The meta description of an article is a form of search engine optimization that promotes a page to searchers. Essentially, it is a sales pitch.
Various online sources have reported — and Google’s Search Console backs it up — that a document that gets the top spot in search results can receive a click rate of up to 40 percent or more. Second place has a steep decline, third sees even more decline and so forth.
But a well-written description for a fourth place result can improve the click-through rate. This is especially if the content of the top three results are poorly written and the fourth one is written well.
Meta Description Behavior
Sample searches illustrate the point about the benefit of a well-written and search optimized meta description like the one below.
The example is the result of a search on “caribbean travel guide”. The higher ranking result has that phrase in the title. It also has all three words in the meta description. The other result has two words that appear much farther apart.
The highlighted words in the meta description are bold, which makes them stand out more. They aren’t as dominant as the title, but any searcher who reads the descriptions to see which result is better will more likely click on the first choice.
An article ranked in third place isn’t always the better-optimized article. It may simply have won that position because of an important backlink or some other factor.
Anyone who works online for a living and does many daily searches will know that less relevant articles with awkward titles and badly written meta descriptions sometimes — even oftentimes — make it to a higher ranking in search results.
Adding the Meta Description Tag
The meta description is a tag that appears within the <head> tags of a document. It looks something like this:
The description content lies within the quotes. It appears in search engines like this:
The meta description length is limited to about 255 characters including spaces. So the quantity of the content is limited. It is the quality that can make a difference in whether someone clicks.
Optimizing It for SEO
Meta description SEO requires common sense, good judgment and a little research.
Developing any article for online publication should involve researching keywords as one of the first steps.
Common sense and good judgment lead to choosing the best keywords that suit the article — and certainly not trying to jam every possibility into the article.
Sometimes research will reveal that quite a few people use unnatural word combinations. This actual example illustrates the point: “caribbean weather” gets 4,400 searches a month and “weather caribbean” gets 880, according to Google’s keyword planner.
Common sense obviously says that “caribbean weather” is a natural combination that works well with a meta description, while “weather caribbean” does not.
Search engines are smart enough to know that both phrases mean the same thing. But the example shows that some keyword possibilities do not belong in a meta description.
Bad SEO for Meta Descriptions
The worst way for a publisher to do search engine optimization for meta descriptions is by writing it in a way that doesn’t provide natural appeal to searchers:
- Don’t include critical keywords or keyword phrases.
- Use question sentences that make the topic of the page unclear.
- Use dull and nondescript language.
- Be as boring as possible.
In traditional newspaper journalism, the first paragraph of a news story is the most important paragraph of the entire story. It is the hook that encourages the reader to read more.
In online media, this approach is one tactic of something often called link baiting. It is baiting the hook with language that is interesting, informative, funny or appealing in some way.
Just don’t make it deceptive, inaccurate or misleading.
6 Important Tips
Consider six steps in the writing of meta description for SEO:
- Start with the critical keywords or keyword phrases that have been identified from the site document and through keyword research.
- Alternate long and short sentences but emphasize short ones.
- Keep the number of syllables for each word as few as possible.
- Be creative. Go beyond simple description to write something unique or informative.
- Complement the page title rather than mimic it.
- Use the most important keyword in both the title and in the description.
The effectiveness of the meta description content is secondary to the title for the simple reason that the title appears in larger type in search engine results.
But keywords in the meta description are usually displayed in bold. If the searcher pauses long enough to consider two similar results and read the descriptions, the better-written one will have an advantage that may lead to a click.
Well-written content will lead to more clicks. If the description accurately reflects the content of the landing page, the visitor will spend more time on the page. More time on the page will boost the ranking of the document in search engine result pages.