I can’t tell you the number of search results I’ve come across that lack the one thing that might bring me to their website: the (effective) meta description.
The meta description is one of your last hopes on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) at attracting a searcher to come to your site. This is something that digital marketers constantly neglect and if you’re not putting effort into your meta descriptions, you could be missing out on good website traffic.
How can you fix this problem? Write like a true salesperson. Let me show you how!
What Is A Meta Description?
First off, a meta description is the snippet of information below the blue link of a search result. Its purpose is to describe the contents of the page to the searcher. The end goal is to convince and persuade the searcher to click through to your website. Any words that match the search term are bolded in the description.
The Anatomy of a Search Result
Just to review, the image below shows you the basic anatomy of a search result. One of them - the meta description - will be our focus.
Writing Meta Descriptions
For a given SERP, there’s only a certain amount of people who will scroll down to the bottom of the page and click a result there. As the graphic below shows, an overwhelming amount of people click one of the first 3 results.
Here’s what’s worse: the percentages consistently drop off as you go further down the page. This is just a case of a more relevant result being at top and the searcher having more trust in those related terms. So if your result is far down at the bottom, you’re already working shorthanded. This makes your meta description that much more important.
I see writing meta descriptions as a legitimate exercise in effective sales copywriting. It should do everything possible to drive someone to make that decision and click. Our focus has to be on persuading the searcher to click - BUT, your page or post might not be a good fit for the searcher.
Here’s what I mean by that last sentence: Every person typing into a search bar has a need to be filled, a problem to be solved or a question to be answered and all this must be addressed or fixed at that time. They will click on the result that they deem to be the most trustworthy and reliable and will consider using popular resources that come up first. But they will also want the result that is going to best answer their question. THIS is where your meta description comes in.
4 Keys To a Great Meta Description:
Pose a Question. Go deep into the searcher’s mind - think like a searcher. Ideally, your post addresses a problem or issue your target audience has. If we ask them a question in our meta description that is or might come close to the problem they have and are looking to address, they might be more willing to click on the result.
Provide a Solution or Benefit. Tell the searcher what they might expect. The last thing anyone wants to do is to have to click the ‘Back’ button because what they clicked on didn’t match what they expected or wanted. Write a short sentence previewing the content or telling the searcher WHY they should read your post. Give them a benefit of clicking through and reading your post, if necessary. This is your chance to sell them on what you have to offer - informative, valuable content.
Keep it Under 155 Characters. Generally, we say that a meta description should be under 155 characters. However, Google actually doesn’t measure by characters - it measures by pixels. That is, it’ll cut off a meta description after a certain width. The reason we say 155 characters is to give marketers a benchmark to abide by. Double check the length of your meta description and title tags with this handy tool from SEOmofo.
Make it Relevant to the Content on the Page. If your meta description deceives the reader with content not relevant to what they should expect, be prepared for the searcher to hit that ‘Back’ button again. Some meta descriptions are spammed with keyword-stuffed content - this is bad. When you see keyword-stuffed content, that should throw all kinds of red flags as that might be a precursor to a page that wants to draw you for a specific keyword but not offer you the content you want. It’s almost like having no meta description at all because it does the exact same thing. Moreover, it hurts the level of trust a searcher has in your content if you mislead them.
This example shows each of the 4 keys in action. In retrospect, I could’ve made the question a bit more emotional - perhaps “Want an honest evaluation of how devastating poverty in Richmond is?”
And If I Don’t Write a Meta Description?
If you don't include a meta description, Google will display a snippet of text from the first paragraph of your page. If there’s a search keyword in that text, it’ll be bolded. So why is this bad? It means you’ll miss out on being able to sell to your prospective buyers. Now what salesman would miss out on that opportunity?
Don’t Do This!
Here’s an example of what not to do when it comes to creating a meta description. We know that someone has created one has because it’s within the pixel limits. This particular meta description is bad because it doesn’t convey anything outside of what services they provide and where they do them. It’s clear keyword-stuffing at its finest. They want to cover as many keywords as possible in their meta description so that Google bolds them and it stands out to the searcher.
Furthermore, here are a few more tips and things to consider when creating a meta description:
Make it unique. The average searcher knows a predictable, generic meta description when they see it in the SERPs (despite possibly not knowing what meta description is!). Use descriptive words (not unnecessary, “fluff” words) and do your best to connect with your target audience.
Make it specific. The first key to a great meta description was posing a question that addressed a problem. The question should be specific - and NOT open-ended. Remember the example image? My question was “How bad is poverty in Richmond and how can we aim to reduce it?” - that’s specific.
Make it relevant. Always keep your target audience in mind. While you’ll want to attract people outside your target audience, people who are in it are important. Moreover, your focus should be on the problems your post addresses that are relevant to your target audience.
Your meta description is your chance to win over prospects. It’s your 2-3 sentence sales-pitch for your website. Too many websites leave this out and miss out on a critical opportunity. Be sure to create an engaging meta description for your website that persuades people to choose you over your competitors.
Originally published Feb 5, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated April 19 2018