shed some light.
FAQ 1: What is a meta description?
Meta descriptions are a fundamental part of successful website optimisation. It’s the first snippet of text that you see in search results, below the page title, and should provide a short summary description of the content on your site. When you type a search query into Google, the search engine will show the meta description on the results page including the keyword you used in your search.
FAQ 2: Why do you need a meta description?
The short answer is that it’s good SEO practice to have effective meta descriptions on each of your web pages. While Google is adamant that meta descriptions don’t actually affect search engine rankings, they are still an extremely useful tool to help drive traffic to your site.
In fact, the whole point of a meta description is to give the user a good reason to click through to your site. A good description will give an overview of what the page is about and be written in an appealing way so that the user wants to find out more. Given the competitive nature of online marketing, a well written meta description may make all the difference between web traffic going to your page, or to a competitor page.
FAQ 3: How long is a meta description?
In theory, a meta description can be any length but do bear in mind that if it’s too short, the description you give may not be useful enough, and if it’s too long, Google may truncate your snippet. It’s not an exact science and Google likes to increase or decrease the limit now and again while conceding that, in fact, ‘there is no fixed length for snippets. Length varies based on what our systems deem to be most useful.’
At Artemis, our best practice is to write meta descriptions that are just under 155 characters long, making sure the most important messages are communicated with the first 120 characters just in case the displayed snippet does get truncated.
FAQ 4: How do you write a good meta description?
In order to convince someone to click through to your page from organic search results, you only have a short snippet of text to convey the right messages, which is why it’s worth putting in the effort to craft good copy for every unique meta description. Think of it as the equivalent of writing ad copy for Google Adwords for Pay-Per-Click.
While the content of each meta description must accurately reflect the content of the page it points to, it should be written in a compelling fashion to appeal to the reader, generate interest in your page and ultimately increase click through rates.
See if you can tell the difference between a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ meta description in these two examples:
FAQ 5: What are some top tips for writing a meta description?
So, how do you put all the above into action when it comes to writing your own meta descriptions? Commercial content writers use these top 5 tips and tricks of the trade to create great copy, including irresistible meta descriptions.
1. Write for people, not for bots – meta descriptions are primarily aimed at the user, not the search engine. While it’s important to include the main keyword(s) in the copy, don’t stuff your description full of them – it looks spammy and will put people off. Instead, make your description informative and easy to read, written by humans and for humans in an effort to get them to engage with the snippet and click through to your site.
2. Include structured content – for product pages in particular, users will be looking for information such as a detailed item description, technical spec, optional extras and, of course, price. It is highly likely that a click through to your website will be triggered by this highly relevant structured content rather than persuasive advertising copy, so make sure it is included in the meta description.
3. Feature rich snippets – you can increase the appeal of your meta descriptions by adding additional information such as star ratings or customer ratings, product details, events and much more, using the latest schema markup code. If you’re not familiar with the concept, ask your SEO consultant to explain how this can enrich the information displayed in search results.
4. Use an active voice – advertising copy is always aimed directly at the readers, with the ultimate intention to get them to do something (e.g. make a purchase). Rather than providing factual but dull information, write in an active, direct voice using imperatives (‘read this’, ‘click that’), giving clear direction towards clicking on the title tag.
5. Don’t forget the call-to-action – the ultimate aim of your meta description is to drive click-throughs to your site, so the more compelling the reason given to the user to do just that, the more successful your meta description will be. ‘Find out more’, ‘Read our blog’, ‘Book a free consultation’, ‘Shop the sale’, ‘Buy now’ are all important calls to action inviting the user to visit your website for a specific purpose.