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Back to Basics: How to Write THAT Meta Description

Posted by in SEO

If an SEO consultant from 2005 were to suddenly jump forward to today, he would be totally shocked by the changes in Google’s search engine algorithm and the number of factors which affect SEO rankings (and probably become unemployed too!).

One of the biggest shocks for our time-travelling consultant might be that meta descriptions have no effect on search engine rankings anymore. Meta descriptions, the snippets which appear in every result on the SERPs, were once a vital component in search engine rankings. Google and other search engines have since stripped meta descriptions of any relevance as a ranking factor.

But does that mean meta descriptions are not important anymore? Definitely NOT! In fact, it would not take long for a true SEO consultant to realise that the basics haven’t changed: Meta descriptions are just as important as ever.

A meta description is your organic text ad

A meta description is a brief description about your website. Search engines usually scrape the content of the meta descriptions and use them as display snippets.

Meta Description Snippet
Meta Descriptions serve as compelling sales copies

A study  published by El profesional de la Información in Jul 2010 has found that users generally focus more on the snippets than anything else on the SERPs. With this said, a meta description acts as your organic text ad. A well written description can act as a compelling call to action and potentially increase your clickthrough rate.

Writing a meta description is easy, but writing THAT meta description which gives you more clickthroughs and boosted enquiries takes more time and care. The digital marketing specialists at E-Web Marketing have created a few gazillion meta descriptions in our time, so we have a few tips to share about writing effective snippet copy. Before that, though, there are a few fundamentals you need to know. So let’s get back to basics!

What you need to know about meta descriptions

1. You need to express yourself in 156 characters. Be concise and to the point. Whatever is written after the 156 character limit gets cut off. So will Google take a hammer to your website if you exceed the character limit? Well not really, but it just doesn’t look good to have a call to action or phone number cut off half way.

2. Your meta descriptions do not always appear. Sometimes you might spend countless hours writing that killer meta description only to have Google disregard your meta tag and scrape something else from your page. This is totally normal. Google reserves the right to use whatever text on your website it deems most relevant to a particular search query.

3. Sometimes it is OK to have no meta descriptions at all. Your website might have thousands of pages, generate content by the hour. It is sometimes impossible to write unique meta descriptions for every page unless you generate them dynamically. But if you leave the meta tag blank, search engines will always crawl the page and show the most relevant snippet to the searcher anyway. Whether to leave your organic text ad to the mercy of Googlebot is up to you.

4. Duplicates are bad. Using the same meta descriptions on various page of your website confuses search engines. Essentially, this means you are telling the search engines that all your pages are about the same thing, which is most likely not the case.

 Ok, so how do I write THAT meta description?

There are 3 components in writing a meta description. Namely, the keyword, the copy and the call to action.

1. The Keyword

This is pretty straightforward – you’ll always want the keyword you are targeting to appear in your meta descriptions. When searchers see the keyword they’ve typed appear in the snippet, they are much more likely to click through. Not to mention that Google and other search engines bold the keywords that match a search query.

Bolding of meta descriptions
When keywords match queries, they catch the searcher's attention

2. The Copy

There are several ways to write a compelling meta description. Which method you use would depend on factors such as your industry, your target audience, and your position in the market.

Provide product/service information. This is probably the most common among all techniques. Providing a clear and concise summary of the products and services you are offering can help searchers understand your product and increase clickthroughs.

Google meta description
Google's no nonsense description

State your unique selling point.  What unique features does your product or service have? This might be a money back guarantee, cheapest prices or innovative technology. You might even use your meta descriptions as a promotional platform by offering seasonal discounts. How about adding a promotional code to your meta description?

Apple is not only good at creating unique products, but also good at writing meta descriptions that promotes their USP:

Apple's meta description
Apple's meta description states the features of its newest iPhone

 

What’s in it for me? Your customers are looking for answers. Sometimes these answers are obvious. A person searching for a light bulb needs to replace, well, a light bulb. Sometimes it requires more thinking. A person searching for SEO might say they want no.1 rankings, but ultimately they are looking for increased traffic and market reach. If you can communicate directly to the searcher’s desire, you have a greater chance of earning their visit.

For more information on buyer intention studies, I suggest you read Buyology: Truth and Lies about How We Buy, a compelling book on what influences purchasing decisions.

3. Call to Action

This is simply a trigger to call your customers to action. Examples include:

  • A phone number: “Speak to us on 1300 785 122″
  • “Get a FREE quote”
  • “Ask our experts today”

And finally….a  little quiz

It seems that Apple forgot to write a meta description for its iPad. How about helping them create a compelling organic text ad, and sharing it with us here?

iPad Meta Description
Suggest a compelling organic text ad for iPad!
While you’re crafting THAT meta description for Apple, think about what will best work for a unique product such as iPad? Is merely providing a product description enough, or should you state its unique features? Should you consider the buyer’s intention and communicate directly to the buyer?
Good luck, we look forward to reading your results!

About

Karl Fung is on a mission to spread online marketing and SEO knowledge to the world, and has a deep passion to help businesses grow online. He is also a movie critic specializing in Hong Kong movies.

2 Comments

  1. Gus Reply

    Thanks for sharing this article.

    In your opinion, what would be the best approach to test the improvement/decline of changing the meta description in specific pages? In my case, I’m using Google’s WMT data that provides CTR and changes in Avg. position in an aggregate manner, however I’d like to know how would be an alternate way to remove from the equation the position. I mean, if the position increases/decreases, it’s very likely that the CTR will be affected, making very difficult to assess the impact of changing the META description in our pages.

  2. Karl Fung Reply

    Hi Gus,

    That’s a great question. Unfortunately there is no totally accurate method to test the effectiveness of your meta description snippet and you’re right that movements in your rankings would affect your test, also not to forget that search volumes fluctuate a lot and relying on Google’s Webmaster Tools data is not entirely accurate.

    However, if you run a PPC campaign, you can test snippets and see which one works best, only limitation is that you can only display 70 characters on your PPC ads.

    Would be very interested if anyone has found a more accurate way of testing SERP snippets.

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