11 February 2020 | Less than a minute to read
#whattoput on the meta description:
A meta description is a tag in the code that works as a 155-160 character summary that describes the content of a web page. This information won’t show on the page content itself. Instead, it shows as a preview snippet on search engine results and gives users an idea of the content they can find on the page. If the meta description is good enough, it can influence the decision of the searcher to click on your result. The more descriptive, attractive and relevant the description, the more likely someone will click through.
We build the website and the client provides the content. It’s been the deal on most of the websites Smokeylemon have built since 2001. Our clients know their businesses more than anyone else, but the majority of them freeze when it comes to explaining what they do and why. Writing content is always the stage in the process that causes difficulties and the main reason why many website projects get delayed.
In an effort to make the process smoother and help our clients write or review and optimise their content, we have put together this series of blogs to help you develop website content in an easy and search-engine-friendly way.
On the image above, you can see an example of a Google search. When you search for ‘things to do in New Plymouth’ you can see a Google Search ad, then a series of places and activities that Google found on different websites. After that, comes the first organic result. This is what Google considers as the most useful page on the web for this query. The blue words are the ‘Title Tag’, the title of that page. Below, in grey you can see the meta description.
Do meta descriptions improve my rankings?
Google has announced that meta descriptions are NOT a ranking factor. However, the quality of the description will influence click-through rate, which is a very important ranking factor. In other words, although they don’t affect rankings directly, it is very important to use meta descriptions wisely. Think of them as an opportunity to stand out and convince searchers that your page is worth navigating to.
What happens if I don’t have meta descriptions?
If you don’t enter a meta description, Google will show the content on the page that the system considers as the text that best matches the search query, essentially leaving things up to chance. Think of it this way, if you were describing yourself to a prospective employer, would you leave it to Google to write your cover letter, or would you want to put your own spin on things?
Meta description best practices
Use quality descriptions
According to Google’s official best practices, in a meta description you should always accurately summarize the page content while you inform and interest users. Avoid writing a description meta tag that has no relation to the content on the page or using generic descriptions like "This is a web page" or "Page about baseball cards". A little extra work on your meta descriptions can go a long way towards showing a relevant snippet in search results. As mentioned above, this is likely to improve the quality and quantity of your user traffic.
Optimal length of a meta description
While there's no minimim or maximum length for the text in the description meta tag, Google generally truncates snippets to 155-160 characters. It's best to keep meta descriptions long enough that they're sufficiently descriptive, so we recommend descriptions between 50–160 characters including spaces!
Meta descriptions are page specific
Using identical or similar descriptions on every page isn't very helpful because it is individual pages that appear in the search engine results. Only use broader descriptions on the main home page and consider using more product or service-specific descriptions on your more detailed pages. If you don’t have time to write a description for each page, prioritise the most important pages of the website. Not sure what pages are most important on your site? A good start will be adding meta descriptions to the most visited ones.
Must-haves on a meta description
Although there isn’t a strict manual on what to write on the description meta tags, there are some elements that every meta description should include:
- Keywords: make sure your meta description includes the most important keywords for that page. Often search engines will highlight these in bold where it finds the keywords used by the searcher in your snippet. See the example below:
- Readable copy: make them readable and helpful. Don’t add a bunch of nonsense keywords, users will think it’s a spammy website.
- Call To Action: this element is optional. If applicable to your website, add a call to action and provide guidance to your potential customers. A CTA could be ‘Book an appointment’, ‘Get a free quote’, ‘Get started for free’.
Will my meta descriptions always show?
Search engines won't always use your meta description. In some cases, search engines may overwrite them. This is unpredictable, but it often occurs when Google doesn't think the existing meta description adequately answers a user's query and identifies some content on the page that better matches a searcher's query.
In conclusion, to write a meta description you don’t need to be an SEO expert: just write a 160 character summary of the content on the page, making sure the most important words are included. Job done!