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How to Write Good Meta Descriptions for SEO

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Writing good meta descriptions for search engine optimization is easy. The search engines themselves already have them.

Search engines originally used meta descriptions as abstracts in their search results. And many times they still do. But search descriptions are no longer always the same thing as meta descriptions.

Google’s algorithms began a trend toward ignoring an article meta description if it didn’t like it. Instead, it would take sentences and even parts of sentences from the article and create its own description of the article content.

Other search engines follow that practice, although each one does it somewhat differently. To see how they do it, just do a search on some articles from a site and compare the descriptions in the search results. Oftentimes, they contain the full meta description from the article. Other times they contain fragments of it or even something completely different.

Sadly, the practice isn’t necessarily meant to help websites. The descriptions on the search engines take the most relevant information from the article to keep searchers on the search engines instead of clicking off to read more. If the search has a simple question, a search description may answer it without requiring the searcher to click away.

Website publishers, editors and writers can’t stop these rewritten descriptions. But they can take advantage of them.

Better Meta Descriptions for SEO

The fact that search engines create their own descriptions doesn’t mean they have stopped using meta descriptions. Good meta descriptions are likely to appear in search results.

What makes a good meta description? It:

  • Is informative, factual and concise
  • Answers a question for the searcher.
  • Entices the searcher to click into the full article.
  • Doesn’t exceed the maximum amount of space on search engine results, which is about 155 characters.

A review of the descriptions in search results will show that some are well done and some are not well done. Good descriptions improve search engine optimization and increase the potential for better article rankings. Bad ones don’t.

So publishers will find a benefit by looking at the search engine descriptions on articles that don’t rank well and compare them to their own site meta descriptions.

In truth, search engines don’t always have a perfect meta description for a site to use or even a good one. If publishers see a high-quality search description, they can copy and paste it into the meta description box on their article page. If they see a low-quality search description, they can analyze what the search engine tried to create and then create a better version of their own meta description.

In time, the search engines may pick up the improved meta description and use it instead. The improvement potentially will increase the article rank. Better article rankings lead to more clicks, even though search engines don’t want to lose the searcher.

Human Summaries Versus Search Descriptions

There was a time when websites used also meta descriptions as article summaries. These summaries would often appear on index pages such as the homepage.

Even now, many content management systems use a summary as a meta description and vice versa. They also give publishers the option of creating a summary for human consumption and a description for search consumption that are different.

For example, WordPress has an “excerpt” box for a summary that may or may not appear as a meta description, depending on the WordPress theme. WP plugins for search engine optimization almost always include the ability to separate the human description from the search description.

Creating two different descriptions is somewhat more work. But the effort is worth it if search engines recognize a meta description that they like.

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