5 Tips for Writing Effective Meta Descriptions (and why they matter)

Originally published on New Media Campaigns.com on March 7, 2102 By Claire Atwell
Think back to the last time you picked up a book at a bookstore or the library. Chances are, you took a moment to flip it over and read the back cover before deciding whether or not it was worthwhile. Meta descriptions, found inside the<head>element in the HTML, are essentially the ‘back cover’ of a web page. 5 Tips for Writing Effective Meta Descriptions (and why they matter)They give search engines and potential site visitors a concise explanation of the content on the site. Meta description tags, as well as title and meta keyword tags, form a group of elements known collectively as metadata.
While meta descriptions do not directly factor in to your page’s search engine rankings, they do play a significant role in a page’s SEO. Writing relevant and accurate meta descriptions will increase your site’s click-through-rate from search engines, as they are often used as the description of your page when it appears in search results (and in links on social media sites like Facebook or Google+.)
5 Tips for Writing Effective Meta Descriptions (and why they matter)2
Take a look at these beginner tips for improving your site’s meta descriptions to see if you’re getting the most out of your metadata!
1. Don’t overlook them
This may seem self-explanatory, but it’s easy for meta descriptions to land on the “nice-to-have” list when preparing a site for launch (since they don’t actually factor in to the algorithm used by most search engines for ranking websites.) Writing effective meta descriptions is neither difficult nor particularly time-consuming, and making the effort to create them will pay off exponentially for your site’s search engine presence.
2. Make them compelling, concise and informative
You may come across sites in search results with one keyword phrase in the description, repeated over and over again. It might even appear IN ALL CAPS!! Even with the best intentions, searchers and search engines view these descriptions as spam, and will avoid your site altogether. An ideal meta description should read as a brief, engaging sentence. It’s meant to grab a searcher’s attention, spark interest in what’s on the page and encourage a searcher to find out more by clicking on the site (while keeping the exclamation marks to a minimum.)
3. Keep them between 150 and 160 characters
Without a defined meta description tag, search engines will find text in the content of the page for the description (which may or may not be a good representation of your site.) Additionally, this filler text will get snipped at around 160 characters, which could make it unclear. Keeping your meta description between 150 and 160 characters will ensure that you maximize the space available and avoid having your text cut off.
4. Utilize (but don’t abuse) important keywords
Google (and most other major search engines) will bold search queries in the title and description of websites that appear in the search results. Because of this, it’s a good idea to incorporate targeted keywords (and your location, if relevant) in to your meta descriptions – if a word or phrase in your description matches the original search, the bold terms will likely catch the eye of the searcher.
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5. Create unique descriptions
Another tactic website owners will sometimes use is to Copy+Paste the same description for every page across the entire website. While meta descriptions can’t help your page rank, duplicate content can certainly hurt it. Go through each page and write a completely unique description based on the content on that page, not what the entire website has to offer. If you have similar pages (such as a separate page for each product you sell,) create a formula to systematically craft unique descriptions because on product name, brand or color.
Many of today’s content management systems will automatically generate meta descriptions for each page based on its content. HiFi also gives users the option to edit the description, as the well as the title tag, for increased customization. What are the things you’ve found helpful when writing meta descriptions?
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