Meta descriptions have always been a critical optimization. Meta descriptions do not directly impact SERP rankings. They do, however, help achieve other goals such as improving click-through rates by enticing searchers to click through to your site. Meta descriptions are what SEOs refer to as indirect signals, such that they do not directly impact search rankings. Does this mean that you should ignore them and not incorporate them into your SEO strategy? Absolutely not! This post will explore how to create awesome meta descriptions that will help Google understand the purpose of your content and encourage searchers to click through to your site.
What is a Meta Description?
A meta description is an HTML tag that provides search engines and searchers with a rough idea of what your content is about. You can find meta descriptions under the title of a page on the SERPs.
Difference Between Meta Descriptions and SERP Snippets
Far too many people erroneously use “meta description” and “search snippet” interchangeably. However, they are two very different things.
A meta description is an HTML tag that you control. You can generate and optimize your meta descriptions to your liking.
On the other hand, search snippets are the descriptions that Google shows for your content. Search snippets can be the meta description that you’ve created, or it could be something totally different. Google controls this component.
You’re likely wondering, “why wouldn’t Google use my meta description?” Well, depending on the search query, Google may serve up a description for your webpage that is 100% different from the awesome meta description you created.
This is nothing new – Google automated this process years ago.
According to a study conducted by Yoast:
- Google rewrites most search snippets on its own in order to help match the searcher’s query with more precision.
- In roughly 66% of cases, Google used sentences from the first paragraph to generate the search snippet. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that Google will do the same for your site. The key takeaway here is that an article’s introduction should aim to serve as a valid alternative to a meta description.
The differences between meta descriptions and search snippets are important, especially when Google makes announcements – such as when Google increased the length of search snippets and then reverted back roughly six months later.
Why Do the Meta Descriptions You Create Matter for SEO?
As additional ranking factors have entered the scene, meta descriptions have become less important and no longer directly impact how content ranks today. Google even confirmed that while metadata had served a purpose in the early days, it has since been devalued since then.
So, you’re likely wondering, “how are meta descriptions used today?”
While meta descriptions do not directly impact the position of your content on the SERPs, they can help drive clicks, traffic, potential conversions, and revenue by:
Increasing a site’s CTR in the SERPs
Over the years, studies have supported the belief that well-written and properly optimized meta descriptions can potentially increase your CTR. Sistrix released a report in 2020 that showed when a SERP includes a featured snippet, the CTR for the top result dropped an average of 5.3%.
Producing higher-quality traffic
The higher you are on the SERPs, the more likely you’ll earn clicks that result in more high-quality traffic. A study by Zero Limit Web showed that 81.3% of searches resulted in a page-one organic click. If that isn’t enough of an incentive to get your content to rank on the first page, then here’s some extra motivation – content outside of the top five results accounted for only 3.73% of all clicks.
Creating an awesome meta description that relates closely to the topic of the page, is interesting to users, and is highly optimized for user intent can exponentially increase conversions from search to your site.
What is the Ideal Meta Description Length?
The standard SEO best practice for years has been to limit meta descriptions to around 155-160 characters. The rationale here is that this optimization helps prevent the truncation of the meta description in the SERPs, which, in turn, helps to limit bounce rates.
It’s 100% okay if you don’t buy into this recommendation. However, it would be wise to conduct your own independent testing to figure out the ideal meta description character count.
7 Tips & Best Practices to Create Awesome Meta Descriptions
Research Your Competition
No matter your industry, SERP research will reveal what works for your competition – aka who you need to beat.
You’ll want to monitor the SERPs over a period of days, weeks, and months. Once you have a heaping mound of data, you need to assess which meta descriptions appear at the top.
In order to conduct SERP research effectively, you need to:
Step 1: Research the SERPs for Your Targeted Keyword(s)
This is easier said than done. It can be time-consuming to manually review every search result and identify your competition’s weaknesses. However, if done correctly, you’ll figure out what’s working for your competitors and then apply the same tactics to your strategy.
Step 2: Research the SERPs for Your Competition and What They’re Doing
Next, you’ll want to review what exactly it is that your competition is doing for their brands.
Step 3: Combine Them In a Spreadsheet and Track Them
The SEO Quake Google Chrome Extension provides a quick and easy way to export Google SERPs to an Excel spreadsheet. Doing so will let you keep tabs on your competition and track them on a monthly basis without a hefty monthly cost.
Map Your Customer’s Journey
It’s extremely beneficial to identify your target audience’s ideal buying journey. Furthermore, you’ll also want to identify what happens at each stage of the marketing funnel.
The marketing funnel can vary depending on your target market, so there’s no point in sharing an exact funnel to follow in this post.
You’ll want to target and tailor your meta descriptions according to your findings.
Use Your Brand’s Unique Tone and Style
Every brand needs to have a unique tone of voice that is consistent with the brand’s identity. This is how brands appear online to potential customers and differentiate themselves from the competition.
Each meta description should be tailored to the type of voice that is being amplified throughout your brand’s ecosystem. What this means is that you wouldn’t use the same tone of voice for an attorney’s website as you would for a prep school’s admissions website…right?
So it only makes sense that you wouldn’t use the same tone of voice from page to page. The primary benefit of tone of voice is that it reaches different buyer personas that target specific keywords.
When you know your audience, it is possible to reach them with a level of sophistication and optimization that truly resonates.
Include Keywords that Your Audience Will Actually Seek Out
Google continues to claim that they don’t use keywords in the meta description for ranking purposes. However, when you perform SERP research what do you see? Highlighted keywords in the meta description!
This is not damning evidence by any measure that Google uses it, but it can most definitely draw your audience toward the most relevant result that will satisfy their search query.
If your meta description placates their intent more effectively than any other results on the SERP, you’ll likely win the click.
Make the Most of Trending Social Headlines
As a consumer of social media, you’re likely up-to-speed in your industry when it comes to cherry-picking trends and what isn’t working for your audience.
Following influencer accounts and industry firms should already be part of your strategy. However, there’s plenty of room to take your efforts to the next level. Assess which topics are trending in your space and see what meta descriptions appear for the top-ranking results.
Tools such as Google Trends, Buzz Sumo, and Twitter’s Trending Topics are all great places to check and see what might be trending in your industry.
Target a Pointed Search Intent
Basic meta descriptions and empty phrases such as “groundbreaking discovery” and other sales jargon can repel prospective customers.
You need to inspire confidence that your content will satisfy their user intent for the query.
You want to cover what your audience is really after and avoid simply pulling them into your sales funnel.
Refresh Your Meta Descriptions on Older Content
Updating old content can lead to a gold rush of traffic and is a great way to gain new traction for older pages.
Furthermore, by refreshing your meta descriptions, it is possible to get more traction via social media. You can re-share and grab more visibility from older posts if you conduct a systematic refresh of all of your meta descriptions.
Optimizing Meta Descriptions Requires Striking a Sense of Balance
Remember, all of this needs to occur while also observing character limits, proper branding and tone of voice, and target optimizations for specific pages.
It is critical that you maintain a delicate balance while also incorporating common SEO elements.
If you only take one thing away from this post, let it be this: always write your meta descriptions with the aim of improving user experience and providing helpful information.
This is what meta descriptions do best.
Meta descriptions will not directly help you rank higher, but they can help you win more clicks by demonstrating to users the value that your page has to offer.