In this article, we will take a closer look at meta descriptions and learn a dozen useful tips on how to make your meta descriptions stand out from the crowd and help you attract visitors.
Meta description are special HTML attributes written inside the <head> element. Meta description should explain what the page is about so that visitors can quickly decide whether it contains what they are looking for. A typical meta description looks something like this:
<meta name=”description” content=”Breaking news and analysis from TIME.com. Politics, world news, photos, video, tech reviews, health, science and entertainment news. “>
And this is how the same description looks in Google and Bing:
As you can see, a well written meta description gives visitors a clear idea about the content and reasons why they should visit the page.
So without further ado, here are our 12 tips on how to write an awesome meta descriptions that get click-throughs.
1. Think about your visitors
The first and the most important advice on our list may seem trivial and redundant to mention but in reality it is anything but that. When people put a word or a phrase into a search engine they have a good idea about what they want to find while also carrying with them a set of expectations and concerns. Let us imagine a customer who wants to buy a handmade leather wallet for his father’s birthday. He inputs the query into Google and what does he gets:
We can see that the first result is exactly what the customer was looking for except that the meta description tells him that it is shipped from Canada and he lives in the UK. What does he do? He looks down the page and at the bottom notices another shop that is based in the United Kingdom.
The initial intention of our customer was to buy a handmade leather wallet. He did not care about where the maker is based, but he certainly was not keen on paying more for shipping. And because his previous experience led him to believe that this would be the case this time, he simply moved on.
The missing piece that prevented the sale was not fully catering to the type of person who would buy a handmade leather wallet online and what may be his or her concerns. Which leads us directly to our second tip.
2. Remove any barriers to purchase
As already stated above, the reason why the site from our example did not get a click though despite its leading position in a Google’s search engine results page (SERP) was an invisible barrier to purchase in a form of implied higher shipping cost.
Of course, if the buyer was coming from Canada he would probably rejoice, but this time it was not the case and it costed the company a potential sale. And ironically, this is what we get when we look at their shipping policy:
ORDERS TO USA AND CANADA $75 AND OVER QUALIFY FOR FREE DELIVERY!
This information should have been included in the meta description so that consumers who, for example, previously had to pay a higher shipping charges when buying from Canada would not be discouraged.
3. Write for humans, not search engines
It is important to remember that Google does not factor a meta description into an overall ranking of your site. It does, however, care about user behaviour and that is why real human beings should be at the centre of our attention.
Consider these two examples:
The first one is clearly written for search engines or automatically generated while the second one was written with real visitors in mind. The second example includes roughly the same amount of keywords like “gift baskets, gift towers, food gifts, etc.” as the first one, but it also gives a sense of personality that is expected from custom made products.
4. Call to action
An effective call to action acts on both conscious and unconscious level to encourage a visitor or a customer to follow through with his or her intentions and provokes an immediate response.
An example of a call to action (or CTA for short) can be seen in the meta description above. “Shop today” is a simple but effective call to action that lets shoppers know that they can make their order online right now without any additional waiting and thus gently nudging them to click on the link.
5. Be careful about the length
Google limits their meta description length to 156 characters including spaces. This is how your description is going to look like if you exceed 156 characters.
In practice, it is a good idea to stop at 139-140 since Google may include the published-on date which adds 16 or 17 characters depending on if it is a single-digit or double-digit day of the month.
6. It is okay to leave them out
Believe it or not, sometimes it is okay to omit the meta description completely and let Google generate one for you. When this happens, Google can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on the displayed content.
The snippet will contain all the relevant keywords and surrounding content from your website. This can be an ideal for an online store with a large selection of goods.
Google wants to provide the best possible information for their users and good meta description fits right in. Doing it this way can save you a lot of work and trouble with updates and new product listings. You can easily test how automatically generated descriptions affect your click-through rate and see for yourself.
7. Never use straight quotation marks
There is a wrong advice floating around about not using quotation marks in your meta descriptions. According to this advice, you should always stay clear of using quotation marks because Google will cut them and their content out.
The problem is not with Google hating on quotations but with a simple syntax error. If you write
<meta name=”description” content=”Something seems “fishy” in here”>
you will get an error saying
Quote ” in attribute name. Probable cause: Matching quote missing somewhere earlier.
from W3 validator.
You can, of course, write "fishy" or even “SEO” with a set of curly quotation marks.
The bottom line is that quotation marks are ok if you are careful about what you are typing.
8. Avoid using the same description multiple times
Using the same description for multiple pages or products may result in Google displaying two results from your page with the link to the right content but the spammy looking descriptions will certainly drive users away.
If you have a small online store it is a good idea to spend some time crafting your main meta description for your homepage. It also will not hurt to create a custom description for every static page on your site like “FAQ”, “About us”, or “Contact”. And this is where you can stop since google will happily pull meta descriptions for individual products from your product descriptions.
9. Use the right keywords
The right choice of keywords is important because it will appear bold in SERP. This makes it stand out and helps users quickly scan through the page with their eyes to find what they are looking for.
As you can see, the keywords I was searching for are bold while the text surrounding them has regular weight. The example above could be improved by including the whole keyphrase together. “How to root Nexus 5 using the SuperSU root package…” would result in an exact match and convince users that this is the right link to click on.
10. Test your meta description first
You can avoid a lot of potential mistakes by using a tool that simulates how Google generates their search engine results pages. One of the most popular is SEOmofo.
You can input your page titles, description, and URL and have it generate a Google Snippet. This way you can construct your page very precisely without having to wait for Google to update their results.
11. Active voice is preferred over passive voice
If there is something a little off about the title of this tip, it is definitely the usage of passive voice. Normally, I would write “Use an active instead of passive voice”. Why? Because this makes more direct impact on readers who feel directly engaged.
There is a reason why we remember, for example, a trivial encounter with a rude drunken person for years but tend to forget the majority of what we read online or in books. Our brain has to process an enormous amount of information on a daily basis and while you may think that there is nothing more important than remembering how to write an awesome meta description, your brain probably has a different opinion. Active voice helps to convince our brain that the message is important to our survival since it is aimed directly at us.
12. When in trouble, remember the first advice
It is easy to get entangled in the advice that is floating around and forget what is the most important – you are writing for real people and not search engines.
It does not matter if you have a blog, online store, or just a simple web presentation. By keeping in mind who is your target audience and what are their needs you are certain to produce a meta description that will fulfill its purpose.
Useful tools for writing great meta descriptions
Helps you predict how your web page will look in Google’s search results and optimise your SERP snippets for higher click-through rates.
An alternative to SEOmofo that will help you optimize title tags and tweak meta description tags.
W3C’s easy-to-use markup validation service, based on SGML and XML parsers. The best way to avoid any unnecessary mistakes in your HTML code.
First published on seo3.co.uk