Are Meta Descriptions Important for SEO?
Every website owner is looking for ways to improve their SEO and rankings on the SERPs. You cannot afford to leave any stone unturned when trying to improve the performance of your website. This implies that you have to go beyond and find other ways to improve your site performance other than keywords and keyword research. One of these ways is the use of meta-descriptions.
What is a Meta description?
A meta description is an HTML snippet that displays the summary of the contents of a specific web page. If you’re lucky, Google will show this snippet on the search results, increasing the click-through rate.
The optimal length of a meta-description is between 50-160 characters. If you write more, Google truncates the words to the optimal length. With about 160 characters, it’s possible to describe the content in the most convincing way to drive clicks.
Any webmaster should aim at creating the best meta-description tags because it helps searchers determine whether the content within the page is relevant to their search queries. We recommend the right usage of the keywords your page is targeting. However, it’s not advisable to use keywords in a spammy way.
Suppose you’re wondering whether usage of meta-description is a ranking factor. In that case, the answer is no. In 2009, Google released a statement indicating that meta-descriptions and meta-tags aren’t used in the ranking algorithms. Is it worth using the tags, then? Well, Yes!
You see, when you create a meta-description in the correct format and length, you’ll most certainly gain clicks. The more visitors your site has, the more Google will rank your pages because it deduces that it offers relevant information with high traffic.
How to write and Optimize Meta-descriptions
Now that you know what a meta-description is let’s learn how to create one that will attract lots of clicks.
1. Be specific
You want to make sure that you remain straightforward while creating a meta-description. A brief snippet helps readers know whether the information therein is relevant to the search query. Besides, Google can also tell what type of information is contained on a specific page.
The more descriptive and specific you are with the snippet, the more you can attract click through rates.
2. Include the primary keyword
As mentioned earlier, meta-descriptions don’t contribute to ranking capabilities. However, placing one of the main keywords within the description can improve the CTR. You see, when searchers see a keyword they searched for on your snippet, they are more likely to click on the link as opposed to if the keyword didn’t exist.
As you place a keyword on the meta-description, avoid stuffing because the description will sound unnatural for both readers and Google.
3. Market your web page using the meta-description
The snippet can also work as an ad copy of your web page and website. The description should be compelling enough to make readers want to click through the link. It’s also okay to have a call to action so that the searchers can click to read the rest of the content. You can have a statement like, “Click to read more” and such.
4. Make the snippet sound natural and welcoming
It’s possible to come up with a description that sounds robotic. If you want your snippet to sound welcoming and natural to readers, ensure to use an active voice in the description. An active voice sounds natural and warm to make readers want to click through the link.
5. Focus on the optimal length
Google advocates for 160 characters, beyond which the rest of the characters are truncated. It is of no use to have a very long meta-description that your readers won’t see.
6. Avoid duplicate meta-descriptions
Admittedly, you may have web pages that contain almost similar information. It can be tempting to use the same meta-description for different pages on your website. However, by doing so, you risk Google flagging the meta-descriptions as spam. In replacement, Google will use any other part of the content and truncate it to work as a snippet.
7. Avoid double quotation marks
Google crawl bots don’t recognize double quotation marks. If you use quotation marks, the search engine will shorten the content up to the point where the quotation marks appear. This means that you could fail to display some of the most important information to the searchers.
8. Utilize the first 120 characters
Depending on the device the users have, Google will only display the first 120 characters as a snippet. It’s therefore essential to convey the most important information and keywords within 120 characters.
9. Meta-descriptions aren’t always necessary
When webmasters write the meta-descriptions, they tend only to write a description they feel is relevant. Besides, you can only include one or two main keywords. If you don’t have a snippet to describe the content on your web page, Google will create one for you.
The good thing about allowing Google to create a description of your web page is that the search engine can combine long tail keywords and a few descriptive words. The snippet Google displays will only be relevant to a search query, thus increasing clicks.
It’s, therefore, fine not to include a meta-description for all your pages as Google will create one for you. Besides, according to research, only about 35 percent of all meta-descriptions written by webmasters get displayed as is. Google will, at times, trim them and add a better description to the web page. The description is often derived from some parts of the content.
Why Google rewrites Meta-descriptions
According to Google’s John Mueller, at times, the search engine can rewrite meta-descriptions. It should not come as a surprise when the snippet Google displays aren’t the one you submitted. Here are some of the reasons John gave for this occurrence.
1. Poor use of meta-description
Poor usage of meta-description is whereby website owners focus on using keywords rather than summarizing the web page. Google will automatically realize the keyword stuffing and flag it as not helpful to searchers. In such a case, the search engine will rewrite the snippet.
2. Use of wrong modifiers
Some publishers may also use modifiers in the wrong context. If the bots realize that the modifiers used don’t represent the content on the web page, the snippet will likely be rewritten. For example, you may use the term “SEO London” in the snippet. If the modifiers don’t exist in the content, then the original snippet will not be displayed on search results.
3. Search queries
At times, it also depends on the search query itself. Depending on what users search for, Google can rewrite a snippet depending on what users are looking for on the web. This is regardless of whether the meta-description is well written or not.
Examples of Good Meta-descriptions
Some brands use well written and accurate snippets to describe the web pages and websites. Here are some of the best examples.
Reddit is a social platform where members can join groups (subreddits) interested in learning and networking. The brand uses a concise meta-description with a call to action asking you to join communities you are interested in online.
As a trusted brand for many years, Nike uses a really mind-boggling meta-description of the products. The snippet is not only short but concise, giving a summary of what to expect with the products.
We cannot complete this list without mentioning the tech giant Facebook that has millions of users. The brand uses a concise meta-description with a call to action asking new members to create accounts.
Meta-descriptions are a summary of the specific pages within a website. Meta-descriptions do not always guarantee ranking on search engine result pages. However, these snippets can increase click-through rates which can eventually lead to high rankings on search engines.