You’d be forgiven for thinking you don’t know what a meta description is, but the fact is, you do. You probably see meta descriptions every day, without necessarily knowing that that’s what they are. Every time you search for something on Google or another search engine, you see lots of them.
That’s because meta descriptions are the snippets of text that appear beneath the blue link to each website in the search results pages. They’re written into the HTML code for each page of your website and they’re there to summarise what’s on the page. But why are they important, and how do you go about writing one?
Why do meta descriptions matter?
Before we get down to the nitty gritty of writing meta descriptions, let’s start by addressing the basics. Why do meta descriptions matter? The answer is that they play a vital role in your search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts: they encourage people to click on your website, thereby driving all-important search engine traffic and, in turn, sales. A well-constructed meta description has the power to help your business stand out from your competitors on results pages. It’s a little like a shopping mall: you’re more likely to be drawn into the shops that have enticing window displays.
Meta descriptions aren’t a direct ranking factor in search engine algorithms, which is to say that they don’t influence how high up the search results pages your website will appear. Nor are they used to determine which search terms your site is relevant to. However, written persuasively, a meta description can encourage people to click on your website to find out more – and click-through rate is a ranking factor, so getting your meta descriptions driving clicks is a win-win.
What’s more, if you don’t set a meta description in the code of your site, Google will automatically pull text from your site to generate a meta description that matches what people are searching for. This will likely be cut off mid-sentence, and probably won’t contain a call-to-action encouraging people to click on your site. Even if you do set your own meta description, search engines may still generate their own depending on what’s being searched for, but you’ll still have a good chance of your own choice of wording appearing.
How to write a meta description
Here are some key points to keep in mind when you’re writing meta descriptions for your site.
- Unique: write a different meta description for each page, even if the pages are very similar.
- Character limit: guidelines vary, but as a rough limit, aim for no more than 155 characters, or your description will get cut off.
- Compelling: make people curious to find out more by writing an interesting and compelling description that entices them to click.
- Keywords: include a relevant keyword or two. These appear in bold if they match what’s being searched for, helping your description stand out.
- Call-to-action: actively encourage people to visit your site with calls-to-action such as ‘find out more’ or ‘start your free trial today’.
- Accurate: the description should be an accurate reflection of what people can expect to find on the page. If it’s not, the chances are they’ll go straight back to the search results because it’s not what they’re looking for, and your site might even be penalised for misleading people.
Here’s an example of a good meta description so that you know what kind of thing to aim for.
How to upload your meta descriptions
Luckily, you shouldn’t need to be able to write HTML in order to set your meta descriptions. The process for uploading them will vary depending on what your content management system is. If you use WordPress, a plugin such as Yoast SEO will allow you to set your meta descriptions with ease. Follow these instructions for Wix, and these for Squarespace. If you have someone who takes care of your website for you, simply give them an Excel spreadsheet with a row for each URL and meta description and they should be able to set them for you.
You’ll find lots more advice on all things SEO here.
Rachel Ingram is a freelance copywriter with a background in digital marketing. She's written copy for clients ranging from the United Nations World Food Programme to The North Face, and particularly enjoys working with lifestyle and travel brands. In her spare time, she volunteers for Guide Dogs and flies light aircraft and helicopters.Read full profile