Meta Description Magic: Think Less about SEO & More about Click-Throughs

The meta description tag in HTML is the 160 character snippet used to summarize a web page’s content. Search engines sometimes use these snippets in search results to let visitors know what a page is about before they click on it. In this post, we will look at how search engines use meta descriptions, what the top SEO blogs say about meta descriptions & whether they still use them, and reasons why you should use them.

How Search Engines Use Meta Descriptions

The best examples of meta descriptions and how search engines use them come from search engines themselves. Let’s look at Google’s own meta description for starters.

<meta name=”description” content=”Search the world’s information, including web pages, images, videos and more. Google has many special features to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.“>

It is exactly 159 characters, including spaces. Google’s meta description is displayed as follows in the top three search engines.

In Google…

In Yahoo…

In Bing…

Ironically, Google doesn’t list themselves in the results when you search “search engine” so you have to search for Google to see it. And they are the only ones that cut off their own description. Although they admit to not always using the meta description as a part of their rankings algorithm, they do still support meta descriptions and include them as snippets in search results.

What the Top SEO Blogs Say About Meta Descriptions

Regardless of whether they count for rankings, the top SEO blogs suggest using meta descriptions. In the Learn SEO series, SEOmoz says…

“Meta description tags, while not important to search engine rankings, are extremely important in gaining user click-through from search engine result pages (SERPs). These short paragraphs are webmasters opportunity to advertise content to searchers and let them know exactly what the given page has with regard to what they’re looking for.”

And in 21 Essential SEO Tips & Techniques, Search Engine Land says…

“The meta description tag won’t help you rank, but it will often appear as the text snippet below your listing, so it should include the relevant keyword(s) and be written so as to encourage searchers to click on your listing.”

The next question you might ask is do the top SEO blogs actually use meta descriptions? The answer is yes and no.

  • SEOmoz uses meta descriptions on their homepage and product pages, but not their blog posts.
  • Search Engine Land uses a lengthy meta description on their homepage and sometimes uses them on their posts.
  • Search Engine Watch uses a lengthy meta description on their homepage, but not on their posts.
  • SEOBook doesn’t use a meta description on their homepage or blog posts, but does use it on the occasional internal page.
  • Search Engine Journal uses a brief meta description on its homepage but not on its posts.

3 Reasons Why You Should Still Use Meta Descriptions

Most SEO’s might find themselves asking “If meta descriptions don’t count into the rankings algorithm, why should I use them?” The answer to that is simple. Stop thinking about them as a ranking factor, and start thinking about them as a conversion factor. Here are some great reasons to still keep your meta description in mind on your website including your homepage, internal pages, blog posts, and so on.

Reason 1: Bolded Keywords in Search Results

Even if the keyword you use in the meta description doesn’t help in search rankings, it still might help in getting a searchers attention. When someone searches for a particular keyword or phrase, it will be bolded in search results where ever it appears. So if you are targeting that keyword, you will want it to stand out. In this set of results for search engine, which results jump out to you?

It goes to show why your top keyword phrase should be in your SEO title and meta description! You wouldn’t want to be the one result in this list that had no bolded keywords for that search. So be sure your meta description uses the keywords you are targeting and is written in a way that will encourage searchers to click on that result.

Reason 2: Top Social Networks Use It

Whenever you share a page on social networks like Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn, each site will pull either the meta description or the first sentence or two of the post as the description to show in the share. The meta description will usually be shown in its entirety, while the first sentence or two of your post will end up cut off with ellipsis [...]. While you can edit the description for Facebook and LinkedIn, not everyone sharing your page will do so.

Google+, on the other hand, will only let you remove the description.

This means that if your first sentence or two on the page doesn’t sum it up well, people who see the share might miss the point. Hence, if you want your page’s shares to get the most clicks on social media, consider creating a strong meta description that will encourage clicks, just like you would for search results.

Reason 3: Social Bookmarking Networks Use It

Many social bookmarking networks will also use the meta description as a page’s description on their network.

A few examples of networks that do include meta descriptions are: Digg, BizSugar, and My SEO Community. Just about any social bookmarking / voting network built on the Pligg CMS system will also use the meta description first. While you can edit the descriptions on these networks, you can’t count on whether others who submit your pages will. Plus, if you don’t have to edit the descriptions, then you save a little work for yourself if you are submitting your own pages.

How to Include Meta Descriptions on Your Pages

If you are using WordPress on a self-hosted domain, you are in luck. Meta descriptions can be easily added to your content using simple (and free) plugins such as All in One SEO Pack. Just install it, and look on every page / post for the SEO Details box that will ask you for a custom SEO title, meta descriptions, and other information. Your homepage’s SEO details can be added in the plugin’s main settings section. Other themes and platforms may have SEO options built in – if not, do a search for your website’s platform and SEO plugin, add-on, or extension.

Tips for Improving Search Engine Result Click-Throughs

An often neglected value of meta descriptions is the fact that you can craft your descriptions to be calls to action. Here are some tips you can employ when writing your meta descriptions:

  • The power is in the language. How you phrase your descriptions can make or break your search engine result. Add words that describe value in your description. Give searchers a good reason to click on your result.
  • Write calls to action! Try adding language like “click here”, “learn more by clicking here” and “click on this result”. Obviously the context of the webpage will determine what wording you choose like: “download here”, “view video” etc.
  • Test them! – If you have certain landing pages that receive a decent amount of organic traffic, consider testing different variations of meta descriptions to see if you can get a lift in click-throughs. Try different description lengths, phrasing and positioning of your keywords.

Do you still use meta descriptions on your website? If so, do you have any additional tips and tools people can use to make adding meta descriptions to their site easier and more beneficial? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

About the Authors: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, professional blogger, and social media enthusiast. Her blog Kikolani focuses on blog marketing for personal, professional, and business bloggers. You can follow her on , Twitter, and Facebook.

Sean Work is the Marketing Director at KISSmetrics.

  1. Great article! We use meta descriptions on as many pages as possible and try to teach clients how to write good ones. When it comes to WordPress plugins, I actually prefer WordPress SEO by Yoast over the All In One SEO pack.

    • Just to clarify… I mean we use them on sites we design for clients. Just now realizing that our own site doesn’t have them!

    • Matt – I love WordPress SEO by Yoast. It’s light years ahead of the AIO pack and we use it with our clients as well. Great post Kiss.. as always

    • Thanks for the suggestion Matt! I’ve only used All-in-One and the built in system with Thesis / Genesis. Will have to try that one out!

  2. I’ve noticed that All In One SEO pack doesn’t conflict as much as other SEO WordPress plugins. It’s my go to SEO plugin for WordPress :)

  3. The Meta-description on my web-site is also the one that are posted on the FB-page. – If I post an article from the web-site to the Fb-page the meta-description is shown.
    PS: I love the ” learn more” tip from your article

  4. I use the Site Build It system to build websites which is currently called the Block Builder approach which works through this issue in a logical manner and identifies each page’s keywords and follows on with a meta description of the page content.

    It is going to be interesting to see whether social media traffic will eclipse search engine traffic. There is interesting times ahead.

  5. Hi Sean, what exactly do you mean by “doesn’t conflict as much”?

    Thanks for clarifying!

    • Well, I’ve noticed that with other SEO plugins, I’ll get conflicts with certain themes and plugins (not all the time). All In One SEO Pack always works for me no matter what site I’m working on, what version of WordPress etc…but again this is from my own experience.

  6. Great tips here about using a meta description. I use them on my posts because it gives me some control over how they appear in search. Although the fact that they are used as a default for most sharing application is also a great point.

    I haven’t been testing them out they way I should. I might go back through my posts that are popular in organic search and try some new meta text to see if they get more click throughs.

  7. Hi Kristi,

    I was curious as to why so many of the good SEO blogs don’t use the META description tag on their posts?

    You didn’t quite elaborate on that point and I think it is worth delving into.

    Thanks.

    • I think that many sites (not just the SEO blogs) don’t use them because they know they don’t help with rankings for keywords like they used to. I didn’t want to focus on why people don’t use them, but why people should use them. :)

      • Well, the reason being, if there is some higher level SEO strategy going on here, I think it is worth exploring.

        For example, is the fact that they are not using them because that will then force Google to choose its own description which in turn has a higher chance of returning text on the page that matches the user’s query?

        This could be a very high level ninja tactic that I’ve never thought of before, so I was wondering if those sites were already ahead of the game and had already been doing this for that exact reason, thus increasing click through rates.

  8. I ran a test that showed how significant an impact meta descriptions can make on traffic simply by influencing click through rates. Posted about it here http://www.geolocalseo.com/blog/the-power-of-meta-descriptions/

    A recipe blog that was using the All in One SEO plugin to auto generate meta descriptions simply by grabbing the first sentence or so of content. That didn’t make for great snippets shown in search results. The author (my wife) didn’t want to be writing custom meta descriptions for each post. So I customized the plugin to display an inviting message about that recipe post with the recipe title dynamically inserted into a common phrase for all recipe posts. Search traffic increased dramatically while rankings remained pretty much the same.

  9. Some SEOs now believe META tags are no more necessary for SEO purposes – I am happy this is being clarified here.

  10. Very nice informative article. Though webmaster nowadays do not give preference to meta tags, but it is still relevant to improve CTRs.

  11. Great article Thx

    One comment on the length of the description. Google only takes the first 156 characters and thats with spaces. If i count the caracters with spaces its 156 icluding “looking” so they do exactly what they should, the cut after 156.

    So I say that Google themselves didn´t count their own description correctly, shame on them :)

    Keep up the good work, Mikael from Sweden

  12. Definitely every wordpress blogger must own this tool. I think they are the easiest way to update easily with one click. Love this.

  13. I’ve always argued this point to SEO gurus that only think like Google’s computer. The human interface sees the Meta information and makes decisions based on that once Google has returned search results. SEO has two faces, one silicon and one carbon!

  14. But this is very interersting why the top seo blogs don’t use meta description in there blog posts?!

  15. Hey Kristi,

    As an example, I am ranked #3 for a certain keyword, but I am getting 35% of the clicks. So I am definitely trying to write my Meta descriptions for human readers with a call to action.

    …Tim

  16. Very smart analysis – I’ve always been an advocate of meta descriptions for search engine clickthrough (especially because of the bolded words based on the search query) – but I’ve never considered the impact of the tag with bookmarking and social news sites.

  17. Hello; I’ve been using the title, description, and keyword attributes on my website pages faithfully; so I’m surprised I never thought to also do it on my blog. I guess I just assumed that was already being done by wordpress. But after reading this post, I realize there are things I can do to make my descriptions better and receive more results. And I’m just wondering if I’m the only one using the tags because there is no way to be sure what the search engines give value to? thanks again, max

  18. Meta tags is important for SEO, but I have seen sites without them and in the some time they are placed on firsts places, so…

  19. Meta Desciptions are really important. I know this as SEO copywriter and as user…so i really try to make them work for me at their best.

  20. i used platinum seo pack. is all in one seo better than platinum seo pack?

  21. you clear my mind about the importance of meta description

  22. Thx for a great post :)

  23. Meta description should be used as your selling point not just for SEO anyway i kind of agree with this method by Google

  24. I would recommend using wordpress and yoast its a fantastic combo, and meta descriptions i feel still hold some importance for seo

  25. i agree that meta descriptions are extremely useful but still i prefer to stick and nite to use them… as using ll will provide the text that we set as meta but leaving it blank provide the chance to generate automated description…

  26. Very interesting article. Another good factor to help your SEO is balancing it out with a cleanly coded page. I did SEO work for a few long island website clients that used a poor coding structure (messy HTML, Jscript / CSS embedded in the page rather than called in separate files) and realized that even though the meta description, title, and url were really good after I cleaned up the code on the site it brought SO much more success in increasing rankings.

  27. I always thought the little descriptions were important before I even started blogging so even if it does not improve SEO it is what real people use to determine if they want to click on your site.

  28. Alright, I got your point, nice explanation, very well said. Okay I’ll try Meta description. Thanks for the tips you have here.

  29. i didnt never paid attention to who all used it I just always used the tag because it looked better on facebook and it can be like a pass assist to the title.

  30. Thanks for your tips about Meta description.After reading this post, I realize there are things I can do to make my descriptions better and receive more results.Thanks once again for sharing such a informative article.

  31. I’ve found that when I use a custom meta description then sometimes google will still just choose a sentence off the page to display if that is more relevant – which means that custom descriptions are really a bonus – if google doesn’t like them it’ll use something else anyway.

  32. This is such a simple yet often overlooked area of SEO. Great clear breakdown on something that’s been explained in so many different ways.

  33. How are we supposed to keep up with everything as a small business?!? :) This is the best Meta Description post I’ve found yet.

  34. Great article on the meta description. Actually is the meta description very important, I should pay more attention to it :p

  35. hello,

    to bulk check all your meta description length and page title quick, just go to http://seo-agent.net !

    A simple and fast tool that do so (i’m the developper of this tool) ;-)

    Ayo

  36. If that important part for SEO strategy, then i think we must give huge attention to meta description.

  37. A good point well made in this article, regardless of SEO ranking a well written meta description can significantly affect conversion rate from the SERPs.

  38. Another thing you should do when writing your meta description us use the main keywords in the same order you use them in your title tag. This displays them in bold in the same order that the people who searched the key phrases searched for making your site more relevant than the one with the keywords scattered in a different order throughout the meta description.

    Another meta tag that isn’t utilized as much is the acronym tag:
    SEO = SEO
    When you hover over the SEO acronym it will display the title of the acronym for your readers. That is an in-content meta tag used within your actual content as opposed to the description meta tag used above the /head of your page. This creates a better user experience helping search engines deem your site more user friendly when assigning relevance.

    I did an article on my blog post on SEO meta tags used above the /head to better optimize your pages if you don’t mind me dropping the link here:

    http://www.acewordpressthemes.com/meta-tag-seo/

  39. Can’t help but agree guys. Changing up my meta descriptions have had a big effect on my traffic. Don’t want to overdo it though or you end up with loads of meta descriptions the same. Best let most of them get pulled in naturally.

  40. thanks you sir..

    Now, I have gotten more knowledge about this meta description.. although many people avoid to use it, but I’m still believe that all meta tag is a good SEO tricks.. thanks.. :D

  41. Very nice informative article. Though webmaster nowadays do not give preference to meta tags, but it is still relevant to improve CTRs. I gathered the lot of information in the blog.

  42. Useful Article. I found it late, but still it is valuable information for me. I hope all other webmasters and bloggers also enjoyed this article. Thank You!

  43. Excellent Article.Now I understand the importance of Meta Description.Thanks for the Informative post.

  44. Great information here and some great replies too. I think it depends on the type of site you are optimising to be honest but I would encourage as a best practice to write your meta description with sales & conversion in mind, as this is pretty much what your client is ultimately wanting!

  45. you clarified my doubt regarding this metadata description. Every seo should defenitely read it

  46. Great! Thanks for your time sharing this. :)

  47. thanks for making onsite perspective very clear here……. as the thumb rule in development meta tags and descriptions increases the visibility of the site on search engine even i read few blog post who ignores sitemap.xml too which is also totally flawless

  48. Yeah, I agree. Yoast plugin is the one and only WordPress SEO plugin. Meta Descriptions is old school SEO but is the foundations. Create the foundations and build upon it.

  49. Thanks for the clarification on meta titles, really helps every business online.

  50. Phew…just glad to finally know thr truth on seo techniques. Thanks

  51. I’m going to have a look at kiss metrics and then share it with my university classmates. we’re always looking at new software and how it can help us with our businesses. We’re studying SSMM by the way (search and social media marketing) at Salford University. #ssmmUoS I’ll repost my thoughts on it next Friday morning ;-)

  52. For a Website Design agency based near Fareham, this great ideas on meta title really helps.

  53. We’re great at websites, but really lacking on seo. Ready this has helped us a little. Thanks :)

  54. Awesome just awesome article. I think this article may help my friend also that’s why I just share this article with my facebook. I am a regular reader of this blog. I learn a lot from your writing. Once again want to tell you good job. Thank you.
    My site: AVOWBD

  55. If you decide to switch from AIO to the Yoast plugin, the Yoast plugin has a one click feature that picks up, transfers, and inserts all your Meta Descriptions that you created in AIO.

    As far as I know, if you change back the other way, from Yoast to AIO, the AIO does not have this feature, and you may have to rewrite all of your Meta Descriptions.

    If anyone knows that this is not so, I’d appreciate knowing that. I’ve considered switching but don’t dare risk losing all my lovingly created Meta Descriptions.

  56. Wohnmobil kaufen Jun 28, 2013 at 6:00 am

    Brilliant Post.Now I understand the importance of Description for Google. Thanks for the Informative article.

  57. Meta tags very helpful for your website search results,because Google spders and crawls take information about your webpage.Basic HTML is also very helpful for seo.

  58. Some very good points made here. Some very useful information too. SEO is something which is a black art so you need all the help you can get in getting ranked in the search engines. I will definitely be bookmarking this for future reference. Thanks for sharing.

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