A meta description is text within your HTML code that is sometimes returned in the search engine results. It is a summary of what your page content is about and is typically about 160 characters. This little bit of text can affect your organic traffic results so it is important to write great meta descriptions that encourage users to click your result over your competitors.
What Are Meta Descriptions
What does a meta description look like to searchers?
In the image below you can see an example of meta descriptions and how they look in the search results.
You can see that when search results are returned it is an important piece of real estate that lies below the title of your page and the URL.
This is an area that should be carefully considered when writing your pages and posts to ensure you are doing a good job of engaging searchers and delivering a message that will make them WANT to click your search result over all others.
What does a meta description look like to the search engine bots?
Basically it is a line of code that is in your website – invisible to you, but the robots eat it up! Here is our own meta description for our home page.
<meta name=”description” content=”Looking for a new website for your Non Profit or small business? Look no further than NJ based 2 Dogs Media. 10+ years of experience doing what we love!“/>
Understanding Meta Descriptions
Do I have to have a meta description?
Simply stated – YES, YES and YES!
If you are not writing meta descriptions you are losing out on a great opportunity to bring in new traffic from all the search engines. As a WordPress development company we think it is important to educate our clients on the importance of this – but we take special pride in knowing that we populate our clients site with meta descriptions prior to launching! This gives them a great start when they are ready to begin their SEO work.
Every day there are searches being done for your service, product or blog topic. How do you stand out from the crowd? Your meta description may be one of the best opportunities you have to convert that searcher to a client, reader or supporter.
Do Meta Descriptions affect my rank?
It has pretty much been clarified by several sources that no, meta descriptions do not directly affect your website ranking in the Google search results. It may have some affect in other search engines though so we do highly recommend always writing well optimized descriptions that include a keyword.
But what it DOES do in every search engine is affect your click-thru-rate (CTR) which has been suggested to affect the “relevancy” of your website to certain keywords which may in fact help you in the search results.
Basically — the more people who click on your search result and the longer they stay on your website – this may have an affect on your rank.
Will the search engines always use the meta description I write?
Below we show an example of how sometimes Google will actually pull content from your page as opposed to the actual meta description you write – and yes it is annoying as all heck when they do this.
We did a search for “how to stop my dog from barking” – because well – we have a dog barking problem going on, so any tips let me know!
One of the results was for the Humane Society and you can see their pulled meta description highlighted in yellow in the image below. But if you read it – it is a bit confusing right?
Well there is a reason for that confusion in what their meta description says. This is the meta description as shown in their source code – the one that the website owner WANTS to use, but you can see that what is entered below is clearly different than what is being returned in the search results above.
So, why was this one not used by Google?
It has the keyword “stop your dog from barking” – it talks about the website content and appeals to me as a searcher.
The ONLY thing we can possibly see as an issue is the fact that is is using 233 characters as opposed to a recommended 135-160 character limit. We do not know for sure of course, but it seems plausible – if this was our website we would change the meta description to be shorter and see if Google picks it up in the future.
Here is a portion of what was actually pulled for the meta description – random text that if you read, kind of makes no sense without the rest of the content of the article. The meta description actually contains short text blocks from a few paragraphs in the post (we only show one small section below) – which is why it reads weird as a meta description.
Is there anything I can do if my preferred meta description is not being used?
If Google is pulling a different meta description, then there is probably SOMETHING they feel isn’t properly representative of your actual page content.
There are no definitive things you can do unfortunately – but you can try the following.
- Make sure the meta description you have written is not a duplicate for another page.
- Rewrite the meta description completely to be better aligned to your content.
- Make sure you do not have multiple meta descriptions being generated on your website. Sometimes multiple SEO related plugins can cause issues and duplicates.
- If your meta description is shorter than say 125 characters or longer than 170 – rewrite it to fit within the 135-160 character range and see if it gets pulled.
How To Write Meta Descriptions
What NOT to do with your meta descriptions!
There are a few words of caution we want to give you when writing meta descriptions to improve your click through rate and potential engagement by the searcher.
- NEVER stuff keywords in your meta description! NEVER EVER! This means do not use your keyword or a variation of it more than once.
- Do not use the same meta description on several pages.
- Do not write meta descriptions that have nothing to do with your page content.
- Only use alpha numeric characters – and NEVER use quotes.
Simple tips to writing a great meta description
- Keep the content to approximately 135-160 characters. There is no longer a true magic number since Google will choose to show as much or little as they would like, but this has been a good character number overall – and writing more than that can result in truncation or the possibility that Google may pull different text entirely.
- Include a call to action! Give them a REASON to come to your website. “Our I Love Dogs shirt is now available see it now if you love your dog!” or “Imagine spying on your competitors without them knowing. Try our software for free today.” These are just 2 examples that have a clear reason to visit the page.
- Matching the page content is critical. Make sure whatever your meta description says – emulates what your post is about.
- While some may say it is not relevant, we do recommend including your main keyword in your meta description. It may improve the chance Google will use your preferred meta description and Google also highlights relevant keywords improving the chance of being clicked on.
- Make it conversational! Imagine how you would tell a person about your page and work with that for your meta description.
Great Meta Description Examples
Meta descriptions that entertain, have a call to action and tell us clearly what the page is about are hard to write.
But below are a few that we think do a great job and make us really want to click to learn more about the website!
Use these as inspiration to generating your own fantastic meta descriptions.
When Mailchimp realized people did not always get their name right – they did what any creative marketer would do an embraced it by creating a page about it. The meta description for that page is pretty awesome too.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Plain, simple and to the point. You want Chipotle, then this is the place to go. It speaks to their users and appeals to their simple side!
These guys so far have our favorite meta description! It makes us laugh and appeals to our lighter side.
This dog blog did a great job writing a meta description for their post about litter boxes for dog. Starting with a question gets your curiosity up and then following up with how the product can help a certain demographic is a perfect way to get people to click to read more about the post. We would recommend they modify the title tag though since that is a bit lacking in engagement!
Reaching out to users by showing they understand you are unique – and offer options for you at their restaurant is a great way to build a sense of “understanding” of their consumers. They also managed to squeeze in a recommendation to sign up for offers!
We did a double take on this one because it did not seem real at first, but it is and it is funny as all heck. Do not be afraid to be funny!
It reaches out to you by asking a question first – then clearly defines everything they do to help you plan your travel. It is personal. descriptive and perfectly fits the recommended character amount.
This is a great example for a specific blog post about raising teenagers. It appeals to me as the mom of a teenager in wanting to see her experiences, it is witty and sarcastic (of course not everyone responds to sarcasm it works here because her blog is sarcasm based) – and she shares her credentials too.
Right off the bat we see the Free Shipping deal and know that they have vintage pieces for all occasions – so they are clearly showing searchers what they offer and how they can get free shipping which is a great call to action.
Pig Placement Network
This is a great example for a nonprofit. They first ask about me and what I want – then tell me how they are going to help me and even recommend what I should read first. Just a great use of space!
Love this meta description as it addresses a problem with a little creativity. When is the last time you heard the word “kaput”? But it tells me exactly what the post is about in a fun way. It immediately catches the eye when scanning the page.
7 Quick Tips For Meta Description Success
- Keep your meta descriptions under 160 characters to prevent it from cutting off.
- Write for HUMANS not search engines.
- Power words work – “special offer”, “transform”, “improve” – words that get people excited!
- Clear call to action – what do you want the searcher to do? Call you, click the link etc.
- Note any special offers or deals – let them know what incentives you have for them.
- Talk to the searcher – solve their problem if they are searching for a how to, give them reasons to pick your product.
- Add humor if it fits! People respond well to humor so if you can make them giggle you may very well get that click!
Test Your Meta Description & Page Title
Before you post -TEST! Make sure it looks good and sounds good.
This free tool is a great way to do a quick test: https://totheweb.com/learning_center/tool-test-google-title-meta-description-lengths/
A/B Testing Meta Descriptions
Another highly recommended thing to do is A/B Testing. We have just started working with A/B Rankings and are very happy with their platform so far.
We have only been using it to test our Title Tags so far but are going to start working with it on our meta descriptions as well.
You can get a 14 day free trial to test it out here.
If you prefer the free way then you can do the following, which is how we have been doing it for years.
- Dig into the Search Console to find keywords that rank well and get a lot of impressions but low click thru rates.
- Create a spreadsheet with columns for date, meta description before, meta description after and any other notes you would like to take.
- Change your meta description to a new version but make sure you put the old version in your spreadsheet.
- Wait about 30-60 days to see if the CTR for that post or page has improved. If so, keep the new meta description.
- If the page or post has dropped in CTR – then put the old meta description back or try a new version.
Testing is an important part of any website! If you are not testing then you are leaving money on the table.
Meta descriptions are one of the most important parts of your website! If you are not spending time crafting a great one to encourage people to choose you over your competitors you are potentially losing visitors – and ultimately clients, readers or customers.
Have a great Meta Description example to share or want some feedback? Leave a comment below so we can help!
Jill Caren brings over 12 years of WordPress and SEO experience to help you improve and grow your website. She has spoken at several events on SEO and has been published in several top SEO publications. You can contact Jill here.