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Meta Description Search Engine Optimization Tutorial

meta descriptions for seo
Updated: | SEO vincent d'eletto wordagents ceo Vincent D'Eletto

Way back in 2009, Google confirmed that it doesn’t use meta descriptions to determine where a given page should rank in its search results.

Some people, therefore, assume it’s no longer worth putting much thought into creating meta descriptions.

We disagree!

In this post, we’ll explain why meta descriptions still matter and walk you through everything you need to know to create perfectly optimized meta descriptions that get users to click on your page. 

We’ll discuss the optimal meta description length, what you should include to boost click-throughs, ways to improve the odds of Google actually using them in the search engine results pages (SERPs), and what tools you can use to speed up the writing process.

But first, what are meta descriptions, and why are they still an essential part of search engine optimization (SEO)?

What is a Meta Description? 

A meta description is an HTML element that gives a short summary of what a given page is about. 

Search engines like Google Search will often use meta descriptions to generate search snippets in its results pages. These snippets appear beneath the page title and URL of each result:

meta description example

The purpose of a meta description (coupled with a meta title) is to give search engine users a preview of what they’ll find on your page. And so, when optimizing your meta descriptions, the goal is to persuade users to click on your result by convincing them that your page has exactly what they’re looking for.

Examples

You can check the meta description of any web page by right-clicking anywhere on that page and selecting “view source code.” To find the right meta tag, simply search for “<meta name=”description”:

meta description html tag

Here are a couple of examples of what well-optimized meta descriptions look like both in the source code and the search results:

Marie Claire

HTML:

marie clarie meta tag

Search results:

marie claire meta description

Money Saving Expert

HTML:

money saving expert meta description tag

Search results:

money saving expert meta description

How Do They Benefit SEO? 

We started this post claiming that although meta descriptions don’t directly contribute to page rankings, they are still an important part of SEO.

How so?

Well, one good way to think about meta descriptions is that they work like your own “organic-search ad,” and the more compelling and relevant your ad, the better your click-through rate (CTR) will be.  

Although it’s unclear whether Google uses CTR as a ranking factor, one thing is certain: if you can convince more users to click through to your page – and keep them there with high-quality content – you will signal to Google that your page is a good match for whatever search term you’re targeting. This, in turn, can boost your rankings.

Moreover, a well-optimized meta description that reflects the user’s search intent can help you attract a greater proportion of conversion-ready visitors.

With that said, let’s look at what goes into creating click-worthy meta descriptions.

Meta Description Length Tips

What is the optimal meta description length?

While there is no technical limit on how long your descriptions can be, Google typically truncates descriptions that exceed 150 to 160 characters (including spaces). 

In other words, you have about two sentences worth of space to write your description and persuade search users to click on your page. And since this is basically free real-estate directly in Google’s SERPs, we recommend using every inch of space afforded to you! 

So keep your descriptions between 100 and 155 characters to avoid your message being cut off midway through.

How to Write Meta Descriptions for SEO

Since you’re limited to just two sentences, it goes without saying that your meta descriptions should be as succinct and informative as possible.

But what else should you consider when writing your descriptions?

Here are our top tips for writing top-notch meta descriptions:

Start With Your High-Value Pages

If you have multiple pages on your site that need a good meta description, you should start by focusing on your highest-value pages first.

Use Google Analytics and Google Search Console to identify which pages receive the most traffic and rank highest, and set your priority list accordingly. 

At the very least, your home page, service pages, and top-level category pages should all have their own unique meta descriptions.

Analyze Your Competitors 

One of the easiest ways to gauge what might work well for your meta description is to check what your highest-ranking competitors include in theirs.

Simply search for your target keyword and take note of anything that stands out in the snippets of the top-ranking results. 

Integrate Your Focus Keyword

One of the cardinal rules of SEO writing is to ensure that every piece of content you create is built around a specific focus keyword. This is the term you want your page to rank for.

Likewise, you should make sure that your meta description also includes your target keyword. This is because Google will highlight any keywords in your results snippet that also feature in the user’s search query. The result will be a more noticeable and inviting search listing. 

Here’s an example of what we mean:

meta description keywords

However, as with your on-page content, you should avoid awkwardly shoehorning your keywords into your meta description. You don’t want to come across as spammy!

Reflect The User’s Search Intent

You should also ensure that your meta description reflects the search intent of users searching for your focus keyword. 

Search intent is simply the expectation a user has in mind when they search a specific query, and they expect search engines to serve results that match this expectation.

This all boils down to being specific. What problem does your page help users solve? What knowledge will it help them acquire? 

If you’re creating a description for a product page, be sure to mention the manufacturer and any stand-out specifications. If it’s a how-to page, make sure that you clearly state what readers will be able to do once they’ve read your content.

If you’ve already made sure that the content on your page matches the search intent behind your keyword, writing a meta description that does the same thing should be pretty straightforward.

Consider Your Unique Selling Proposition

We mentioned that it’s helpful to think of your meta description as an organic ad, and so like any good ad, your description should clearly convey to your readers what’s in it for them if they click through.

The key here is to try to set your page apart from all the competing results. Think about what unique value your content can bring your would-be visitors that they won’t get elsewhere, and be sure to work it into your meta description copy.

Now is the time to flex your persuasion muscles. Don’t be afraid to appeal to your audience’s emotions, emphasize benefits as well as features, or use urgency-inducing language like “exclusive,” “limited offer,” and “while stocks last”.

Use A Call-To-Action

Again, just like when you write an ad, your meta description should also contain a clear call-to-action (CTA).

Expressions like “discover,” “find out more,” and “try it free today” are all useful turns of phrase when trying to entice users to click on your page.

Incorporate Your Brand’s Tone Of Voice

Another way to differentiate your meta description from that of the competition is to inject some of your brand’s personality into your copy. 

So if you’re a sneaker retailer targeting young adults, then less formal, trendy language might be appropriate. But if you’re a law firm, professional and reassuring language would be a better bet.

Using the same tone of voice (TOV) in your meta descriptions will also help ensure your brand identity remains consistent across all digital channels. 

Avoid Duplication

Every meta description on your site should be unique to a specific page. You’ll only confuse search users if you have multiple pages with the same descriptive text.

If you don’t have the time or resources to write unique meta descriptions for each page, the best thing to do is leave the meta description tag empty for any low-priority page. Google will automatically create a snippet for these by drawing on content from the page itself.

Check out our “Useful Tools” section below for more information on how to identify duplicate meta descriptions on your site.

Why Does Google Change Meta Descriptions? 

Writing a tailor-made meta description for your page doesn’t guarantee that Google will use it as the descriptive snippet in its results pages. 

In addition to the meta description tag, Google uses other sources to determine the snippet it displays, including information from the page itself. Google may well change the snippet it uses for your page depending on the user’s specific search query.
Occasionally, Google will automatically generate a rich snippet if the page in question contains the appropriate content and structured data. These “rich results” display more information than regular snippets, including star ratings, numbered lists, images, and product prices.

google rich results example

So the exact snippet Google chooses to display for your page all depends on what its systems deem to be most beneficial for search users. 

But this shouldn’t discourage you from creating well-optimized meta descriptions. Google still bases its snippets on meta descriptions in many instances, and you can improve the odds of it doing so by ensuring your descriptions are as informative and relevant as possible. 

As Google puts it: “high-quality descriptions can be displayed in Google’s search results, and can go a long way to improving the quality and quantity of your search traffic.”

Useful Tools 

We hope that we’ve sold you on the value of creating a unique meta description for your most important pages by now. But even still, you might be wondering how you can minimize the time and effort it takes to optimize them all.

This is especially understandable if you suspect that you have many missing or duplicate meta descriptions across your site. 

The good news is there are plenty of tools out there that you can use to speed up the process of creating multiple, well-optimized meta descriptions.

Here are our top picks:

ToTheWeb.com

ToTheWeb.com offers a simple, free-to-use tool that lets you preview your meta description on both desktop and mobile by pasting in your page URL.

It also shows whether your title tag and meta description fall within the recommended length limits.

totheweb title and meta tag tool

InkForAll.com

InkForAll.com provides an AI-powered meta description tool to help you create high-quality, original descriptions in record time.

Simply input your article title and focus keyword, and the tool will give you three descriptions to choose from. Just make sure you double-check each suggestion for accuracy and readability.

By signing up, you can create up to 50 AI-generated meta descriptions for free.

inkforall ai meta tool

ScreamingFrog.co.uk

Screaming Frog is an SEO spider tool that you can use to crawl your website and identify common SEO issues, like finding broken links, generating XML sitemaps, and locating duplicate or missing meta descriptions.

The free license lets you crawl 500 URLs at a time.

Here’s a quick demo video of how to use the tool:

Take Action Now

Writing relevant meta descriptions has long been an integral part of on-page SEO. And although their importance has waned somewhat since the early days of search engines, we maintain that you shouldn’t ignore their traffic-driving potential.

We’ve seen that great meta descriptions are succinct, embody your target keywords, and – crucially – demonstrate a clear value to the search user. 

But now it’s time for you to put into practice your newfound meta description expertise!

Let us know in the comments section whether you agree that meta descriptions are as important as we do!

vincent d'eletto wordagents ceo Vincent D'Eletto

Hey, I'm Vin. Founder and CEO of WordAgents.com. I create content that ranks really well on search engines for our clients. I'm also deeply involved with the SEO community; maintaining a portfolio of successful, profitable affiliate websites. You can find me playing guitar, drinking scotch, and hanging out with my German Shorthaired Pointer when I'm not working!


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