Most content writers have, at best, a tenuous appreciation for meta descriptions. And understandably so.
Imagine putting the final touches on a multi-thousand-word blog post and then being told to sum it all up in 150 characters or less, including spaces.
It can feel like extra homework. Like you just painted a portrait of someone’s family only to have the patron hand you a pencil and say, “Great! Now can we get that in stick figure form? You know, like you see on bumper stickers?”
To writers who feel this way, we’re here to assure you that meta descriptions are important.
They help search engines (and searching humans) understand what your content is about. Done right, good meta descriptions increase organic traffic and, ultimately, lead to more eyeballs reading your words.
If you’re still skeptical, just remember that the strong majority of top-ranking webpages contain well-written, helpful, and interesting meta descriptions, so yours should too.
What exactly are meta descriptions?
In addition to helping people understand what your content is about, meta descriptions are an opportunity to pitch readers on why they should care about what you’ve written.
It allows them to gauge how relevant your insights are to what they searched for beyond a brief headline.
Imagine if you Googled something, and all that appeared on the search results page was a long list of links.
Sure, you’d probably be able to sift through and parse out which pages would provide an answer to your query, but even that would be a gamble. It would be like going to see a movie without watching the trailer, enrolling at a school without touring the campus, or signing a lease to a new apartment sight unseen.
The point is people need a little more, even if it’s just a sentence or two summarizing what lies beyond a hyperlink.
That’s the value that meta descriptions provide: a short, helpful, and attractive sneak peek of a webpage’s content.
Sounds simple, right? In some ways, yes. However, as with everything else in this industry, it really goes as deep as you want it to.
Leave it to marketers to make a whole science out of typing 150 characters.
That said, there absolutely is a whole science to typing 150 characters. We wouldn’t be writing a whole blog on the subject if there weren’t a slew of ways to make each letter count.
The first of which is to quit trying to outmaneuver the robots and just focus on standing out to human readers.
Help technology help you by helping people.
1. Make your meta descriptions appeal to users, not just algorithms
For the longest time, it felt like the sole purpose of search-engine-oriented writing was to outsmart Google and magically jump up in the rankings.
For things like titles and meta descriptions (and the now-extinct meta keywords), this meant cramming in as much SEO-friendly fodder as the character count specs would allow.
Whether or not people genuinely found what you wrote interesting or even good took a backseat to the almighty algorithm.
Fortunately, Google’s programming has evolved to a point where the eyes reading your content no longer play second fiddle to the bots crawling it. Or, at least, the gap separating the two has been closed somewhat.
Keywords are and always will be important, but keyword stuffing will actually hurt you more than it will help. The folks operating search engines have all but begged marketers to stop playing SEO algebra and just focus on publishing high-quality, helpful content since the snippets that they pull are largely dynamic and not always based on what you give them.
In fact, about 70% of high-ranking Google results contain descriptions that have been rewritten by Google and aren’t even true to the original, hard-coded copy. The purpose of these rewrites is to make content seem more relevant and exciting to searchers, thereby increasing the likelihood that they’ll click on it.
One notable caveat to this rule is high-traffic keywords. For terms and phrases that receive a significant volume of monthly searches, the original meta description is less likely to be altered.
For marketers, all of this means two things.
- Yes, you should still put effort into writing relevant descriptions.
- What you write may end up being edited by Google anyways
So instead of stressing over minute optimization, just try to make your content as helpful and interesting as possible while including the most relevant keywords.
That much should be common sense. People are compelled to explore things when they are presented with a compelling reason to do so. Therefore, taking the time to bolster your content with a thoughtful sentence or two is a light lift for you and a worthwhile SEO tactic.
2. Use meta descriptions as a second chance at a first impression
Meta descriptions should be concise, accurate, and relevant. However, once you’ve nailed down the character count (140-160) and gotten all of your keywords tastefully arranged, it’s okay to have a little fun. Let readers know that, despite seeming a little dry at first glance, your content is actually entertaining.
For example, your title may say something along the lines of “Top Industry Trends 2022,” which is objectively unexciting.
But then you can support it with a meta description that says, “Explore original insights and predictions from hundreds of hand-picked industry experts in this trends report that goes beyond your average Top 5 list.”
You can use your meta description to effectively say, “Hold on a minute there, friend, and hear us out. This resource that we’ve published is actually much more exciting than the title alone suggests.”
3. Avoid duplicate meta descriptions
Redundancies are bad for business when it comes to content marketing, both in terms of SEO and user trust.
Things like posting the same blog twice by accident, having two landing pages that contain 99% the same copy or the same hero image… These slipups, while understandable, are worth the extra care required to not make them.
Duplicate meta descriptions aren’t always your fault, though, which is what makes it tricky.
Sometimes, it’s not that you wrote the same description for two pages (although, don’t do that), rather it’s that you didn’t write a description at all. In these cases, an identical snippet can be pulled for two different pages.
The most bulletproof method for circumventing this problem entirely is by making sure you write unique meta descriptions that accurately convey the purpose of each page. In their own words, Google says, “make sure that every page on your site has a meta description.” So, don’t just take our word for it; this is what the search engine folks themselves are saying.
4. Try not to copy and paste snippets for your meta descriptions
Again, you’ve reached the end of an article. You’re tired. It’s tempting to just grab a sentence from the intro and paste it into the meta description field. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially if that sentence encapsulates the essence of the page. But it is a bit lazy and often doesn’t provide a sufficiently comprehensive picture of what readers can expect when they click your link.
It’s a good habit to actually take a moment to type out something original for the page description. Insert the right keywords, be descriptive, and really sell the content. An excerpt is just a snapshot. It’s a teaser, not a full trailer.
5. Think topically when writing meta descriptions
We’ve touched on how meta descriptions should be unique and specific but remember that the person searching for your content has other interests too. You can leverage their general area of interest by sprinkling in secondary, long-tail keywords in addition to your hyper-niche primary keywords to make the page more attractive to them.
If you’ve created buyer personas, think about the words and subjects that would compel that imaginary person to click on a link and use that information to strengthen your meta description. In other words, you say, “Here’s what this particular page is about, and here’s how it’s relevant to this field, industry, topic, etc.”
6. Tie your meta descriptions together with actionable language
Meta descriptions do two things: they describe what a page is about and why readers should care.
That second reason means that every description should contain some sort of CTA-style language that invites searchers to explore your content. Words and phrases like “discover x” and “learn more about y” remind users that this content is something that will actually benefit them. Actionable language builds momentum and helps nudge people towards your site once their interest has been piqued.
A summary about summaries
For content marketers, meta descriptions are more than just another box to check before hitting publish. They’re an opportunity to bolster the quality of your content and increase the odds that people will discover and read it.
Those 150 characters are a chance to sell what you’ve put so much effort into creating. It lets users and algorithms know what your website is about and what value can be gained by visiting it.
Start by writing something unique, genuine, and compelling. Then, optimize what you’ve written (as best you can without sacrificing quality) based on keyword research and character counts.
Put your audience first, and then worry about the technical specifications. And above all, write meta descriptions for all of your pages. Even if they’re not all perfect, they are essential.
If you want help optimizing your digital content or improving your creative process, our MarTech and production teams would be happy to chat. Reach out today to start building a more substantial online presence.