Meta Descriptions: Best Practice

Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched for phrase is contained in the description.

If the search keyword matches a part of the text in the meta description, Google will be more inclined to use it and highlight it in the search results.

So when you incorporate words in your description that searchers are using, users will notice them more easily.

What is a Meta Description

Lets get back to basics.

The meta description is a meta tag that provides a description of what the page is about. Also known as a snippet, the meta description appears under your pages URL in the search results.

Together, the title tag, slug, and meta description create the snippet that appears on a search results page.

The Title tag is like the headline, and the meta description is the subheading.

Meta descriptions help search engines understand the content on a page and, when used properly, they can act as a hook of your advertising in the search engine results.

Unfortunately, we can't fully control what Google displays in the search results and it may choose not to display your meta description.

Social media platforms often use meta descriptions when a link is shared to give people a preview of the content. Without the meta description tag, social sharing sites may just use the first text they can find.

What are the Main Purposes of Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions have three primary uses:

  • To describe the content of the page accurately and succinctly
  • To serve as a short text “advertisement” to prompt searchers to click on your pages in the search results
  • To display targeted keywords, not for ranking purposes, but to indicate the content to searchers

Do Meta Descriptions Help with SEO?

Google maintains that meta descriptions do not help ranking, and that they are not a ranking signal.

However, meta descriptions do indirectly boost your rankings by impacting traffic, click through rates and engagement.

What should a Good Meta Description Include

Great meta descriptions, just like great ads, can be tough to write, but for keyword-targeted pages, particularly in competitive search results, they are a critical part of driving traffic from the engines through to your pages.

When writing your meta description, write for people, not search engines or algorithms. Natural language communicates better.

Meta descriptions should be directly relevant to the pages they describe, and unique from the descriptions for other pages.

When someone searches for a particular keyword or phrase, it will be bolded in search results where ever it appears so makes sure it includes the target keywords. Also, bear in mind that Google sometimes highlights synonyms.

Be sure to customise the meta description for each page on your site as its important that meta descriptions on each page are unique.

While some good meta descriptions incorporate the entire keyword to get people's attention, others can do so by adding an element of mystery to entice their audience to learn more.

The length of meta descriptions that display in search results change based on screen size, device type, and other technical factors, so there is no golden rule for how long SEO meta descriptions should be.

The meta description should be long enough to describe the page, but short enough to be easy to read.

Treat your meta description as a piece of your customers journey and use language that guides users to take the next step. Include a call to action that encourages them to act.

Write a description that is compelling and interesting, includes relevant keywords and important terms like brand names and if it makes sense, a call to action.

Avoid the Following Practises

Avoid using special characters, all caps, title case sentences or other formatting that can make your site look spammy.

Don't use the same meta descriptions across different pages as Google may penalise you for mass duplicating your meta descriptions.

Because SEO meta descriptions are included in the HTML, you must be careful not to use characters that will break the HTML language.

Don't use quotation marks in your meta descriptions as any time quotation marks are used in the HTML of a meta description, Google cuts off that description at the quotation mark when it appears on a SERP.

If your page answers a question or makes a special announcement, dont feel like you have to give it all away in the meta description.

Never use misleading language, outrageous claims, or unrelated copy to promote your content or try to attract attention.

There is an argument that you're better off not spending the time writing your own meta description as Search engines pull the keywords and the surrounding phrases that a user searches for.

This means that the snippet pulled by the search engine may be more meaningful to the searcher than your written meta description because it contains the exact search string that the searcher is looking for.

I would argue that defining the text you want to use allows you to ensure the best, most relevant content appears.

A meta description should be written in your company's voice.

Push too hard, and no one will want to go to a page to learn more.

Bring them in with your authentic voice and persuasive, helpful suggestions to learn more.

Ultimately, the meta description is a promise you make to searchers about your brand.

SEO Consultant

This article was written by Gaz Hall, a UK based SEO Consultant on 23rd April 2019.

Gaz has 20 years experience working on SEO projects large and small, locally and globally across a range of sectors.

If you need any SEO advice or would like him to look at your next project then get in touch to arrange a free consultation.