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Why meta descriptions matter and how to write a great one

I posted a comment on LinkedIn recently about why you should spend time writing a meta description for your blog posts and web pages. This prompted a call from someone who hadn’t realised the importance of these for their web pages.

So I thought it would be worth jotting down a few pointers for others who might not be so au fait with meta descriptions, offering some tips on how to write descriptions that can help to increase click-throughs to your site and boost your search rankings.

old shop window showing ladies busts

What are meta descriptions?

Imagine a shop window. If you have an eye-catching display that shows exactly what you have on offer, you'll attract the attention of people as they pass by. And the more people who stop and look, the greater chance you'll have of them entering your store and making a purchase.

A meta description is your shop display. It's a short description of what’s on the web page or blog. It provides a summary of what the content is about.

Your description shows up in search engine results below your page title and tells the searcher what your page is about so that they can decide if it’s relevant to their query. This will determine whether they click through to your page…or don’t. So you want to make your description clear and compelling to encourage the searcher to click on the link to find out more.

When people click on your link, Google sees the page as being of use and relevant, so the more people who click on it, the higher your ranking will be.

But be warned. Don’t expect to see your exact meta description every time in search engine results. Google sometimes rewrites the meta description for its search snippet. This could be because it finds your description misleading or vague, or it’s tailoring it to better match the search query.

How long should a meta description be?

People often refer to character length, but search engines work on pixel length. If you think about it, “I” takes up less space than “T” or “W” so a word with more I’s in will take up less space. But it’s not easy to write a meta description AND make sure it’s the correct pixel width, so people tend to use character length as a guide instead.

There’s no definitive character length for your descriptions, but it is generally recommended to keep it to around 156 (and that includes spaces). If your meta description is too long, Google will cut it short.

Of course, you may want your description to be cut to make the searcher curious and to encourage them to click your link to find out more.

Starbucks meta description

The ‘uplifting’ what??

While you don’t want your meta description to be truncated by the search engine, you don’t want it to be too short as people might ignore it for a longer one that stands out more. So try ideally, to keep your meta description to a minimum of 70 characters and a maximum of 156.

Write a clear meta description

When writing your meta description, make sure it matches what your page is about.

You won't do yourself any favours if you write a description that’s misleading or tricks people into clicking through to your site. If people find that your page isn’t what your meta description says it is, they’ll quickly leave the page.

As well as giving a negative impression of your company, this will also affect your bounce rate.

Write a unique meta description

When you write your meta description, you want it to be unique so that it stands out. If we go back to the shop window scenario at the start of this blog if every shop window on the street has exactly the same display, how do you decide which shop you want to buy from? You might end up walking past them all.

So be unique, think about what makes your content or proposition different to other pages. Do you offer free surveys, or is your blog challenging the industry view? Include these in your meta description.

If your page is promoting a service or product, then think about who you’re trying to attract, what stage of the buying journey are they at, and write your description for them. If your page is aimed at people who are ready to buy, then include words such as ‘buy,’ ‘order’ or ‘book’ in your description. If you are offering information then words and phrases such as 'report' and 'review' or 'how to' and 'learn how', will entice the searcher to click through to your page.

Include a clear and compelling Call to Action

As with any copy you write, you want people to engage with your content and take action. The goal is to encourage people to click on your link, so include an incentive for them to click through to your page. This could be a simple 'Find out more', or 'Join today for free.'

example of V&A museum meta description offering free exhibitions

Free exhibitions? Who doesn't love a freebie, of course, I want to click through to V&A's site and join today!

Include keywords in your meta description

It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many meta descriptions don’t include a keyword.

Google says it doesn’t use keywords in meta descriptions when it ranks pages. That may be true, but keywords certainly help people to understand your page and improve your click-through rate, which will have a positive impact on your organic search rankings.

If you can, try to start your meta description with your keywords, that way if Google does shorten your description, it won’t cut off your keyword which people are using in their searches queries.

Write for your audience, not search engines

Yes, it’s best to include your keywords or phrases, but don’t stuff your copy with loads of keywords. It won't read naturally, and Google doesn't like it.

This is your chance to encourage your target audience to click through to your page, so you want to write a clear and compelling description.

And remember, always write in your tone of voice and for your audience. Keep away from corporate or industry jargon, be natural and show them how your page answers their search query.

laptop with showing search results

Not sure what to include in your meta description?

If you’re struggling to come up with a description or keywords, there's nothing wrong with looking at competitors or industry-related pages to see how they do it.

It's also worth spending time researching what pages feature high in a search and examining what companies are including in their AdWords. After all, if they’re paying to use those words and phrases, they must work!

Test, test, test

Before you go live with your meta description, test how it will look. There are several free sites that let you check your meta descriptions such as:

Use them to play around with your description to see how they look and whether they are too long for the search engines.

Once you’ve written your meta description and it's gone live, check how it performs. Change and test your descriptions and monitor which ones perform best.

Meta descriptions matter

A meta description is an ad for your web page or blog, so it’s important to write an engaging description. As with any advertisement, if it’s boring, irrelevant to the searcher or sounds pompous, they’re unlikely to click on it.

So make sure your description is relevant to your page and clearly show the searcher the value of your content so that they feel compelled to click through.

A compelling meta description is powerful. As more people click on your link, your organic search rank will increase, and you’ll get more traffic to your site. And we all know what more traffic means – more conversion opportunities!

Hopefully, this has given you some pointers on how to write meta descriptions that encourage searchers to click through to your site and benefit your search rankings. But if you are struggling to write engaging meta descriptions, Get in touch and let's talk about how I can help you.


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