Meta descriptions are a powerful tool for attracting visitors to your website content. Whether it’s for a blog, e-book, case study or commercial page, a concise, entertaining and informative meta description can mean the difference between engaging a new lead and losing out to a competitor.
Too often, copywriters and marketers put their metadata at the bottom of their content priorities, but this risks them missing out on valuable opportunities to win customers and get their content noticed. This article explains the importance of meta descriptions and offers tips on how to write a great one.
What is a meta description?
In a nutshell, a meta description is the text description you see on search engine listings. Its an HTML attribute that offers a short overview of the content you can expect to see on the webpage. Meta descriptions do not have a set length, but search engines cut them off at around 155-160 characters so they needed to be crafted with this in mind.
Why meta descriptions matter
While Google has not considered meta descriptions as a direct ranking factor snce 2009, they can have a significant impact on click-through rates to your website. This, in turn, could affect your ranking. When people visit and engage with your site – if they find what they need and what they expected – it indicates to Google that the content is useful and relevant. Meta descriptions could be the first exposure that people have to your brand, your messaging and your tone of voice, so they need to be well-written, interesting and entertaining.
Meta descriptions are also important when sharing your content on Facebook and other social media sites. These platforms generally use the meta description you’ve supplied when you post a link. If you haven’t included a meta description tag, they will automatically use the first text they can find – which may not be what you would have chosen!
How to write a great meta description
- Write them yourself. Some CRMs automatically use the first snippet of copy to form the meta description. In some cases, this approach might work, but as a rule of thumb, your first paragraph won’t include everything you want to say, so it’s unlikely to optimise your content promotion.
- Make them unique. You should never duplicate meta descriptions. Doing so limits your opportunity to promote your brand and content and can be confusing to search engines when they’re indexing pages.
- Research your keywords well and include them near the front of both the meta title and meta description. Don’t overdo it though – this looks spammy and unprofessional.
- Don’t use double quotation marks. Doing so will result in Google cutting the description off at that point. It’s a good idea to remove all alphanumeric content from the meta description and if you absolutely must use double quotation marks use the HTML entity.
- Target them at the specific page content rather than a general message about your company and why it’s great. Tell the reader what to expect and why they should be interested.
- Following on from number five, don’t be tempted to oversell your brand. Attract readers with the value of the content you are promoting and why it is useful and beneficial to them, rather than extolling the virtues of your products and services. In short, give them a reason to care and to click.
- Communicate a sense of urgency (“download the report today”) and make the reader feel like they can’t afford to miss out (“to ensure you’re prepared”).
- Include a strong call to action, such as ‘discover the pros and cons in this free guide’ or ‘find out how to master this skill in our webinar’. Make sure this is included within the first 155 characters so it doesn’t get cut off.
Search engines don’t always go along with your plans, and sometimes Google and co will ignore the tag you’ve supplied and go with another. There isn’t a great deal you can do about this, unfortunately. But, considering one of the main theories behind this kind of editing decision is that the tag isn’t useful or relevant, your best course of action is to follow the above eight steps and keep making the engaging and well-written content that your readers love to discover.