Meta Descriptions provide an explanation of the content that is found on a webpage. These are usually used by Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) to offer users a preview of any given page.
Sample code for a Meta Description is as follows:
<meta name=”description” content=”This is an example of a meta description. This will often show up in search results.”>
The optimal length for a Meta Description is around 155 characters.
Meta Description tags are not massively important to search engine rankings but they can be vital when it comes to improving click-through rates from SERPs. This is an opportunity for a webmaster to inform users of what they will find on a page. This means that there is a need to use keywords but you also want to be compelling and engaging with your content. There is a need to be relevant with respect to the content but there is also a need to be unique and distinct from other Meta Descriptions you may use for other pages.
Best Practices for SEO with Meta Descriptions
You should look to write compelling copy
The Meta Description plays a big role in drawing a user from a search engine to your webpage and this means that it plays a key role in search engine marketing. If you can create an engaging and compelling description that uses relevant keywords, you can expect to boost the click-through rates of a page. Always bear in mind that the leading search engines will place keywords in bold if they match the query used when someone searches.
The recommended length of a Meta Description
While Meta Descriptions can be any length you want, search engines will truncate descriptions that run beyond 160 characters. This is why restricting your Meta Description to 155 characters is considered to be the best practice.
Do not use duplicate Meta Descriptions
You need every Meta Description to be unique. This may sound a daunting prospect when you have a lot of pages and they have similar content but there is no benefit to be gained from using duplicate Meta Description tags.
Meta Descriptions are not a ranking factor for Google
As of September 2009, Meta Descriptions have not been a factor for Google in determining rankings for certain pages (this was announced at the same time as Meta Keywords were noted as having no impact on search rankings). However, this doesn’t mean that you should overlook Meta Descriptions because they can often be the key factor in convincing someone to click on a link. While being ranked is important, the ranking itself is not the goal, and the Meta Description will play a role in encouraging people to click through from your link.
Remove Non-Alphanumeric Characters
If quotes are used in a Meta Description, Google will truncate the message. You are advised to remove all non-alphanumeric characters from your Meta Description and if you are using quotes, you should use a single quote as opposed to a double quote.
There are times when it is okay to not use a Meta Description
While you would think that having a good Meta Description can make all the difference, and is likely to have a more positive impact than allowing a search engine to scrape your page, there are sometimes when it is better to not create your own Meta Description.
If a page has between one and three searched for terms that appear regularly, you should utilise a Meta Description that uses these keyword terms. However, if a page is targeting long-tail keyword terms, with three or more keywords, it may be best to allow the search engine to extract the text themselves.
This is down to the fact that when search engines pull, they will show the keywords and surrounding phrases that have been searched for by a user. This means at times what the search engine pulls and displays will be more relevant to the user than what the webmaster would try and force.
You should also bear in mind that social media sites, such as Twitter or Facebook, will use the Meta Description when a page is shared on their site. If there is no Meta Description tag for a page, the social media site may just utilise the first text that is available on the page. This may negatively impact on the user experience, so it is best to take control of the situation if you expect or hope to have your content shared on social media sites.
The MozBar SEO toolbar lets you see relevant metrics in your browser as you surf the web.
- Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer is a free tool that gives webmasters the ability to analyze up to 10,000 links to any site or page on the web via the Mozscape web index.
- HTML Tag
W3 School’s official documentation on meta tags, including meta descriptions.
- Head’s Up on <head> Tag Optimization (SEM 101)
Bing’s official policy on meta descriptions.