What is a Meta Description? And how do you use it to improve SEO?

meta description seoptimer guide

Table of contents

 

Definition

Meta description is an HTML <meta> tag that is located at the <head> of the HTML, and part of the meta elements used to specify and summarize the content of the page.

 

Meta description is not visible on the page itself, but search engines are able to identify them with the following HTML code:

 

<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="informative description here">

 

Once search engines identify your meta description, it’s used as snippets in search results. For example:

 

 

Why are Meta Description Tags Important?

 

Meta Description tags are important because search engines use them as snippets of what your page is about in their search results. A page title may be a few words, but with the description tag, you’re able to add a short sentence or paragraph providing more context.

 

The more accurately you describe the page’s content and the more relevant a result snippet is, the more likely people are to click on your page.

 

 

Difference between Meta Description and Snippet

 

A meta description ideally describes what content the page contains and what users can expect to see. The page owners can add the meta description while snippets are provided by Google. Google prefers meta descriptions and might use your meta description as snippets for your pages if your description text does a good job of matching the user’s query. Their priority is to provide accurate snippets; snippets are usually based on their algorithm instead of your description because your description might not be as valuable for the web results or follow their guidelines. They will provide their own snippet based on the results gathered from your content within the page. In fact, according to a study by ACM Queue, less than one-third of Google’s search results include a rich snippet with a Schema.org markup.

If you write a great meta description, search engines won’t alter your snippets.

The below example is the result if you type in “SEO audit tool” (notice the bold letters pointing out the relevance for the search result):

 

If you type in “best SEO audit tool” you can find the same meta description results because of the accuracy of the meta description for the user’s query.

 

If you type in “seoptimer” it’s the same result, except Google highlights SEOptimer in bold.

 

meta description image google search result

 

However, if you type in “how to use seo audit tool” you can see that Google extracted your page to create a new snippet to provide better results for the searcher.

 

 

Snippets will be limited in length depending on what device the user is searching from, and because Google is continually refining what it thinks is the right amount of text to show.

 

 

Best practice: How to write a meta description

 

A good meta description should be exciting, easy to comprehend, and help users visualize and find exactly what they are looking for. An active, consistent voice should be maintained with language that persuades users to take the next step. Google uses meta descriptions to highlight results relevant to the user’s searches. Meta descriptions use phrases and keywords that connect with the user. Before we discuss some best practices to use when creating your meta descriptions, let’s take a look at some general information regarding meta descriptions.

How long should meta description be?

There are no hard and fast rules about the length of meta descriptions, although there is no limit to how long it can be.

 

Google announced in 2017 that it will show up to 320 characters on SERP. However, in 2018, they reduced the length to 155 and explained:

At SEOptimer, we provide a nice length of 70 to 320 characters based on different pages’ needs. You can, however, make an assumption of lengths between 100–140 characters. The most important thing to remember is that the length of the snippets is dynamic, based on results and typically fits the width of the device being used.

Why Google cares about meta descriptions

Google does prefer to display meta descriptions if they direct users to good results faster and reduce bounce rates. Along with meta descriptions, structured data is also preferred.

Here’s what they said about structured data (SD):

“There’s no generic ranking boost for SD usage. That’s the same as far as I remember. However, SD can make it easier to understand what the page is about, which can make it easier to show where it’s relevant (improves targeting, maybe ranking for the right terms).”

Gary Illyes from Google quoted the following from SMX East, regarding structured data:

 

“For now, I will say schema is important. We do look a lot at what’s in the structured data and I do think that if we recommend it, you probably want to make use of it.”

 

“Schema in general is helpful for us to understand the content on the page and by using that in our search features, we’re helping users find what they’re looking for.”

 

A good meta description should bring all the information necessary for both users and search engines. It’s about bringing all the data about the content and providing structures so that search engines can quickly provide the best search results to users.

 

 

Meta description guidelines

 

Whether you have a responsive design, dynamic serving or a separate domain for mobile, meta description should be usable for both desktop and mobile devices. If your mobile site is on a separate subdomain, you can create meta descriptions dedicated to your mobile users. For all others, it’s best practice to create the meta description and test it on a mobile device to see if all characters appear or if search engines added their own snippet versus your description.

 

Here are some best practices to use when creating meta descriptions to help you create the high-quality meta description search engines and searchers alike want to see:

 

  • Ensure that every page on your website has a meta description with SEOptimer.
  • Check your competitors SERP snippets by manually going through each keyword and identifying their best practices.
  • Avoid using the same meta description for each page and try to write meta descriptions that describe individual pages. You can add the tone of your brand or company, the purpose of the page, or target different personas to resonate better with your audience.
  • Meta description doesn’t have to be in complete sentences. Relevant data can consist of tagged facts that provide structured and/or additional content for the page. For a news or a blog posting, you can list the author, date of publication or byline information, all of which  might not be displayed in the snippet otherwise. Here’s an example of a meta description that only has facts:

 

<meta name=”Description” content=”Author: A.N. Author,

Illustrator: P. Picture, Category: Books, Price: $17.99,

Length: 784 pages”>

 

  • Although manually written descriptions are the best option, if you’re dealing with a large site, then you can use a meta generator. Ensure that the generator is designed to come across as readable and relevant (as mentioned above). Avoid using keyword generators and implement more factual information about the page.
  • Do not copy and paste the first paragraph of your blog post or news. Most CMS or plugins will automatically add the first few characters in your meta description tag—you will want to disable it to help you identify them.
    • Meta description is not displayed for your audience to see on the actual pages of your site, but it’s certainly displayed in search results. You have additional real estate, front and center of attention along with your title, to improve your click-through-rate and ranking.

 

We hope these best practices help you create great meta descriptions that help both users and search engines identify your pages.

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Jay Kang

Putting all things SEO under a microscope. I'm an experimentalist, researcher, recording every step of how to rank number 1. Here to help, verify, explain, cross-examine the wonders of search engine.





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