SEO Best Practices: How to Create Awesome Meta Descriptions by @BrianHarnish

Since the early days of SEO, meta descriptions have been an important optimization point.

Google continues to maintain that meta descriptions don’t help with rankings whatsoever.

But, as an indirect signal, there is anecdotal evidence that indirect attributes of better descriptions do help. Things like click-through rate (CTR), perception of the quality of the result, and perception of what your website offers all change when you optimize the meta description correctly.

Our latest deep dive takes a look into how to craft awesome meta descriptions, and how to apply these steps to your site.

What Is a Meta Description?

Quite simply, the meta description is a meta tag that provides a description of what the page is about. This meta description is displayed in the SERPs underneath the title of the page.

Why Are Meta Descriptions Important for SEO?

In the olden days of SEO, meta descriptions were important parts of optimization to get right. Did they help rankings back then? Google has said and continues to maintain that they do not help ranking, and that they are not a ranking signal.

According to a recent in-depth study, performed by Yoast:

  • Google automatically creates many of the meta descriptions on their own, regardless of the ones they wrote and regardless of whether or not the page appeared in the segmented groups they created for the study.

  • It did not matter that Yoast created long or short meta descriptions, and whether a high or low keyword density was implemented for them.

  • In two-thirds of cases that they examined, Google used sentences from the first paragraph. Of course, this particular ascertation is not a guarantee Google will do the same for your site, but the indication is there that an article introduction should be completed with the meta description as a focus.

Be that as it may, there are other important considerations for meta descriptions beyond their SEO value.

In addition to SEO, meta descriptions can drive clicks, traffic, potential conversions, and revenue by:

  • Increasing a site’s CTR in the SERPs: There is evidence that meta descriptions that have been well-written and properly optimized are directly responsible for increased “website curb appeal”.
  • Traffic: By increasing a site’s CTR through proper optimization, increased rankings can result in more traffic to the site.
  • Potential conversions: Crafting a well-written meta description that is closely related to the topic of the page, is interesting to users, and is highly optimized for user intent can increase conversions significantly. In addition, when you do this, there is anecdotal evidence to support that the increased traffic and CTRs will cause Google promote your site.It is worth noting, that the head of Google Brain in Canada has recently confirmed dwell time as a ranking factor, per Brian Dean’s Definitive Guide to SEO in 2018.

Meta Descriptions vs. SERP Snippets

Some people mistakenly use the terms “meta description” and “search snippet” interchangeably.

But meta descriptions and search snippets are two different things.

The meta description is an HTML tag that you control. You can create and optimize your own meta descriptions.

Search snippets are the descriptions Google shows for your webpages. It could either be the meta description you have created, or it could be something completely different. Google controls this.

Why wouldn’t Google use your meta description? Depending on the search query, Google may generate a description for your webpage that is entirely different from the meta description you created.

This is nothing new. Google automated this process many years ago.

The distinction between meta descriptions and search snippets is an important one, especially when Google makes announcements – such as when Google expanded the length of search snippets (only to shorten snippets about six months later).

What Is the Recommended/Ideal Meta Description Length?

It has been considered a standard SEO best practice for years to keep meta descriptions at around 160-165 characters maximum (or 156-160 characters, depending on who you talk to).

The reasoning behind this is that this optimization helps to avoid the truncation of the meta description in the SERPs and as a result, helps to avoid high bounce rates.

Late last year, Google announced a change to the SERP snippets, taking them up to 300 characters, more than double the usual 150-165 character limits that are recommended. Moz performed an in-depth study that determined that writing 300 character long meta descriptions should be observed as a new limit. Then, Google quickly changed back to the standard word count character limit.

What does this mean for SEO?

Continue to experiment and assess results, and make changes based on those findings.

Listen to what Google and their spokespersons have to say about what should and should not be implemented, but also do your own testing. Test what they say and test what they don’t say.

Find out exactly what works for your site.

Research the SERPs

creating-awesome-meta-descriptions

Regardless of your industry, you should be performing research first and foremost. This research consists mostly of SERP research.

Figure out what your competitors are doing. Monitor their SERPs over the next several days, weeks, and months.

You will be able to assess exactly what meta descriptions they are sticking with and which ones they are not.

To do SERP research effectively consists of the following steps:

Step 1: Research the SERPs for Your Targeted Keyword

Easier said than done, I know. It can be time-consuming to manually go through every search result and identify what, exactly, is your competition’s kryptonite.

The reason why we ware looking at the competition is because usually the competition implements techniques that are currently working.

Step 2: Research the SERPs for Your Competition & What They Are Doing

Here, you take a look at your competition and figure out exactly what they are doing for their brands.

Step 3: Put Them Together in a Spreadsheet, and Track Them

Using the SEO Quake Google Chrome extension, it is possible to export Google SERPs to an Excel Spreadsheet quite quickly and efficiently. This will let you keep a running tally of your competition and track them easily and efficiently on a monthly basis, without ginormous monthly costs.

Research Your Clients

SEO Meta Descriptions

Identify your target audience’s optimal buying journey, and what happens at each stage of the marketing funnel.

The marketing funnel can be different depending on your target market, so sharing an exact funnel to follow here would be fruitless.

Target and tailor your meta descriptions according to your findings.

Set a Tone of Voice That’s Consistent With Your Brand

Every brand has a unique tone of voice that is consistent with their brand identity. The brand identity is how that brand appears online to users.

Each meta description should be uniquely crafted and tailored according to how that tone of voice amplifies itself across the brand’s ecosystem.

You wouldn’t use a tone of voice for a website that sells shoes that’s more consistent with a tone of voice on a website that sells hardware, would you?

So why would you use a tone of voice that’s exactly the same from page to page?

The main benefit of tone of voice is that it reaches different personas who may be targeting certain keywords. By targeting personas with user intent and combining keywords with this research, it is possible to reach your target audience with a level of sophistication and optimization that they have not seen before.

The key is to make sure that this optimization doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and that it actually resonates with your site’s target audience.

Keywords Your Audience Is Searching for Should Appear in the Meta Description

Google continues to maintain that they don’t use keywords in the meta description for ranking purposes. But, when you perform SERP research, what is it that you see? Highlighted keywords in the meta description.

This is not conclusive evidence that Google uses it, but it is something that can draw your reader into the most relevant result that will satisfy their query.

Why?

Because the reader is looking for search results that nail their query. If their query is personal injury lawyers, they may go to that result over others.

BUT – it depends on whether that result satisfies their intent and what they really are searching for.

If your meta description satisfies their intent better than any other result that appears, then you have just won the battle to attaining their attention enough to click on that result.

Part of that battle includes adding keywords that Google is most likely to highlight when displaying your results for that search query.

Take Advantage of Trending Social Headlines to Craft Your Description

Creating Awesome Meta Descriptions

As a connoisseur of social media, you’re most likely on the up and up in your industry when it comes to identifying exactly what’s trending, and what isn’t passing muster for your audience.

Following influencer accounts and industry firms should already be a part of your strategy.

Taking it a step further, assessing what’s currently trending in terms of topics, and basing your meta description’s phrasing on that can help nail down what may be best for your brand.

Don’t fall into a rut.

When you write meta descriptions for a living, it can be easy to fall into a rut. You know the kind – the kind of rut that causes you to write the same meta descriptions day in and day out.

The best way to cure this kind of rut is to practice your ABCs on a daily, weekly, or monthly (for some industries) basis:

Always Be Crafting.

Also, the ABRs:

Always Be Researching.

Research new industry trends, research what’s working and what’s not, and above all – practice, practice, practice.

Make Your Meta Description Specific

Generalized meta descriptions and hollow phrases such as “best widgets” and other sales speak is usually something that can turn off prospecting customers. It is important to inspire confidence, the confidence that your result is something that will satisfy their user intent for the query.

You want to speak about what your readers are really after, not attempting to persuade them into your own sales funnel.

Refreshing Your Meta Descriptions on Older Content

When you have stale content on a website, it can be a boon for the site if you refresh your meta descriptions. This can be a great way to get new traction on older pages.

Also, by refreshing your meta descriptions, it is possible to get more traction from social media as a result. You can re-share and grab more visibility from older posts if you perform a systematic refresh of all of your meta descriptions.

Examples of Great Meta Descriptions

So what does a great meta description look like?

Here are a few examples:

  • “Did you know that pain and suffering are very real to the victim in a personal injury case? Learn more from our personal injury attorneys in this latest blog post.”
  • “By thinking clearly about your needs, it is possible to find a computer that will help you do all the things you currently love, and more. Our technicians explain.”
  • “When you are looking for the right widget, we can help. Our widget technicians can help you with anything. These are the things you should look out for in widgets.”

Not every meta description type will work well for each industry. This is where testing, assessing your results, and making changes based on those results come in.

Tailor your meta description to the website, and down to the page that is designed for your users. And always keep in mind user intent while integrating the above-discussed optimizations.

Optimizing Meta Descriptions Requires Striking a Balance

All of this has to be done while also observing character limits, including power calls to action in the meta description, observing proper branding and tone of voice, and also including targeted optimizations for specific pages.

It is a delicate balance that must be maintained while also interweaving common SEO elements. Go forth, our young padawan, and make us proud with your meta descriptions.

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