Meta Description Basics
Taking the time to write a good meta description is like sending someone a handwritten thank-you note. It’s not widely done, but it’s a nice touch that can make you stand out. Unlike sending that thank-you note, however, you shouldn’t consider writing your description optional. Given its importance to your website being found (if not its SEO), ignoring this would be a huge mistake. How do you write a good meta description, though? Our guide will walk you through the steps.
Know What Their Purpose Is
Meta descriptions do not actually factor into Google’s search algorithm. What they do, however, is compel people to click on your content—particularly if you use a keyword in the meta description that matches the one they’re searching for. It’s a good place for keywords used strategically (i.e. keywords that aren’t jammed together in a nonsensical stew of words). In addition to appearing on Google, the meta descriptions will also appear when you share a link to your content on Facebook and Google+.
Meta descriptions should contain their own kinds of calls-to-action. Just like your actual CTAs should invite people to your landing pages, the meta description should encourage your readers to click on the link and read your content. Things like “Learn the secrets of great inbound marketing,” or “Discover the top trends in blogging for 2013.” It’s not enough to describe the content inside. That, by itself, might not be compelling enough. You have to motivate your readers to want to click and read.
This can be done in more subtle ways than using commands like those listed above. For an example, take a look at the following meta description:
Now compare it with this one:
The second one’s not as compelling, is it?
SEO specialist Sujan Patel says that you should use suspense in your meta descriptions. Draw in searchers, rather than just telling them exactly what they’re going to get. Goins pulls off that technique perfectly here. He gives enough detail to pull you in, but not enough to ruin the surprise.
Name Your Claim to Fame
If you’re writing the meta description for your entire website, share your credentials. Rival IQ’s John Clark, for example, highlights the company ion for including the big names it’s worked with, like Dell, DHL, and Western Union. Content Marketing Institute’s Brad Shorr speaks of a client who boosted traffic by using “BBB approved” to their website’s meta description. “For brands that are not household names,” writes Shorr, “phrases such as ‘since 1975’ and ‘more than 10,000 clients served’ may strongly influence searchers to click.”
Don’t Let Google Fill In the Blanks…
Google’s default for the meta description field is to use the first few sentences of your content, if you choose not to provide a description yourself. Many people seem to just let Google work its magic. But doing so would not work any magic for you, especially if the first sentences of your content aren’t compelling or keyword-optimized. Since so many choose the default option, writing your own meta description could make you stand out from the pack.
…Unless the First Sentence is a Killer
You can let Google just lift from the beginning of your content, however, if it’s strong enough to stand out on its own. Alternatively, you could also make your meta description a pithy paraphrase of your opening paragraph, as Goins did with the article in the screenshot above.
Make the Description Specific
Writing your meta description should be like writing your blog title. You want it to capture people’s attention. Do not, however, use a title that’s misleading or way off-topic, just to get people to click through. Readers who expect one thing but get something else entirely will feel cheated. They also may feel less inclined to click on a link of yours the next time they run across your name.
Keep Them At the Appropriate Length
Ideally, descriptions should be 155 characters. Again, since so many web users default to letting Google just lift from their content, creating your own description will make you stand out from the crowd.
Don’t Serve Stale Descriptions
Meta descriptions are only useful if you make each one unique. Don’t use the same for each post, or Google will “ignore them globally on your domain,” Shorr warns.
Update Them Accordingly
Meta descriptions can be changed and freshened up to reach new audiences. For example, you could post a link to content or an offer with a new meta description on one of your social media accounts. This can bring additional attention to your site. The people who have seen the content before will want to revisit it, and the ones who haven’t seen it before will want to see it. Or, you can re-tweak descriptions for pages that top the search engines but get little traffic. Try adding more persuasive language, or updating the description with the addition of a new offer.
Meta descriptions are a key part of being found in search, yet some people don’t take the time to understand or use them correctly. If you craft the right message that will encourage click-throughs, however, your website can shine on the search engines.
Image credit: freedigitalphotos.net/thepathtraveler