Meta description is to CTR what Robin is to Batman.
Without the right meta description, your CTR rates will suffer, thus jeopardizing your SEO efforts.
While Google still maintains its stand of not using meta description as a direct ranking signal, it’s a known fact that meta description is one of the most critical on page SEO elements.
That’s because it impacts clicks, engagement and traffic; and indirectly boosts your search ranking.
In essence, giving importance to meta description best practices is more of a brand building tool. It helps you attract your target audience out of the so many choices that are available to them.
Let’s see how.
A. What is meta description?
Meta description is a short paragraph within a specific HTML attribute that summarizes the content of your web page.
Search engines often look for meta desc tags while displaying results to an end-user and as a result, a meta description is one of the things that is visible to your user even before they land on your website.
That’s why meta description is extremely important from the UX perspective as it helps boost click-through rate (CTR) of your page.
This is how the meta description code appears in the HTML
B. Why is meta description important for SEO?
Let me reiterate.
Google has clearly stated that the meta description of a web page is not a ranking factor for its algorithm. Here’s the exact wording:-
However, the meta description impacts the following 3 factors that have a strong correlation with Google rankings.
- Traffic: A good meta description can help you generate clicks on your web link, be it on SERPs or social media.
- CTR: A content differentiated by way of meta description can arise curiosity and result in a user clicking your weblink than that of the competitor. In that manner, meta desc can drive higher CTRs.
- Engagement: If your meta description (along with SEO title) aligns with the page content that follows, it results in an engaged user. And Google loves a page that is engaging.
Therefore, meta description indirectly boosts your SEO by impacting traffic, CTR and engagement.
C. Meta description example
Just like the Page Title, meta description is directly visible to the end user at 2 prominent areas:-
1. In SERPs
Meta description is visible to the user once they run a search query, as shown below.
While meta description doesn’t influence Google ranking, it directly influences the perception of your page in the eyes of the end-user.
Therefore, you must take your meta descriptions seriously.
Your social media CTR will improve if you happen to strike the right chord with your user base through your SEO title, meta description, and display image.
Most of the social media networks pick the specified meta description from the page HTML unless you have mentioned one in the Open Graph parameters.
In fact, networks like Facebook pick the first few lines of the content as a meta description if you haven’t provided one within the HTML.
That’s one reason to ensure you write proper meta description to your important and social share-worthy pages.
D. SEO Meta description character limit
Google keeps on experimenting with the length of meta description time and again.
They switched to 300 character limit for meta descriptions in between but switched back to the old 159 limit soon.
Just like SEO Title, the meta description is now more specific in terms of pixels rather than the number of characters.
At present, meta description on desktop consumes up to 920 pixels (which allows for 158 charcters) while the number for mobile devices is 680 pixels (consuming ~120 characters).
But for question-based searches, meta description can go as high as 1500 pixels, as shown in the analysis by Stan Ventures.
If you write a longer description, it gets auto truncated by Google.
E. 9 Meta description best practices
There is no one way to write a great meta description. It’s more of a copywriting skill than a technical skill.
However, there are a bunch of best practices that you should use while writing meta description.
1. Research your audience well
An impressive meta description is all about capturing your user’s attention. This is probably the 100th time I am repeating myself.
So when you write a meta desc, make sure you understand the needs of your audience really well. Your content has to match that need, and your meta description has to be your sales pitch.
The best way to go about is by understanding the intent behind the search query and delivering on that keyword intent.
For example, consider the search query “best Nike running shoes”. This is an informational query where a user is doing a product research before he moves to a buying decision.
And here’s a great meta description from RunRepeat that instantly makes you click on it.
Why this is a great meta description? Because:-
- It tells the user that there are 216 Nike running shoe models (my pain area)
- But they have ranked all these shoes(so my research effort will reduce)
- The ranking is based on reviews from experts and runners (some real-life reviews)
- And this is a recently updated list (wow)
That’s how a well-understood keyword intent translates into a great meta description.
2. Be interesting & promise value
The meta description is nothing but a brand building. And brands are built on the promise they make (and fulfill).
That’s a sign of a great meta description: it understands the user pain point and offers a promise that is hard-hitting.
Consider such an example from Slack where the big promise is to help you get things done.
3. Make it actionable
Now there’s no better way to explain this point than through the Airbnb example.
Airbnb is now a household brand, and they are one of the brands that keep updating the meta description of their homepage very often.
They use their meta tag as an opportunity to talk about their latest offer, as they are doing in the example below.
It is an example of an actionable content which forces you to come and check further into the latest offer.
4. Match the content within
Remember, your meta description is just the sales pitch. Your actual product lies within.
A good sales pitch with a bad product won’t help the cause, and the same goes for meta description.
Don’t make your meta description over-promising. Match the content that will follow so that the user clicks on the link with the right expectations.
5. Include your focus keyword
Let’s say you are looking for online reviews of OnPage Champ.
Out of these following top 3 results, which one are you going to click?
Obviously, it’s the first one. That’s because of the title and meta description promise to provide a review of the tool. In short, you searched for a keyword and Google shows the keyword in the text box on the SERP page.
It’s a signal that there’s a result that matches your search query.
Therefore, always include your focus keyword or a close match within your desc tag. It would help the CTR rate.
6. Avoid duplications across pages
Every page on your website is there for a different purpose, and so should be its meta description.
If you think you need to use the same meta description on another page, probably you should merge the two pages together or avoid writing for one of the pages.
While duplicate meta description won’t impact your SEO directly, they can confuse the users in case they are making internal site search.
7. Update meta descriptions of older content
You should update the meta description of your old pages, if you want to see an improvement in the engagement rates.
This is essential for the pages that are ranking in the top 10 of Google results.
A better meta description is a sure shot way to improve website click through rate, thus resulting in increase in rankings as well.
Also, there is a possibility that these pages will get more traction from social media as well (since meta description is displayed in social media snippets).
So do not forget to reshare these pages on your social media channels once you change their meta description.
8. Know what’s trending in your industry
As a marketer, you should be aware of the topics that are trending in your industry.
It means if there is an update or some kind of new information comes into light related to your niche, making your blog content and meta description outdated; you need to be quick enough to update both with the new information.
And if you don’t do this, then you might witness a fall in rankings of your web pages because both Google and users do not like outdated information.
For example: You have a website page that talks about Google Updates.
And recently, Google announced the May 2020 Core Update.
Now for whatever reason, you have not updated your page and meta description for this latest update.
As a result, you will witness a high bounce rate.
Also, Google won’t show your website for many keywords like ‘ Google’s May 2020 Core Update’,’latest Google Updates’,’latest Google Updates 2020’, etc, which implies loss of potential traffic for your website.
9. Do not tell everything
Do not be tempted to tell everything in your meta description.
Understand the search intent and basis that, give enough information that may interest the user.
But don’t give too much information so that it results in a no click.
You should know what things to disclose in your meta description so that users cannot stop themselves from visiting your site and reading further.
F. How to add meta description in WordPress?
If you are on WordPress, Yoast plugin allows you to enter meta description right within the content editor.
G. How to check meta description of a website?
You can use OnPage Champ to quickly see the SERP results of the top 10 Google results.
You can also enter a specific URL to scrape its HTML, including meta description.
Here’s OnPage Champ in action.
H. Why Google doesn’t show your meta description?
At times, Google will omit the meta description provided by the web master.
There’s no pattern to this. It’s just that Google finds a better string of words within the page content that aligns with the user query, than the provided meta description.
John Muller explains this in the video:-
Here’s a real life example where Google rewrites a meta description:-
I. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
#1. Can meta description be the same as content?
Yes, meta description can be the same as your content without it having any adverse effect on your SEO. However, we suggest you write a different meta that is engaging, actionable and click worthy. In short, show value through your meta description.
#2. Does every page need a meta description?
Yes, you should have a separate meta description for every page because it has a direct impact on the click through rate of a website. However, Google may ignore your meta description and pick something from the content.
#3. How often does Google update meta description?
It all depends on the website and how often it is updated. Basically, how often Google crawls your website. To ensure a faster crawl rate, you need to have an updated sitemap, a good internal linking structure, an optimized website, etc.
#4. Is meta description a ranking factor?
No, meta description is not a direct ranking factor. However, it still affects Click Through Rate (CTR) which in turn affects page rankings on Google.
#5. How often does Google rewrite meta description?
According to Ahrefs, Google rewrites meta descriptions 62.78% of the time. That means more than half of your meta descriptions written won’t be shown to the end user because Google will rewrites them.
J. What next?
There’s no one defined way to write SEO optimized meta descriptions.
Just understand your customer, stay relevant to your page content and focus on copywriting skills.
You don’t need any SEO hacks to make your meta description work, all you need is great writing skillset.