Often an overlooked area of new website builds, Meta Description Tags, located in the <head> section of each of your webpages, are an easy way to control what searchers on search engines can expect on your page, right in the search results. The meta description tag attribute provides concise explanations of the contents of your page and can control the content displayed by a search engine on the search engine result pages (SERPs) in the preview snippet. Meta descriptions are not actually visible to your visitors when they reach your web page, after clicking through because they are only intended for SERPs. Once users reach your page, the content on your page will be as you intended.
5 facts to know about meta descriptions
- Gain better click-through rates to your site with targeted meta descriptions
- Use unique meta descriptions on each page to let the users know exactly what is on each page of your website
- Understand recommended lengths, minimum and maximum, in both characters and pixels
- Meta description should match your page's content
- In some cases, let a search engine default to the first content on your site
Example Meta Description in <head>
<meta name="description" content="This is an example of a meta description tag. Make sure this pairs well with your content for best results.">
What makes a good meta description for better click-through rates?
Unique meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are intended as a way for you to show users what content is on the page they are clicking through to. If you, or your SEO plugin, set the meta description on every page of your website to be the same, users will not know how the content on each page of your site varies. Making unique descriptions can be a daunting task for large websites, so this is a task you should think about early in your site's development. We suggest thinking about your meta descriptions as ad copy for each individual page. This means it should contain key phrases from your page that draws a reader's attention to the search result and entices them to click-through to read more on that individual page. These key phrases should also contain keywords that people search for. Remember, Google and other search engines highlight or bold keywords from the search on the SERP. Having keywords and phrases in your meta descriptions helps solidify to the searcher that your page has the content they are looking for. Ensuring that each individual description is unique, will help users to find the right content for them, and keep users on your pages longer, another metric measured by the search engine when suggesting search results.
We suggest thinking about your meta descriptions as ad copy for each individual page, in an actionable voice. This means it should contain key phrases from your page that draws a reader's attention to the search result and entices them to click-through to read more on that individual page. These key phrases should also contain keywords that people search for.
Remember, Google and other search engines highlight or bold keywords from the search on the SERP. Having keywords and phrases in your meta descriptions helps solidify to the searcher that your page has the content they are looking for. Ensuring that each individual description is unique, will help users to find the right content for them, and keep users on your pages longer, another metric measured by the search engine when suggesting search results.
Don't forget a call to action. "Click here to find our more!"
Recommended meta description lengths
Meta descriptions are short, to the point, lead-ins to your page's content. These short descriptions can be a bit longer than a tweet, 150 to 160 characters, depending on the characters used, but should shoot for 135 characters.
The meta descriptions should always be at least 80 characters in length when you choose to use them. If your description is not long enough, Google may just ignore it and use content from your page.
For a max length, they should be under 928 pixels for being viewed on a desktop computer and 757 pixels on mobile. Why pixels? Currently, the search engines use 16-18pt Arial font for their results to determine where to truncate results(add the "..." after a full word), and an "l" takes up less space than an "m", in pixels. 928px will fill two full lines on a SERP, maximizing the amount of information you can get across to searchers through your meta description on a desktop computer.
Meta description should match your content
If you take nothing away from this article but this, you should see good improvements in your SEO. Your meta description on each page should match, and summarize, the content on that individual page. Trying to trick a user to come to your page by making your meta description describe something not on the page will likely penalize you in the SERP. Search engines will find the meta descriptions that trick the visitor into clicking through and even penalize the entire site for doing so. Also, tricking a user to your site will cause an increased bounce rate as users leave your site right away when they don't find what they are looking for, hurting you again with your SEO.
When it is okay to not use a meta description
If you don't have a meta description on your page, a search engine will pull the first 135 or so characters from your page and truncate the content after that, adding the "...". This means it may grab titles, then captions, then content, depending on how your page is set up. If you have planned ahead and build your pages to include keywords and phrases in your first 135 characters, and the page is not one of the pages listed in your menus, you can allow the search engine to just create these descriptions in the SERP. This can be especially helpful for pages that target long-tail keywords (3 or more keywords).
Our advice, be cautious here. If the content on these pages might be shared on Social Media, like Facebook and LinkedIn, you will not have control over the content shared. These sites try to pull meta descriptions first, and if they are not present they default to the first text they find. This may not be the best user experience for some of your most valuable sources for linkbacks.
BONUS: Do not use quotes in meta descriptions
If you put " (quotes) into your meta descriptions, you will break the code used by Google to display your meta description, causing the SERP to stop your description as soon as it reaches the "(quote). If you really want to use a quote in the meta description, consider using a single quote(') as this will not break the SERP.