What is a Meta Description? (And Why You Should Care)
A meta description is a 160 character, human-readable summary of a web page’s content.
Google no longer uses meta descriptions and meta keywords as part of their ranking algorithm. However (and it’s a big however), Google does use meta descriptions in its search result “snippets.” So it’s important to have a great description to help searchers understand what your page is about. Well-written, pertinent meta descriptions can dramatically improve click-through rate.
As one expert in the field said, “Stop thinking about them [meta descriptions] as a ranking factor, and start thinking about them as a conversion factor.” Meta descriptions are part of the conversation, part of the marketing of your website.
In addition (and you might want to sit down for this), Google is not the only user of meta descriptions. When someone shares or posts a page from your website to Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn, the site posts a short description of the page. Where do you think that description is generally generated? (If you guessed the meta description, you win. The other place these sites pull from is the first sentence or two of a post, but those are often truncated.)
“Stop thinking about them [meta descriptions] as a ranking factor, and start thinking about them as a conversion factor.”
Tips for Good (and Not So Good) Meta Descriptions
- Write compelling descriptions—give people a reason to click to your site. A collection of keywords might fun for search spiders but will quickly bore most human searchers.
- Include important information. The one time when including a list of things works is when the list is relevant to the reader. For example, if your page is about a book, you might list the author, number of pages, cost, etc. If you’re promoting new muffins, you might list flavors or other options.
- Make sure that every page on your site has a meta description. Part of writing great content is making sure that content gets found.
- Keep meta descriptions to between 150-160 characters. Most search engines truncate meta descriptions after 160 characters so you’re just wasting time writing more. Keep meta descriptions short and impactful.
- Write unique meta tags. Don’t write one great meta description and think it’s acceptable to copy it to all pages on your site. Google does not like duplicate content and neither will searchers.
- Remove all non-alphanumeric characters from meta descriptions. Google is allergic to most non-alphanumeric characters and therefore skips them.
- Drive click-throughs with a clear call-to-action. Descriptions can be a great place for a relevant call-to-action (Buy Muffins Here). Just don’t overuse them.
It’s easy to overlook meta descriptions when you’re writing website content (after all, it’s not published on the content page), but skipping this step is generally a mistake. Take advantage of the search engines offer to help people find and select the right page on your site.