Search engines don’t rank a page higher because of the meta description. They simply display it in their own search results when they think it is relevant.
What affects the results is the way the searcher reads and reacts to the meta description.
An overly long description will be cut off and lose click potential from critical keywords being dropped from view.
The meta description is a slice of HTML code that is placed within the <head></head> section of a Web page. It usually goes in the document after the <title></title> tags and before the meta keywords tag.
Here is a meta description example:
<META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”The page description goes here.”>
Although it is possible to write a meta description that is 255 characters, it is a simple fact that search engines won’t display more than about 155 characters including spaces.
Other bloggers say it is 160 characters, but I have counted numerous descriptions, and each one in Google gets cut off at 155.
Good Meta Descriptions
Go to Google, Yahoo! and Bing and do a test search. Scroll down the page and look at each description.
The descriptions come from one of two sources — either the description tag or, if the page doesn’t have one, a snippet of relevant content from the page.
For pages with meta description content longer than about 155 characters, the search engines cut off the display of the description with an ellipses (…).
The reason why a long description can impact search engine results is not so much the ranking of the page in the search engine results.
It is the likelihood of the searcher not clicking on the link if certain important keywords are cut off.
Place the keywords as close to the start of the description as possible. Not only will they be more easily noticed, they also won’t fall victim to being cut off.
If an important and relevant part of the description lies beyond character number 155, the searcher won’t see it and will be less likely to click on that link and more likely to click on another.
Even if it is the right length, poor word usage or the lack of a good keyword phrase can further reduce results.
Meta Description Example
The above example shows three tactics to emphasize relevance — “western caribbean weather” in the title, the URL and again at the beginning of the description.
Each use of the keyword phrase has been bolded by Google to make the search engine visitor more likely to see that this result has matched the phrase that he or she entered in the search box.
Note that the description has not been cut off and is limited to one sentence, although two shorter sentence also are possible.
Meta Description Keywords
Writing a good meta description starts with defining a keyword phrase (two to three words or more) that best fits the document title and content of the page itself.
When someone does a search and sees a list of pages, the odds are pretty good that the keyword phrase or some variation of it will appear in the title and again in the meta description. Google will make those words bold.
It is reasonable to think that most people will look at the title first and, if it is interesting enough, the meta description underneath.
When Google bolds the keywords, it improves the odds that the searcher will see them and click on the title link. The rest of the description is what “closes the sale” and results in a click.
Put the keyword phrase beyond the viewable portion of the search result, and it won’t appear in bold and the odds that the searcher clicks on your page declines accordingly.
Improve the relevance and potential for someone to click by putting the important keywords at the beginning.
5 Best Practices
Five simple practices produce effective meta descriptions that will boost click-through rates from search engines.
- Put the most important keywords at the beginning.
- Use descriptive words.
- Be specific to a narrow audience. Don’t try to overreach.
- Write it like an ad, but don’t oversell. Communicate benefit.
- Obviously, count every character and cut it down to 155 or less.
Meta description is more than just limiting the content to less than 155 characters. It’s also very much about getting the click.