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Why Meta Descriptions Matter and Tips to Write Them Well

July 5, 2010

SEO has become a much bigger priority for me this year, how about you? For me, the numbers speak for themselves – Over the past six months, I’ve seen SEO consistently deliver 20% more search engine traffic than PPC; and when it comes to key conversions, SEO dominates PPC 80/20. That’s pretty huge.

There are hundreds of factors that go into determining search engine rank. Although I couldn’t name all of these off the top of my head, I do know that Meta Description is not one of them. So the question is, if Meta Descriptions don’t help you rank higher in search engine results, why waste time on them?

Meta Descriptions may not be the first priority on the SEO fix list, but they remain a key ingredient to drive search engine traffic through to your page, and should not be disregarded by any means. Along with the Title Tag, it is what searchers see first when you appear in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), and has the potential to either help or hinder a searcher’s decision to move forward (ie. click-through to your page).

As part of the SEO effort I’ve been reviewing, writing, re-writing, editing and re-editing a bunch of Meta Descriptions, starting with our most important keywords. I wanted to share with you some of the lessons (and reminders) I’ve been learning (and re-learning) along the way because – let’s face it – great meta descriptions are really tough to write.

1. Be Succinct

The general consensus (though I have seen variations) is that: 

  • Google displays up to 160 characters
  • Yahoo! displays up to 165 characters
  • Bing displays up to 185 characters

It’s always a good idea to aim for the smallest (160 characters) to ensure that your Meta Description displays fully in all search engines. Personally, I aim to write for 150 characters, and only spill over to 160 if it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re not used to writing within small limits or if, like me, you’re a hopeless warbler, then go practice writing on Twitter for a while (great tip I picked up from @beebow). You’ll be thanking Meta Descriptions for those extra 20 characters in no time!

2. Utilize the Keyword

It’s widely recommended to include your brand and the keyword in your Title Tag. Similarly, you should always include the keyword in the Meta Description (as close to the front as possible). This helps provide a good scent for the searcher (from search query, through to search result, and eventually through to landing page). It’s also a good way to catch searchers’ eyes when scanning the results page.

3. Make it Interesting

This is probably the most difficult part, especially if your products aren’t as exciting as Apple or if your company is ultra conservative and not at all quirky, like Woot!  Keeping it brief is a given, so the trick is to go for as interesting and informative as you can. Try and empathise with your searcher to get their attention. For example, asking them a common question that highlights a problem they may be experiencing (to which, of course, you can provide the answer to).

One approach you could take is to see what tone of copy worked well in PPC and adapt it to SEO. But don’t always assume that what works well in paid will also work well in organic, as the motivations of searchers who click on paid results are sometimes very different to those who click in the organic space. On the other hand, this really boils down to the level of search sophistication your customers have. Believe it or not (and it can be hard to if you consume yourself 24/7 in search marketing), some people still don’t know the difference between paid and organic results in the SERP. I guess the lesson here is to know your audience; and if in doubt, test, monitor and refine.

4. Remember the Call to Action

When you have written your Meta Description, read it out loud and ask yourself, “Would this encourage me to take action?”. If the answer is “No”, or “Not sure”, then have another go. There needs to be something in the copy to prompt a searcher to take action. This could be a physical call to action (get a free something) or something as simple as using terms like “Learn more” or “See how”.

Where appropriate, you may also consider using time-sensitive words to prompt searchers to take action – for example, words like “now” or “today”. Sometimes this can come across a bit spammy though, so this tactic may work better for things like time-limited promotions or event registrations (which are arguably better suited to PPC).

5. Read it, re-read it, and re-read it again

Just like anything you write, make sure you keep reading it, take a break and read it again, and continually ask yourself:

  • Would this catch my attention?
  • Would this make me want to take action?
  • Can I do better?

What tips do you have for writing good Meta Descriptions?

From → Search Marketing

  1. some interesting points. SEO is a long process and some clients expect results within a few days!! Looking forward to your next post. Thanks

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