When you type a query into Google, you will get search result pages full of listings. Traditional listings consist of three parts—the blue clickable text (the title tag), green text (the URL), and gray text (the meta description).
A listing’s meta description provides a concise summary of what that specific webpage is about. Think of meta descriptions like little snippet previews of the page’s content.
Not for Search Engines Specifically
While title tags are crafted to serve both the search engines and the user equally, meta descriptions are designed for the user first and foremost. In 2009, Google announced that meta descriptions do not factor into Google’s ranking algorithms for web search. However, while meta descriptions (or metas) do not influence rankings directly, they do impact rankings indirectly.
Metas influence people to click on your listing and enter your site. And a good clickthrough rate, paired with a nice amount of site engagement that results from your listing being what the user was looking for, influences rankings. Hence the importance of having well optimized metas.
SEO Best Practices
Meta descriptions crafted with SEO best practices can improve webpage click through rates. Aside from the obvious important factors of a well written meta (readable, compelling, etc.), it is vital to know the specifics that matter in terms of meta length, formatting, and what to write.
Meta descriptions should not go over 156 characters with spaces. Search engines generally truncate anything longer than that, cutting long metas off with ellipses. Google has updated its requirements in terms of length before, so this might not always be the case. (Pixel size is also taken into account, as some letters require more space than others. And character counts can vary for non-English languages.) But for now, stick with these limits and utilize that space wisely, otherwise your message will be incomplete.
Unlike title tags, meta descriptions should be written as complete sentences and use proper grammar and punctuation. The only exception here is in the case of capitalization. Just like with title tags, the first letter of each word in a meta description should be capitalized.
What To Write
Meta descriptions are your opportunity to advertise your webpage’s content. These short summaries influence clickthrough rate, helping users decide whether or not that webpage matches their search query. Each meta description (and title tag) on your site should be unique—crafted specifically to represent its page’s content. Overall, metas should be:
- Written like complete sentences
- Relevant to the webpage
- End with a call to action
- Utilize keywords
KEYWORDS IN QUERIES
When a person searches for something in Google, any keywords used in the query that are also used in your meta description will be bolded when your listing shows up in the search result pages. The bolded text draws the eyes of the user. Keep this in mind when writing your meta descriptions.
Always think about what people would naturally be searching for when you want them to come across your listings.
If a webpage does not have a meta description specifically formatted for it, the search engines will pull random bits of text from the site to create one for you. Since this type of override doesn’t ensure a description is correct in terms of length, formatting, and content, your resulting meta will likely not be great SEO-wise and will hurt your clickthrough rate and, thus, ranking.
Additionally, if you don’t have customized metas, social sites that share links to your webpage will pull random content to fill in metas in the same way – using the first text they can find on a page. As such, your page could be negatively affected in terms of the amount of shares and backlinks it incurs.
When Search Engines Do Whatever They Want
Every now and then a search engine might ignore a personalized meta. Search engines can be finicky like that – deciding what they think is best when it suits them. There is no consistency for when or why this happens, but it is not a frequent occurrence. Usually it happens when the search engine doesn’t think your customized meta matches the webpage content as well as it could. Thus, the search engine tries to craft one that it likes more, and that better matches the user’s search query. Again though, this is not a frequent occurrence.
Like any textual part of your site, the meta descriptions you craft should be written for search engine and user satisfaction, exhibit SEO best practices, and, of course, use compelling copy. Do them right, and metas can increase your clickthrough rate, direct users to your site who are more likely to be engaged with the content, and help you go up in the search result rankings.