Learn about Meta Descriptions and Get Results

The meta description is one of your last hopes on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) to attract a searcher  to your site.  Unfortunately, this is something that digital marketers seem to consistently neglect to focus on.  The problem with this is that if you are not putting an effort into your meta descriptions, you are missing out on some website traffic and we all know traffic can lead to customers.

I wrote a blog two weeks ago about Stress Free Blogging.  One of the steps I outlined was SEO and I suggested a WordPress plugin called Yoast , which  helps make SEO much easier.  When I noticed that for several weeks I was having a flag on meta-descriptions, I decided to research and learn as much as I could and share this information with you so you can apply this to your site.

The actual function of a meta description on your page is to encourage the visitor on Google to click on your link.   In other words, the purpose of a meta descriptions is actually to generate click throughs from the various search engines.  A meta description is an attribute within a meta tag that helps describe your page to search engines. Your page likely already contains a meta description. You can find it by right clicking on a page, and selecting “view source” or “view page source”

View page sourceOnce you’re looking at the page’s code, you’ll likely see a meta description tag, which will probably look something like this:

<meta name=“description” content=“Meta descriptions can have a surprisingly large impact on your search marketing campaigns; find out how…” />
<meta name=“keywords” content=“meta description,google meta description,meta name description” 
/>
<meta name=“robots” content=“index,follow” 
/>

                                                                               Or

Code Sample

<head>
<meta name=”description” content=”This is an example of a meta description. This will often show up in search results.”>
</head>

This information has a few purposes, one of which is to serve as the snippet of text shown to searchers in response to a query, to summarize your page.

So a search for “meta keywords” on Google might elicit a SERP listing like the following:

Meta tag pic

Google’s take on Meta descriptions

Google stated in a 2007 post on Google Webmaster Central Blog that

[I]t’s worth noting that while accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, they won’t affect your ranking within search results.

In 2009. Google repeated this again in a post stating

Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don’t use the description meta tag in our ranking.

What then happened is people began to neglect meta descriptions, pushing them to the back burner. 

Optimized Meta Descriptions ARE Important For SEO

  1. The content in a meta description does not influence the search algorithm. As far as we know — and we’re trusting Google on this one —their search engine ranking algorithm does not consider meta descriptions as a factor. Thus, from a strict algorithmic perspective, it’s not necessary to put your most important keywords in the meta description.

  2. User behavior is factored in the search algorithm. There are hundreds of algorithmic factors involved in ranking a site. It’s easy to forget that Google analyzes user behavior on a site as part of their ongoing ranking process.But it does. As reflected in Google Analytics, Google is actively measuring user behavior — even demographic information — and factoring that into search results.Think about this on the broadest level: location-based search. Search results based on location is a user-dependent metric. A user in North Carolina who types “weather” in Google is going to get this result, even if she’s not logged in to her Google account:

                 Demographic search results in Google

                That much is obvious (and pretty basic).

              But the algorithm is way more advanced than that. Not only does it factor user information/location, but                       it measures user behavior in the subsequent rank of a particular website.

           3.  Specifically, click-through rate (CTR) is part of the algorithmic ranking process. Dr. Pete Meyers of                                  Moz wrote an article back in 2012 that is still very relevant. His point in the article was that                                                 Google uses two user metrics in search ranking.

               Those two metrics are: (1) search engine results page (SERP) click-through rate and (2) dwell time.                             Here’s how he explained it: 

The first metric I think Google makes broad use of is direct Click-Through Rate (CTR) from the SERPs themselves. Whether or not a result gets clicked on is one of Google’s and Bing’s first clues about whether any given result is a good match to a query. We know Google and Bing both have this data, because they directly report it to us.

                 The meta description is the most important feature for improving click-through rate from search                                    results pages. Google considers user behavior, specifically the click-through rate. So, how can we  improve                    CTRs on our SERP entries?

               By writing killer meta descriptions.

               And the more people who click through those SERP entries, the better our site will rank in Google.

               Take a look at an average SERP. Apart from Knowledge Graph information and rich snippets,there are                      three main features in a SERP entry: the page title, the page URL, and the page description.

SERP ingredients

         4. All three of these factor into a user’s decision to click through. Of these three, the meta description takes up              the most space — a full two lines. It has the most amount of information, and thus gets viewed longer and                  read more.

            It follows that a great meta description actually does improve click-through, and thus site ranking. Sure                       enough, that makes the meta description an SEO factor after all!

Write Meta Descriptions that get Click-Throughs

Length

Your meta description needs to be about 130 to 155 characters.  There is no secret number, It actually depends on what Google adds to your search result and how much they decide to show.  For instance, if you add a date to the article, Google may decide to reduce the description by that number of characters. There is a tool available to help you check the length of your description. Try this this handy tool from SEOmofo

meta description length

Action Oriented Language

Use language that is also ideal for any call-to action copy.  Use verbs like “Learn,” “Discover,” or even “Grab” and then the specifics.  A few more terms can be Learn more, Get it now, Try for free, and Find out more

action words for Meta Descriptions

Solution or Benefit

Offer something of value (great content) and then ensure that your searcher knows what they can expect by clicking on your link.  None of us want high bounce rates, so ensure from the beginning that the searcher is clear on what they are about to read.  Sell them on what you have to offer, be it information or valuable content. 

Solutions and Benefits in Meta Descriptions

Never deceive searchers

We have all seen the spam meta descriptions, these are keyword –stuffed content,either using very old SEO tactics or an obvious desire to deceive the person in hopes they will click on the site and hopefully see something of value when the page opens.   The problem is that this type of description will throw up red flags to the search engines and it will also hurt the level of trust a searcher will find in your material.  Google will also penalize that site

Lies, deception in business

Be Descriptive

Ensure that the language in your meta description introduces the user to what the page is about.  If the user is going to the trouble of clicking on the link, make sure that the page is really about what they are interested in.

Inspire Curiosity

One of the most persuasive things you can do with your meta description is to spark curiosity. By the time a user finishes reading your description, they should be curious about what the page will say about the topic. You need to provide just enough information to explain what the page is about but not so much that it ruins the curiosity factor.

Curiosity in Meta Description

Be specific and Relevant

The average searcher knows a predictable, generic meta description when they see it in the SERPs (despite possibly not knowing exactly what a meta description is). That’s why it’s so important to use descriptive words — not unnecessary “fluff” words — and do your best to connect with your target audience and let them know what they’ll get from clicking through on your search result.

Use The Right Words.

The keywords may not matter for search engines, but they do matter for users. In order to be compelled to click, the user needs to see relevant words. These words should be associated with his or her query. The right words in the right places make the difference between a SERP entry that gets overlooked, and a SERP entry that gets a click.

No quotation marks.  Google will cut them off

Take the Opportunity

Your meta description is your chance to win over prospects. It’s your short sales pitch for your website. Too many businesses leave this out and, in turn, miss out on a critical opportunity to improve click-through rates. Be sure to create an engaging meta description for your website that persuades people to choose you over your SERP competitors.

Drive Business, Opportunity

Here is a great site that provides 33 examples of great meta descriptions

Sometimes it is Okay to Not Write Meta Descriptions

Although conventional logic would hold that it’s universally wiser to write a good meta description, rather than let the engines scrape a given web page, this isn’t always the case. Use the general rule that if the page is targeting between one and three heavily searched terms or phrases, go with a meta description that hits those users performing that search. If the page is targeting long-tail traffic (three or more keywords)—for example, with hundreds of articles or blog entries, or even a huge product catalog—it can sometimes be wiser to let the engines extract the relevant text, themselves. The reason is simple: When engines pull, they always display the keywords and surrounding phrases that the user has searched for. If a webmaster forces a meta description, they can detract from the relevance the engines make naturally. In some cases, they’ll overrule the meta description anyway, but a webmaster can not always rely on the engines to use the more relevant text in the SERP.

When choosing whether or not to add a meta description, also consider that social sharing sites like Facebook commonly use a page’s description tag when the page is shared on their sites. Without the meta description tag, social sharing sites may just use the first text they can find. Depending on the first text on your page, this might not create a good user experience for users encountering your content via social sharing.

Conclusion

In the end, meta descriptions are still a worthy thing to focus on in your overall SEO efforts. At the very least, you shouldn’t neglect them — your meta description is the only thing standing between a search result and a visitor.

What do you do to create great meta descriptions?

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