What Are Meta Descriptions? (Meta Descriptions for SEO)

By December 10, 2016SEO

This post is an adapted video transcription that has been edited for better readability.

Let’s start talking about meta descriptions with a definition:

What is a meta description?

Well, similar to a title tag, a meta description is an HTML tag that tells users what a web page is about. You’ll note that I said users and not users AND search engines, because the meta description is not actually a ranking factor. When search engines determine what order to rank web pages they don’t actually look at the contents of the meta description to determine that.

Nevertheless meta descriptions are still really important because in a very busy group of search results it’s one more opportunity to convince a searcher to click on your webpage and not someone else’s. With that being said let’s dive in and take a look at what meta descriptions look like.

meta-description-user-view

Here you’ll see a meta description in a search result. We have the title tag on top, we have the URL or bread crumbs (sometimes) underneath it and then we’ll have the meta description at the bottom.

Then here is how a search engine would see the meta description in the page source, very similar to a title tag:

meta-description-search-engine-view

Now that we know what they look like let’s talk about writing meta descriptions. Most notably meta descriptions are different from title tags because they’re a lot longer.

Meta Description Length

In my title tag video I talked about title tags having limit of about 55 characters. With meta descriptions the limit’s about 155. You have almost three times as much space and that gives more opportunity to draft coherent sentences and really explain to a searcher why they should click on your page.

I did note of course that meta descriptions are not a ranking factor but nevertheless you do still want to include keywords in them. The reason for that? Sometimes Google will reject the description if keywords are not present in it compared to what the user is searching for. If the user searches for X and that X keyword is somewhere else on the page, Google will sometimes take an excerpt of that paragraph and present that as the description, to show the user that the page is relevant.

rejected-meta-description

If you want your meta descriptions to show up for your target keyword, use the same keyword you put in your title tag in your meta description as well. A well-written meta description can greatly increase the click-through rate which is the percentage of the time that someone searching for something clicks on your webpage compared to all the times that your web page appeared as a result.

Click-Through Rate

I’ll do another video about click through rate but click through rate is basically the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions as a percentage. So the higher the click through rate, the more traffic you get and a well-written the description can improve that. Generally you’ll want to include a relevant keyword in there, explain to the user what the web page is about and why they should click on it, and include a call to action (CTA) at the end of it. The CTA tells the user what you want them to do once they get to that page which is really straightforward.

Your site, your business and things like that will influence the type of call to action you use. Some examples would be Read More, Learn More, Request An Appointment, Schedule A Consultation, Call Today – these are all CTAs that you can include at the end of the description.

That covers meta descriptions. As a recap:

  • 155 characters.
  • They’re not a ranking factor but you do generally want to include keywords in them.
  • They will influence the click-through rate which affects how much traffic you get.
  • Include a CTA whenever possible to encourage the user to click through.

If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or contact me. If you want to receive more videos like this in your inbox, subscribe to my YouTube channel and check out my title tag video as well!

Chris Berkley

About Chris Berkley

Chris is a digital marketing consultant specializing in SEO and Analytics across industries including healthcare, education, finance and others.

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