What are meta descriptions?
A meta description is a snippet of up to about 155 characters – a tag in HTML – which summarises a page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in search results, mainly when the searched-for phrase is within the description, so optimising the meta descriptions on your pages is crucial for SEO.
What does a meta description do?
The meta description is an HTML tag and generate click-throughs from search engines – so ideally someone searching on google will click your link.
Google, Bing and other major search engines state that as they don’t use the meta description in their ranking algorithm there is no direct benefit. However there is an indirect benefit. Search engines use a click-through-rate (CTR) as a way of working out whether or not your site is a good result. So, the more people click that on your result, the higher the ranking.
Optimising your meta descriptions
A lot has been written on the characteristics of a good meta description, but here’s the key pointers to use as your tick list
a) Number of characters
There is actually no right number of characters and it is constantly changing. Back in 2017 all social media commentators were advising to make meta descriptions longer – but very recently it has shifted to being shorted. It seems whenever Google changes its mind on SEO, we need to act accordingly. In the past few months Google were publishing descriptions of up to 320 characters, however they are now appear to be shorter (between 150 and 170).
Google’s comment on the changes were:
“Our search snippets are now shorter on average than in recent weeks, though slightly longer than before a change we made last December. There is no fixed length for snippets. Length varies based on what our systems deem to be most useful.” Danny Sullivan (Google representative), Twitter.
b) The tone of voice is key
Try and use an active voice and include a questions for example “ Do you want to become an SEO expert?” and include a call to action such as “Find out more!” or ‘”Try for free”. Remember it’s your sales text and you are selling your pages.
c) Structured content
If you are selling a product with technical specs then included them – the manufacturer, the price, the SKU – if your customer is tech-savy then they will know exactly what they will be looking for. Rich snippets also come into play here. A rich snippet appears between the URL and the description and adds extra information such as an image, user ratings from that page.
d) Matching your page
The content in the meta description needs to match the content on your page. This is key. Google will find misleading meta descriptions that try to trick the visitor into clicking and it will also increase your bounce rate.
Key words are also important. The search keywords need to match the text in your meta description – google often highlight key words that match, making your search results stand out even more. But remember to keep the meta description unique for each of your pages – otherwise they will all appear the same in the search results, hampering the user experience.
If you feel over-whelmed at where to start on a multi-page site then prioritise your content – at the very least create a meta description for the critical pages such as your home page and your most popular pages.