Meta Descriptions: yet another complicated element of the ever-elusive SEO. But despite its name, this is perhaps one of the more straightforward aspects of optimizing search engine results. With the right keywords and solid copy, a good meta description can land your website a top spot on Google search results, leading to increased traffic to your page.
What is a Meta Description?
A meta description is text within the HTML code on your website that provides information to the search engine and Internet users about the content on your page. Simply put, it’s a very short (usually around 160 characters) summary of the content on that particular page.
As you can see from the image above, the meta description for WIDSIX on Google’s search engine is boxed in red. Our meta description is a bit longer, however you can see that only 160 characters are visible on Google. The description for our main page tells Internet users exactly what WIDSIX is, where we are located, and the services we provide, all under 160 characters.
Other components of a Meta Description
Title Tag: The HTML code for the page title.
Slug: The page’s URL.
The title tag, the slug, and the meta description are all included in the search engine results blurb.
What makes a good Meta Description?
It can be difficult to keep your meta description under 160 characters, but it’s important to condense it enough so that you get your message across to someone who is likely scrolling through their search engine results at a rapid pace. It should be clear, concise, and eye-catching.
In the Learn SEO series, SEOmoz says…
“Meta description tags, while not important to search engine rankings, are extremely important in gaining user click-through from search engine result pages (SERPs). These short paragraphs are webmasters opportunity to advertise content to searchers and let them know exactly what the given page has with regard to what they’re looking for.”
The keywords that your page is targeting should be woven into the meta description’s copy, but it should be done in a way that reads naturally and doesn’t come across as spammy or overtly pushing your SEO. Again, the idea is to create a compelling description targeted to Internet users, not the search engine itself. The meta description’s primary purpose is enticing users to click.
Is it okay not to write Meta Descriptions?
Surprisingly, there are cases in which writing meta descriptions isn’t necessary. For example, if a page is covering a very specific, niche topic that is targeting 1–3 heavily searched terms or phrases, then you’ll probably want to create a meta description targeting users who are going to be making search queries using those phrases.
However, if your page is targeting long-tail traffic (which constitutes three or more keywords), Moz says it may actually be a better move to let the engines populate a meta description based on the content on the page. They say, “When search engines pull together a meta description, they always display the keywords and surrounding phrases that the user has searched for. If a webmaster writes a meta description into the page’s code, what they choose to write can actually detract from the relevance that engines make naturally, depending on the query.”
Keep in mind…
Keep in mind that if you do not create a custom meta description, one will be automatically populated for you. This automatically generated description will often be the first text available on the page, which may not be clear or compelling. So be aware that it is a good idea to confirm that the description you have is the one you will be happy with users seeing on their search engine results page.