How many times have you Googled something and your search results have little to no content below the link?
Yeah, that’s the meta description. And every website should have one.
If you have a website, then meta descriptions should matter to you.
Even if you don’t personally have a website and simply browse online, meta descriptions should still matter to you.
A meta description is a website’s final attempt to get your attention and seal the deal with a click-through.
Not only is a meta description a link’s last-ditch effort to gain a visit or two, but it is also a factor in search engine optimization that many digital marketers ignore.
But a neglected meta description could mean lost viewers, forgotten leads, and less traffic.
Thankfully, adding meta descriptions is simple. Writing good meta descriptions that help SEO is the tougher part — but it can get easier with help and a little practice.
I’ll explain exactly how.
Meta descriptions explained
A meta description is the snippet of text displayed below each link in the search results. It is the HTML element that provides more information about a website to search engines and searchers.
Why do meta descriptions exist?
Well, they serve a couple purposes. They describe the contents of a web page to the searcher while simultaneously convincing and persuading the searcher to click the link.
Meta descriptions play a big role in search results.
Any words that match the search query are made bold in the description.
They also serve as a sort of advertisement for that specific website, providing the searcher with a brief glimpse into what they could gain or see by clicking.
See the below example of search results for “simple SEO guide.”
The meta descriptions above are the few lines of text below the link title and URL.
You will see that some included the bold words from the search query, and others are simply the first few words of the website or blog post.
But meta descriptions aren’t reserved for search engine results pages (SERPs).
They also appear when people share content on websites and social media channels. While search results and SEO aren’t relevant in this particular instance, well-written meta content will still encourage opens on social media and external sites.
And click-throughs on social media, while not technically recorded by Google or Bing, will still contribute to a site’s overall traffic, relevance, and publicity.
All in all, meta descriptions can contribute a ton to your website’s success.
The importance of meta descriptions
A meta description is your website’s last sales pitch to a searcher. It is the most important feature to improving click-through rates from an organic search.
Meta descriptions are a major tool that searchers use to decide which search results will be the most helpful, relevant, and authoritative.
They are also super important for search engine optimization–but not in the way that you may think.
It is important to point out that meta description content is not factored into search results. So it’s not necessary to put keywords into your meta description.
But let’s take a step back and consider not just search engine behavior, but human behavior. Meta description content may not influence the search engine algorithm, but click-through rate does.
That’s right. Google is actively measuring — and factoring in — user behavior when it comes to search results.
There are so many factors that go into ranking a website; it’s easy to forget that human activity is constantly being analyzed and considered.
Kind of makes you think about the way you conduct searches, doesn’t it?
Knowing this, think about the way that your meta descriptions look to an average searcher.
Do they appeal to a computer or a person? Is the content arranged to grab an algorithm’s attention or the human eye?
Meta descriptions may not directly benefit SEO, but click-through rates do, and meta descriptions help get clicks.
And the more people that click on your link, the better the content will perform in search results.
Now, for any search engine results page, it is not a given that every searcher will scroll all the way to the bottom — not to mention clicking over to a second or third page.
In fact, click-through percentages taper off as you move down the results page because, logically, the more relevant and reliable links are already situated at the top.
At least, that’s what the average searcher assumes.
If your website is located further down the first page, or even on the second, you are already working with less than your competitors.
This makes a concise, persuasive meta description all the more crucial to that link’s success.
But those results that fall at the top don’t necessarily have their work cut out for them, either. Ranking in the first few results doesn’t always guarantee a click-through.
Providing a high-quality meta description will ensure that a searcher doesn’t go scrolling for another result.
Relevant results encourage clicks. Meta descriptions help searchers understand why your link is the most relevant, helpful, trustworthy option.
And the more searchers click on your website, the better your site will perform overall.
Here’s how to add — and write — killer meta descriptions that convert search queries to surefire clicks.
How to write meta descriptions
For now, head over to your website’s HTML and take a look at the <head> section. It’ll look similar to this.
<meta name=”description” content=”Insert meta description here!”>
To add a meta description to the site, insert the content next to (you guessed it) where the HTML code says “content=”.
Regardless of what content management system you use, you should have complete control over what your meta descriptions say.
The especially goes for WordPress, whose backend platform makes it easy to alter this information.
If you use an SEO plugin like Yoast, you can add the meta description to the section labeled “meta description”. You can even preview how it will look in the SERPs.
Now that we have the technical how-to out of the way, let’s review some tips for writing meta descriptions that grab a searcher’s attention, wrangle a click-through, and boost your SEO.
At its core, writing a great meta description isn’t all that different from writing great sales copy. It is an exercise in concise persuasion designed to sell whatever lies beyond the link.
You have a few sentences to grab someone’s attention and garner a click-through.
Every single word you add to that meta description should be dedicated to producing a click, while still maintaining factual accuracy to meet expectations.
This may take practice, but it is worth it for the overall health of your website. Thankfully, changing out your website’s meta description is pretty easy.
If you test one meta description and don’t love how it performs, you can simply head back to the HTML and try a new one.
If you’re overwhelmed about where to start, prioritize your homepage and most important pages, like your product pages, top blog posts, or About page.
Get a feel for writing meta descriptions, and then take the time to fill them out for the rest of your website.
Now, let’s dive into how to write up meta descriptions that are clear, helpful, and persuasive.
Be specific and relevant, including the focus keyword.
Within your meta description, you essentially have two to three sentences to persuade people to click. So every word in your meta description matters.
Nowadays, the average searcher will recognize a generic, fluffed-up meta description from a mile away.
They will also most likely ignore that sort of description for one that better suits their search query.
Use your meta description to further connect with the target audience of your website or blog post link. Use relevant language that will appeal to them and be specific about what your website offers.
Layer your focus keyword into your meta description authentically. (That means don’t repeat it multiple times or throw in a few different variations for the sake of better SEO.)
Search engines will often bold the words in your meta description that correspond to a searcher’s query. This makes it easier for a searcher to see exactly how your website aligns with what they have searched.
Use action-oriented language, with a call-to-action.
Great sales copy always includes present-tense, actionable language. Your meta description should read no differently.
Use the meta description to describe exactly what you want the searcher to do or what exactly will happen when they click on your link.
Give the searcher a clear picture of what lies beyond the link.
Consider starting with words like “Learn,” “Discover,” “Experience,” or “Read” so the searcher has a clear idea of what your website provides. This may also inspire new actions beyond the searcher’s original query.
Provide a solution or benefit.
Think about why people make searches online. Most likely, they want to research, buy, learn, or read something, right?
Your meta description should serve as the “Ah-ha — found it!” moment for a searcher.
How can your website give them what they’re looking for? How do they benefit by clicking on your link? What lies beyond your search result that can benefit or help them in some way?
Use your meta description to answer these questions. This information is especially valuable when competing with other blogs or websites.
Nowadays, most search queries result in multiple sites offering similar content. What makes your website different, and how can you use this information to entice a click-through?
Keep it short and sweet.
Good digital marketers recognize that, as humans, we have the attention span of a goldfish — eight seconds, to be exact.
You should remember this in any circumstance that involves writing content to persuade or sell, especially when crafting your meta descriptions.
Don’t assume that searchers will take the time to review all meta descriptions on the search engine results page.
Choose each word wisely, knowing that people most likely skim your description before continuing down the page.
Another important thing to recognize is that Google cuts off meta descriptions that are too long. There have been reports of Google testing snippets of longer length, but about 150 characters is a safe length.
Case in point — Do not get caught with your most valuable information at the end!
Don’t deceive, but inspire curiosity.
You might think it a good idea to embellish your meta description solely to get a click. Who cares if a searcher stays on your website as long as they click-through first?
Not a stellar strategy.
If you’re not truthful about what a searcher can expect from your link, he or she probably won’t hesitate to hit that “back” button.
And too many quick exits can hurt your site’s bounce rate — and, more importantly, the searcher’s trust in your content.
Be honest and clear about the content of your website.
Don’t stuff your meta description full of keywords, either. Instead, consider asking a question that contains a couple of keywords.
Provide just enough (true) information about your link without giving it away. Inspire a click-through with curiosity — not deception.
Good and not-so-good examples of meta descriptions
Need real examples of the above criteria? Below we’ll cover some good and not-so-good meta descriptions based on a few popular search queries.
Let’s review the results from some popular search queries relevant to online marketing, starting with good examples.
“How to build backlinks”
This meta description is short, but includes the focus keyword (“backlinks”) and utilizes words like “little-known” and “never seen” to inspire curiosity.
This meta description is strong because it mentions the benefit of building backlinks. It also explains exactly what a searcher will see when he or she clicks the link.
“What is white hat SEO”
This meta description not only employs an actionable word (“learn”) but also explains the benefit of learning white hat techniques and how they can help your website.
This meta description uses a question to grab the searcher’s attention and then provides a clear solution that outlines the contents of the website, including action words like “teach” and “execute.”
“Content marketing best practices”
This meta description spreads out the focus keywords so that more of the content is made bold, increasing its chances of being noticed. It also mentions both B2B and B2C, which increases the number of audience members who will benefit from a click-through.
This meta description, although short and cut off at the end, provides a concise benefit of content marketing and explains what the webpage contains.
Sometimes, an ellipses at the end of a meta description can help inspire curiosity and garner a click-through.
Now, for the not-so-great meta description examples, using the same keywords.
“How to build backlinks”
It’s clear that this website doesn’t have a meta description because it simply repeats the headline and dives right into the first line of the content, providing no preview or enticing language.
Forgetting to include a meta description leaves your website open to random and irrelevant meta content. Searchers will recognize when you’ve neglected it.
“What is white hat SEO”
Although this meta description is interesting and personable, it lacks relevance and focus keywords. In fact, it’s more likely to appear in results for “black hat SEO” given that keyword is mentioned twice.
Meta descriptions could be compared to email subject lines in this case. Using something unique and fun can help grab attention, but going too far outside the line can just be plain confusing.
“Content marketing best practices”
This meta description does not include any information relevant to the site title, nor does it feature any focus keywords.
This may be another case of a neglected meta description, leaving it open to capturing the first few lines of content.
In this case, that was a bad move for the website, especially since it’s featured on the third page of search results.
While your meta descriptions may not have a direct effect on your SEO, they play a huge role in explaining your web page content and garnering click-throughs.
Adding them is easy — it’s writing them well that’s a little more difficult. Treat them as you would your ad or website copy, and your website traffic numbers will thank you.
In what ways have you improved your meta descriptions to help SEO?
About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.