Meta descriptions are one of main things you see in the SERPS on Google. As you look at the results, the title tag and meta description are the only real things you have to go on when selecting a place to visit. Other than that, you have to assume that Google’s algorithm did the heavy lifting and simply pick one of the top results.
Needless to say, from a user perspective, meta descriptions are important, but what about in terms of SEO? Do they still matter enough for anyone to really, truly care? Today we’ll look at the answer to this question, followed by a list of tips and strategies for your meta descriptions.
Meta Descriptions for SEO: Do They Even Matter?
Coming out of the gate, the answer is no. In 2009, Google made it very clear that your meta tags and descriptions do nothing for your organic ranking. The description, if one is defined, is used in the SERP results, but its content and keywords don’t have any influence on the overall algorithm.
There is a Google Search appliance that can look for exact matches in meta keywords, but it’s separate from the public search engine. The reason behind their decision to not include meta descriptions in search results lies within practices that were abused in earlier years.
In the early 2000s, search engines only looked at on-page factors and didn’t take into account things like backlinks. This resulted in a loophole where websites could stuff their meta descriptions with keywords to rank higher, even if those keywords never appeared in the actual content.
The widespread use of this abusive practice resulted in Google ultimately disregarding meta descriptions for SEO purposes. However, that’s not to say they ignore it entirely. As we’ve discussed, meta descriptions are pulled for the purpose of SERP results so they can populate the description field of the snippets.
Bummer, yes, but not a death knell for the meta description.
Meta Descriptions For Marketing: Alive and Well in 2016
If we turn our sights to the field of digital marketing, then meta descriptions suddenly regain their lost importance. Specifically, they act as an opportunity to create compelling ad copy for your pages.
It’s here that we separate the practice from something we do for search engines, and instead turn it into something we do for people. Using keywords related to the content on the page is smart, but ultimately:
Consider your meta description as an “elevator pitch” to the reader
The maximum length for a meta description is 160 characters, and if you’ve heard the term “elevator pitch” before, then you know it’s a short and sweet pitch that you would deliver to someone over the course of an elevator ride.
Even if you’re not the first result, maybe you’re the second or third, a winning meta description can mean the difference between a click and a pass. In this regard, they are very important for your click-through rates.
Let’s take a look at an example of what it looks like when you’re trying to rope a user in and convince them to read your blog:
As you can see, the meta description offers a space for you to make your pitch and win over the user, regardless of your place in the SERPS. Ultimately, the entire goal of SEO is to earn clicks and ultimately conversions.
Despite not being accounted for in Google’s algorithm, meta descriptions can easily help you win these conversions and increase your click-through rates. Remember that, while these specific element isn’t part of traditional organic search SEO, click-through rates and user behavior is part of the algorithm.
The level of impact that a great meta description can have immediately influences several other SEO ranking factors. Therefore, it does have a huge indirect effect on your organic search rankings.
Let’s explore some ways you can optimize your own for maximum results.
Meta Description Best Practices (And Mistakes to Avoid)
Meta descriptions may not be beneficial for organic search ranking, but their value for click-through rates and digital marketing is enough to make them important.
Given that, let’s take a look at a collection of best practices and mistakes to avoid when writing your meta descriptions.
1. Keep Your Descriptions Within Length Limits
A basics thing to remember when crafting meta descriptions is to remember the limit. Ideally, it should be between 150 and 160 characters, with the latter being the max length. If you go beyond this limit, the description will be cut off in search results, which doesn’t look very clean or professional.
You can check the length of your description quite easily if you’re using a plugin on WordPress like Yoast SEO (which will also let you customize your meta descriptions before you publish posts).
2. Avoid Duplicate Descriptions
Your pages should each have unique descriptions and titles. If they repeat like the screenshot above, it’s not adding anything to your website’s visibility, regardless of its placement in the SERPS.
3. Avoid Special Characters or Quotes
You may not know this, but Google cuts off any meta description that includes quotes. This is a small, but important fact and it brings to mind the fact that you should never use anything but alphanumeric characters in your descriptions.
If you absolutely need to use a quote, place single quotes in the description to avoid it getting cut off.
4. Remember That It’s Okay Not to Use Meta Descriptions (Sometimes)
While it makes sense to always craft your own meta descriptions, in some cases it may be better to leave it blank and allow Google’s bots to scrape their own description. As an example, if you have a page that’s targeting specific terms or keywords, you should write a description that incorporates those terms for potential visitors to see in the SERPS.
On the other side of the scenario, if you have a page with tons of different articles or posts, or the page showcases a product catalogue, then you should leave the description blank. This will allow the search engine bots to crawl the text and place their own keywords in the description.
By allowing them to work naturally, they will choose the most relevant text for search inquiries and make your job a little easier in situations like this. One more thing: social media sites usually use the meta description in posts where you place the link.
If you don’t have a description, social media may just choose the first text on the page, which may not be ideal for your marketing efforts.
Keep these things in mind when you’re deciding how and when you want to incorporate meta descriptions into your pages.
5. Make Your Description Actionable (And Include a CTA)
Any good marketing pitch gives the person on the other side of the pitch something to do. This “call-to-action” or CTA is important in regards to your meta descriptions. If you want someone to choose your site over another in the SERPS, give them a reason.
Use action verbs to create a sense of urgency and provide a CTA within the description itself to give them a concrete reason to click your link. This can be done in the form of a promise, a detailed description of what to expect, or what they can receive if they follow through with your CTA.
Another way to make your descriptions compelling is to use an active voice. Use present tense and place the user into your page’s content by informing them what it will do for them if they read/engage with it.
6. Take Inspiration From PPC Ads
A lot of SEO professionals shy away from paid campaigns because they can be costly, but you can easily use the same tactics they are in your own meta descriptions to increase click-through rates.
When you’re looking at various keywords, take note of the PPC ads and what keywords/terminology they are using in their ads. Since they’re paying for that slot in the SERPS, it stands to reason that they are banking on those keywords in their meta descriptions.
Use those same keywords in your own content and your descriptions to earn more clicks and ultimately rank better by incorporating that information into your posts.
7. Create Curiosity
The final tip I would like to offer you for your meta descriptions, is to appeal to the user’s sense of curiosity. Make your link look irresistible by posing a question or a quandary that simply demands that they find the answer.
If you appeal to this sense, they you will have their attention and it will be far more likely that they choose your site over the others, regardless of its ranking in the SERPS.
Meta descriptions may not have a direct effect on your organic SEO rankings, but they do have plenty of indirect effects and they most certainly affect your click-through rates. For these reasons, it’s important that they are not forgotten.
How do you optimize your meta descriptions? Let us know in the comments!