A meta description is a simple HTML element that summarizes what’s on a web page. Like the meta title, the meta description is an important SEO and marketing element. But the way Google and other search engines treat it has consistently changed over the years.
So, what best practices should you be following when it comes to meta descriptions for your business website? Let’s jump in…
This, is a meta description:
In this meta description, the owner of the website has added a custom description. While the meta title is “10 best Ice Cream in Manhattan (New York City) – TripAdvisor” the description clarifies those details further by telling searchers exactly what the search result offers, reviews. If a user is looking for reviews, there’s a good chance they’ll click-through.
You’ll also notice – TripAdvisor’s SEO also ensured that the title included two regional signals (by mentioning Manhattan and NYC) and an additional mention of their brand.
How to write a better meta description
Length: try to keep your descriptions under 160 characters, but remember: the best length will always depend on the situation. If someone is looking for your contact page – they likely just want to get in touch. Matching the content you provide to the searcher’s intent is the best way to win with Google.
Content : Years ago, meta descriptions were an SEO magic-bullet. Today, Google all but ignores them as a ranking signal. BUT, Google will never ignore click-through-rate – which is a direct function of how good your meta descriptions are. Think of them as advertising copy, and your prospective customers will thank you with a click.
Style: Don’t forget, this is advertising copy, not webmaster voodoo. Keep it simple, keep it to the point, keep it in the active voice, and include a call to action. That’s it!
Examples of good & bad meta descriptions
Examples are often the best way to compare and contrast do’s and don’ts – so lets take a look at a couple. Hungry? (hopefully not) Because we’re about to take a look at some burger descriptions with the search term “best burgers in Boston”.
In our good example, if someone from Boston was looking for the best burger in town – it would be pretty clear that the below result has some great options. It perfectly explains exactly what the user is going to find, and it also lists some of the burger joints included in the guide. If you were a Bostonian with a hankering for the perfect burger – this might be the ideal result:
On the other hand, other results don’t do such a great job. Simply put: if searchers were hoping to find a guide to the best burgers in Boston with the below result, the description doesn’t help. While the content beyond the link could include the best Boston burger guide of all time – the description doesn’t tell that story and there’s a good chance the searcher won’t click-through.
Don’t create duplicate meta descriptions
Just like with your title tags, you’ll want to ensure that you don’t have duplicate meta descriptions across your site. Each page should be unique – otherwise, you’ll provide confusing results to potential customers. Confusing results mean fewer clicks from searchers – which can mean less traffic from Google.
Want to take a look at your meta descriptions? The easiest way to see all the pages Google had indexed on your website is to go to Google.com and search for “site:yoursite.com”
Not afraid of going a little deeper? If you’re somewhat familiar with code and not afraid of spreadsheets – Screaming Frog SEO Spider is a handy, safe, and no-frills application that will handily crawl your domain to report back important SEO information.
It’s okay to let Google “figure it out” (sometimes)
If you’re competing for search-ranking with competitors who are clearly doing some SEO, do be sure and write custom descriptions for key pages that are geared towards the people doing the searching. This might include pages like your home page or service pages. What information do searchers want to see immediately? What differentiators will make them click your result over others?
With that said, don’t think you need to worry about coming up with a perfect description for every page. For more general pages – or a blog post focused on a complex topic – it can be smart to let engines populate the description themselves. Why? Because in these situations – they often highlight words or phrases shared between the search query and your website.
Don’t forget: search engines do what they want
Another reason to focus on coming up with solid, well-written descriptions that mention a keyword or two without worrying about every. single. page. on your website is because engines like Google won’t always use them, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. For this reason, providing good options for your key products, services, and core website pages is a good starting point. Why is this? Nobody really knows. All business owners can do is follow best practices and provide Google the relevant signals that make serving the best and most relevant result simple (bonus if that result is you).