The Importance of a Meta Description

A little SEO 101 if you please.  Today’s class is all about the importance of the meta description.  First a quick reminder about what meta data is.  Meta data is simply data about data or information about information.  Meta tags were originally created to help educate users (and bots) about the topicality of a given web page.

What is a Meta Description?

A meta description is a 160-170 character snippet, HTML tag that provides a summary of a page’s content.  Search engines such as Google typically will display the meta description in their search results for a given page.  Typically this happens when the search query is contained in the description.

The meta description is found within the head tag of the HTML coding of a web page.  Optimizing the meta description remains a key aspect of on-page SEO.

Here is an example of what a meta description looks like within the HTML coding as taken from our Digital Marketing Services page.

Meta Description Example

Here is how the meta description appears in Google’s Search Results Page:

Meta Description Displayed in Google ResultsWe can see that Google has effectively crawled the page and is displaying the meta description (albeit slightly truncated) with their search results for a related search query.

What is the purpose of the meta description?

Although search engines such as Google state that there is no direct ranking benefit from including a meta description tag (according to Google it is not part of the hundreds of factors used in their ranking algorithm) the main benefit of the meta description is to entice click through on your listing within the search results.  As Google states, “The description attribute within the <meta> tag is a good way to provide a concise, human-readable summary of each page’s content. ”

A well written meta description that results increased click activity can also result in a higher placement (rank) on the search engine results page.  In other words, if more people click on your listing then expected based on your position in the results, Google may move you up higher in the results.  Hence an indirect impact on rankings.

The main purpose of the meta description?  To get people to click on your link from a search engine.

Meta Description Best Practices

In order to create an effective meta description for a web page, the following practices should be adhered to.  While some of these best practices do change, applying them when creating your meta descriptions will provide more value than not.

  1. Be sure each page on your website features a meta description – it is amazing to me when I perform site audits on the number of websites that do not even include a meta description on their site pages.
  2. Each web page on your site should feature a unique meta description – having duplicate meta descriptions on site pages is not really useful for searchers who are looking for your website.  Not to mention that identical or similar descriptions on every page of a site are not helpful when individual pages appear in the web results. In these cases Google is less likely to display the boilerplate text.   Create meta descriptions that accurately describe the page.  If you have a large website be sure that your core content and most important pages have unique, well optimized descriptions.
  3. Meta Descriptions should be reflective of the page copy – a meta description should describe the topicality of the page.  It is a great idea to include a primary key phrase or topic that accurately describes the page topic.  You can enhance the primary phrase with secondary terms but avoid keyword spamming the description.
  4. Meta Descriptions should be in the 155-170 character range – you have probably seen conflicting reports on this and this does continue to fluctuate but a general rule of thumb is to strive to be within 155-170 characters.  Anything longer may be truncated by the search engines specifically Google.  However keep in mind that historically the search engines actually indexed more characters than 155-170.  Not too long ago even Google was indexing upwards of 1,000 characters from the meta description.  In May of 2016 Google began displaying longer descriptions of upwards of 250-300+ characters.
  5. Meta Descriptions should include a call-to-action – again the goal of your meta description is to entice users to click through to your webpage from the search results.  A quality meta description with a concise and call-to-action can go a long way to improving the quality and volume of your search traffic.
  6. Meta Descriptions can included structured data about the page – many people think that the meta description must consists of sentence format.  Depending on the page type this may be beneficial, but did you know that you can include structured data about the page within the meta description?  For example in blog posts or news articles you can list information about the author or date of publication.  Product pages can contain structured data including price, sku, age (i.e new vs used) and manufacturer information.
  7. Descriptions should contain the primary keyword – If the search keyword matches text in the meta description, Google will be more inclined to use that meta description and highlight it in the search results.   Google does what is call “hit bolding” and will bold words in the titles and descriptions that are being displayed based on the user’s search query.  We can see this my previous example where the search query “digital marketing services from Jody Nimetz” saw hit-bolding of terms “digital marketing”, “services” and “Jody Nimetz” from within the search query. Meta Description Displayed in Google Results
  8. Large sites can programmatically generate meta descriptions – the ability to write your own meta descriptions can provide great benefit, but in some cases websites that have thousands or millions of pages it just might not be possible.  Google suggests that programmatic generation of the descriptions can be appropriate and are encouraged.
  9. Good meta descriptions are human readable – although you can include structured data in the descriptions, a good meta description should be created for the human visitor and not just the search engine bot or crawler.
  10. Meta Descriptions can be updated – is it a good idea to keep the same meta description on your page for 10 years?  Perhaps, but if the content on the given page has changed you want to make sure that the description is still reflective of the page topicality and provide a clear idea of what the page’s content is about.

Meta Description Examples

Finally here is a look at some additional well-written and well-optimized examples of meta descriptions:

Meta Description Including the Primary Keyword

I searched for “game of thrones season 6″…

Meta Description with Primary Keyword

Meta Description Including Call-to-Action

Meta Description Displayed in Google Results

Meta Description Including Structured Data

Meta Description with Structured Data

Depending on the size of your website, revisiting your meta descriptions can be a daunting task.  However there is value in ensuring that your descriptions are well written and well optimized.  If you want to diagnose your meta description issues there are a number of ways to do it.  Begin with looking at your pages with duplicate meta descriptions in Google Search Console.  This can be accessed via Search Appearance > HTML Improvements with your Search Console account.  In addition you can perform spot checks within Google’s results to see just what Google is displaying for your meta descriptions.

Re-Optimizing Your Meta Descriptions

Again depending on the size of your site, you have a couple of options here.

  1. Programatically Update your descriptions – recommended for large websites.
  2. Prioritize Key/Important Pages and begin rewriting and optimizing pages manually.

If you need assistance with the re-optimization of your meta descriptions, contact us as we are well versed in writing meta data including meta descriptions.

The Importance of Your Meta Description
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