If you’ve ever been to one of my Website Optimization Webinars you’ll be pretty familiar with the advice we give companies on how to get their website to rank better on the search engine results pages. Create content that’s valuable to your target readership and you’ll attract inbound links. These links will increase your SEO credit and hopefully you’ll see your website crack the first page on the search engine results pages for your most relevant keywords.
However, that’s only the first step towards getting found, and if you stop there then it’s likely that you’re selling yourself short. Getting on the first page of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is a great first step, but as research has shown your placement on the page also has an incredible effect on the amount of traffic you drive to your site. It has been measured that over a third of the traffic goes to the first search result and that traffic continues to decrease significantly as your place on the results page decreases. Although boosting your ranking on the SERP is one way to increase traffic the meta description has also has an impact on driving traffic to your website.
The Often Misunderstood Meta Description
The meta description is not something that is visible on your web page. The short summary of the web page, which is usually included at the top of the pages source code in a <meta description> tag is not used by the search engines for any SEO purposes. What the meta description is used for is to provide the searcher with a short description of the page (<150 characters to be exact) beneath each result. In fact, if a meta description is not included in the source code then the search engine will usually display part of the contents from the page in its place. Since the meta description is not as well understood as other page elements there are some very common mistakes people make when creating their websites.
1. Missing Meta - The most obvious mistake is to forget to include one entirely. As I mentioned earlier, if the meta description is omitted the search engine will simply take a part of the content from the web page. Of course the piece of content that search engine uses usually isn’t a thoughtful succinct summary of your website and most likely will not give the searcher a good idea of whether your result is what they are looking for or not. The search engines will also abruptly cut off any text longer than 150 characters, which can look sloppy and read awkwardly.
2. Keyword Stuffing - A lot of webmasters that don’t understand the purpose of the meta description see it as another opportunity to boost their SEO by jamming a bunch of keywords in there. Since the meta description has no effect on SEO this will actually have a negative impact on the traffic your website will get. Think about it for a second. Which result are you more likely to click on? “Website Grader – Free SEO tool from HubSpot that provides an Internet Marketing Report for your website.” Or “Website Grader, SEO, Inbound Marketing, SEM, Internet Marketing, search engine optimization, search engine marketing.” The first is easily read and provides a simple description of what the viewer can expect to find on the page. The second just looks like what it is, a mish-mash of internet marketing keywords.
3. Not Including Any Keywords - Although keyword stuffing should be avoided, carefully thinking about how to incorporate your keywords into your meta description should not be overlooked. When someone searches for a keyword or keyword phrase in a search engine if those keywords are present in your meta description they will be bolded. This draws more attention to your result and increases the likelihood that someone will click on your result. It makes sense that the result that includes the keyword phrase in the meta description is more likely to be what the searcher is looking for than one that does not.
I hope that these tips helped you to better understand the meta description and how it can be a very useful tool in increasing traffic to your website. If I missed anything be sure to stop by the website optimization webinar and let me know.
Originally published Jan 14, 2011 10:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017