When you’re first starting out with search engine optimization (SEO), you’ll probably see a slew of blanket statements about how vital meta descriptions are or how unimportant they are. However, the SEO value of meta descriptions is more nuanced than that. Here’s what a meta description is, why I always recommend creating one, and some top tips for writing a great meta description.
What Is a Meta Description?
A meta description is a snippet of information that describes the contents of a web page and often appears under the page title in search results. It’s typically composed of 160 characters or less. Creating a good meta description is an important part of on-page SEO.
The meta description tag is placed in the <head> section of the page’s HTML. This is what it should look like:
<meta name=”description” content=”Here is the description of the web page.”>
Alternatively, some content management systems (CMSs) or plug-ins allow you to add your meta description through a WYSIWYG tool instead of inserting it with HTML.
How Important Are Meta Descriptions?
Google has emphasized that meta descriptions are not a search ranking signal. However, the quality of your meta description may influence click-through rates, so you should create a description as dynamic and descriptive as possible to entice visitors to click on your snippet.
When running a search, you may notice that the provided meta description appears to answer your question. That’s because Google sometimes chooses what text to place in search engine results pages (SERPs). Rather than displaying the meta description a site owner has specified, Google might share content from the page that includes the word or phrase entered into its search box.
Check out the description in the image above. The keyword “types of cookies” is in bold, followed by a list of different cookie types.
However, the meta description in the page’s source code is: “We rounded up 30 different types of cookies to go through and choose your favorites. Learn more about these wonderful kinds to bake and all the different cookie categories.”
To help searchers decide whether the search result meets their needs, Google has generated its own snippet with content from the page itself.
According to an Ahrefs study, Google rewrites meta descriptions almost 63% of the time.
So if Google is most likely going to rewrite your meta description, should you spend time creating a unique and compelling snippet?
Yes! Since the goal of a meta description is to entice searchers to click on your link, you’ll still want to invest time in creating a unique and useful meta description. Google doesn’t overwrite every meta description. Your meta description may be displayed as written, so you should always make the effort to write a good one.
Google says it uses a page’s meta description of a site when it gives “users a more accurate description than can be taken directly from the page content.” This, then, is what makes a good meta description.
How to Write a Good Meta Description
A meta description should make the visitor feel compelled to click. It should clearly define what the visitor will see on the destination page. Follow these tips to write a good meta description whenever you publish a new web page or blog post.
- Focus on the search intent for your primary keyword and create a description that aligns with it. Google your primary keyword to see what snippets Google chooses to display. Model your meta description after those snippets. For example, if the snippet provides a definition, see if you can create your own definition within the character limit.
- Include your primary keyword in the meta description. Include any semantic keywords if possible. Search engines will highlight the keywords that users type in the search box.
- Use compelling language. The description should inspire a Google user to click. It should clearly define what someone will see on the destination page.
- Include a call to action. It’s always a good idea to share exactly what you want readers to do, like “read now” or “learn more” at the end of the meta description to compel them to act.
- Stay under 160 characters. The ideal meta description length is 160 characters but over 50 characters. Make each character count!
- Use a meta description checker like this one to see how your meta description will appear in search results on different devices.
How to Optimize Meta Descriptions
Follow these tips to generate meta descriptions that increase the potential of your URLs to get clicked on search results pages:
1. Draft More than one to increase creativity.
Rather than writing one meta description and moving on, try writing multiple meta descriptions for one page and then choosing the best elements from your different descriptions. This can help you push the limits of creativity to arrive at a final meta description that’s better than your first try.
2. Edit for clarity.
While using keywords in your meta description is helpful, it shouldn’t muddy up your meta description. Your first attempt will likely include extraneous words or characters. Edit it until it’s clear and compelling. Continue whittling it down (or adding characters) until you use about 160 characters.
3. Use the active voice.
Your description needs to be persuasive enough to push visitors to click, and one way of doing this is to use active voice. Use a tool like Hemingway App to identify and replace instances of passive voice.
Meta Description FAQS
How long should a meta description be?
A meta description should be 160 characters or less. However, some characters take up more space than others, so you may need to use fewer characters to avoid having your meta description cut off. Use a SERP preview tool to see whether your meta description is the correct length.
Why does Google change my meta descriptions?
Google rewrites meta descriptions so they align with the search intent of the query. For example, if a user googles “index bloat,” Google will rewrite meta descriptions for articles about index bloat that fail to mention and define the keyword. Google does this to create the best possible user experience. If they’ve rewritten your meta description, try to learn something from it, or just be glad they did it for you.
Can I stop Google from rewriting my meta descriptions?
Unfortunately, you can’t stop Google from rewriting meta descriptions. However, you can strive to create great meta descriptions that will lessen the likelihood of Google rewriting them.
Can I use the same meta descriptions for all of my pages?
Since each of your pages should feature unique content, they should also have distinct meta descriptions detailing the purpose of each page.
Can I use a meta description generator?
I don’t recommend using a meta description generator. While AI has improved over the past few years, meta description generators still leave much to be desired. If you don’t know what to put in your meta description, google your primary keyword to see what types of meta descriptions show up in SERPs.
Can I have multiple meta descriptions for one page?
Unfortunately, you can only indicate one meta description per page. Craft your meta description around your primary keyword, which should be the keyword with the highest search volume.
Closing Thoughts on Meta Descriptions
Google won’t use your meta description as a ranking factor — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in creating a quality meta description that accurately describes your page’s content. Your meta description takes up valuable real estate on SERPs and allows you to make the most of your rank. Take the time to write a meta description that engages your target audience and compels them to click. Remember to browse SERPs to learn more about the meta descriptions Google surfaces and use what you see to make your descriptions even better.
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