How to Write an Effective Meta Description (Yes, They Still Matter)

Originally Published on on February 12, 2014 updated July 28, 2017 By Ramesh Ranjan

I can’t tell you the number of search results for companies I’ve come across that lack the one thing that might bring me to their websites: an effective meta description.

The meta description is one of your last hopes on search engine results pages (SERPs) to attract a searcher to come to your site. This is something that digital marketers constantly neglect to focus on — perhaps because they think it just doesn’t matter anymore. But if you’re not putting effort into your meta descriptions, you could be missing out on good website traffic that can bring in lots of new leads and customers.

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So, how can you produce meta descriptions that’ll entice searchers to click? Write like a true salesperson. Let me show you how!

What is a meta description?

Meta-descriptions play a big role in search results. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a meta description is the snippet of information below the link of a search result. Its purpose is to describe the contents of the page to the searcher. The end goal is to convince and persuade the searcher to click through to your website. Any words that match the search term are bolded in the description.

The image below shows you the basic anatomy of a search result, including where the meta description fits in.

For a given SERP, there’s only a certain amount of people who will scroll down to the bottom of the page and click a result there. The percentage of clicks consistently drops off as you go further down the page, because a more relevant result is, logically, usually at the top of SERPs. So, if your result is far down at the bottom (or not even on the first page of results), you’re already working shorthanded. This makes having a detailed, relevant, and eye-catching meta description that much more important.

If you’re at the top of the SERPs, the same logic applies, though — you want your meta description to be clear and convincing so that the searcher doesn’t scroll to look for another result.

In short, the better your meta description, the more likely it is you’ll have good clickthrough rates from organic search.
How to Write Great Meta Descriptions

I see writing meta descriptions as a legitimate exercise in effective sales copywriting. It should do everything possible to drive someone to make that decision and click. Our focus has to be on persuading the searcher to click — while still maintaining accuracy so expectations are met. Here’s how you can write meta descriptions that are clear, helpful, and stand out to searchers.

1) Use action-oriented language.

Action-oriented language is ideal for call-to-action copy — which, if you think about it, is exactly what a meta description is — because it tells the reader exactly what they can do if they click. Consider starting your meta descriptions with verbs like “Learn,” “Discover,” or “Grab,”, and follow it up with specifics of what exactly they’ll get if they click.

2) Provide a solution or benefit.

Tell the searcher what they can expect by clicking on your link. The last thing anyone wants to do is to have to click the ‘Back’ button because what they clicked on didn’t match what they expected or wanted — and you don’t want it, either, if you care about your website’s bounce rates.

Write a short sentence previewing the content or telling the searcher why they should read your post. Give them a clear benefit of clicking through and reading your post, if necessary. This is your chance to sell them on what you have to offer — informative, valuable content.

3) Keep it under 155 characters.

Generally, a meta description should be under 155 characters. However, Google actually doesn’t measure by characters — it measures by pixels. That is, it’ll cut off a meta description after a certain width. The reason we say 155 characters is to give marketers a benchmark to abide by. You can double-check the length of your meta description and title tags with this handy tool from SEOmofo.

4) Don’t deceive searchers.

If your meta description deceives the reader with content not relevant to what they should expect, be prepared for the searcher to hit that ‘Back’ button again. Some meta descriptions are spammed with keyword-stuffed content — this is bad, and probably stems from an old-school understanding of SEO. When searchers and search engines see keyword-stuffed content, that throws up all kinds of red flags, and hurts the level of trust a searcher has in your content.

5) Make it specific and relevant.

The average searcher knows a predictable, generic meta description when they see it in the SERPs (despite possibly not knowing exactly what a meta description is). That’s why it’s so important to use descriptive words — not unnecessary “fluff” words — and do your best to connect with your target audience and let them know what they’ll get from clicking through on your search result.

What Not to Do With Meta Descriptions

While I’ve laid out plenty of things you should do when developing and implementing meta descriptions, there are also some no-nos regarding meta descriptions you need to remember.

Should you fail to put in a meta description for the pages you want to rank for, Google will display a snippet of text from the first paragraph of your page. If there’s a search keyword in that text, it’ll be bolded. Why is this bad? Well, it means you’ll miss out on being able to sell to your prospective buyers. Now what salesperson would miss out on that opportunity?

And again — I’m saying it again because it’s important to reiterate this point — stuffing keywords into your meta descriptions won’t do you any good. These descriptions need to focus on providing clear and concise copy about your webpage, so avoid overusing terms simply because you think it’s what your audience will want to see. (Hint: No one wants to see keyword stuffing.)

Your meta description is your chance to win over prospects. It’s your short sales pitch for your website. Too many businesses leave this out and, in turn, miss out on a critical opportunity to improve clickthrough rates. Be sure to create an engaging meta description for your website that persuades people to choose you over your SERP competitors.