This post was originally published on December 10, 2014. It was updated and re-published on December 12, 2018.
There has been a long-standing debate about the purpose that meta descriptions serve in your SEO strategy. Some say that they are not required to boost your SEO efforts. Some say that they are in fact important ranking factors. Still others say that while they are not a crucial part of your strategy, they still play a valuable part in improving your click-through and overall appearance. Let’s take a look at what meta descriptions are, how they’ve evolved, and what they mean for your SEO.
Meta descriptions are the HTML summaries of your web page. In addition to appearing in your code, they can also be found in a user’s search engine results page (SERP) immediately following the clickable link. It’s the short paragraphs that you see on Google that let you know more about what information you can find on any given result page.
Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor. Google announced this in 2009, and this has not changed in the years since. So it is true that meta descriptions are not required to boost your SEO efforts. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t valuable tools in another regard.
Meta descriptions offer you an opportunity to target your content to searchers and let them know exactly whether the given page contains the information they are looking for. On today’s search engines, where the algorithm prioritizes giving searchers the result that match their intent, this will further help to increase your click-through rate and keyword marketing. Meta descriptions are the most important feature for improving click-through rates from search results pages, which is always the end goal. In addition, having a better click-through rate will improve your ranking.
So the real question is, how do you write exceptional meta descriptions that let the user know what the content is about, but also entices them to want to read more?
1. Stimulate Curiosity.
When a user finishes reading the description of your content, they should be left wondering what more you have to say about the topic. If your blog asks a question (“What’s the Difference Between D&O and E&O Insurance?”), you shouldn’t completely answer the question in your meta description, because then no one will feel the need to click. Let searchers know that your content has value, and will be beneficial for them to read.
2. Introduce the Content.
Your meta description should be just that: descriptive. The user needs to know what exactly the page is about. If they are going to make the effort to click on it, they want to make sure the page is really about what they’re interested in.
There are SEO experts that recommend using a call-to-action in the meta description. This may not be necessary, and in fact for certain insurance niches may come across as too much of a sales-pitch, however your meta description should invite a response, even if it doesn’t directly call for it. As mentioned in the first section, you want your searchers to know that you can bring them value if they just click on your site.
4. Be Relevant.
The words a user sees should be associated with their search query. The right words in the right places will make the difference between a SERP entry that gets overlooked, and one that gets a click. If someone searches a particular phrase, their search query will be bolded in search results when it appears. If you can make use of these key phrases, your site will stand out even more.
5. Make Them the Correct Length.
For years now, the ideal length for a meta description has been approximately 156-160 characters, or 130 characters on mobile results. In 2017, Google briefly expanded this to 300 characters, but has confirmed that it has once again shortened snippets. Anything longer than this would be cut off in the Google results. Google will cut off the description after this length, which can lead to a messy or misunderstood description of your content, and could limit the amount of click-throughs you receive. You don’t need to solve every problem in your meta description; that’s what your content is for. Keep your meta description short and sweet, and entice your readers to click for the full content.
Meta descriptions may not be one of Google’s 200 ranking factors, but smart use of meta descriptions can make great improvements in your click-through rates, which can in turn improve your ranking and your overall number of leads and conversions. You don’t have much room in your descriptions, so what you write has to count. Within 160 characters, make sure to provide a sneak peek of what your content will accomplish, encourage searchers to click, and make use of any relevant keywords.
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