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Meta Description

What is the Description Meta Tag?

This tag is used to briefly describe what the web page is all about. A few things to keep in mind about the description meta tag which is used by most search engines.

A meta description is also known as description meta tag, seo description, and page description.

Description Meta Tag Example

Here is an example of where the description meta tag is placed in an HTML document (when you look at the source code of a web page).

<html>
<head>
<meta name="description" content="Your site summary here">
</head>
<body>
</body>
</html>

The function of a meta description for your page is simple: its main purpose is to get someone searching on Google to click your link. In other words, meta descriptions are there to generate clickthroughs from search engines.

Search engines say there is no direct ranking benefit from the meta description – they don’t use it in their ranking algorithm. There is an indirect benefit, though: Google uses click-through-rate (CTR) as a way of determining whether you’re a good result.

Description Meta Tag Use

Normally the meta tag is invisible to the user but on many search engines the description shows up on a search engine results page as a summary. Since a potential customer may see this it is imperative the description be accurate. Note that the meta description is not used in page ranking.

They include:

SERP

<meta name="description" content="Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca site located...">

Meta description characteristics

Google will sometimes use the <meta> description tag from a page to generate a search results snippet, if we think it gives users a more accurate description than would be possible purely from the on-page content. A meta description tag should generally inform and interest users with a short, relevant summary of what a particular page is about. They are like a pitch that convince the user that the page is exactly what they're looking for. There's no limit on how long a meta description can be, but the search result snippets are truncated as needed, typically to fit the device width.

Make sure that every page on your site has a meta description. The HTML improvements page in Search Console lists pages where Google has detected missing or problematic meta descriptions.

Differentiate the descriptions for different pages. Identical or similar descriptions on every page of a site aren't helpful when individual pages appear in the web results. In these cases we're less likely to display the boilerplate text. Wherever possible, create descriptions that accurately describe the specific page. Use site-level descriptions on the main home page or other aggregation pages, and use page-level descriptions everywhere else. If you don't have time to create a description for every single page, try to prioritize your content: At the very least, create a description for the critical URLs like your home page and popular pages.

Include clearly tagged facts in the description. The meta description doesn't just have to be in sentence format; it's also a great place to include information about the page. For example, news or blog postings can list the author, date of publication, or byline information. This can give potential visitors very relevant information that might not be displayed in the snippet otherwise. Similarly, product pages might have the key bits of information—price, age, manufacturer—scattered throughout a page. A good meta description can bring all this data together. For example, the following meta description provides detailed information about a book.
<meta name="Description" content="Written by A.N. Author, 
Illustrated by V. Gogh, Price: $17.99, 
Length: 784 pages">
In this example, information is clearly tagged and separated.

Use quality descriptions.
Finally, make sure your descriptions are truly descriptive. Because the meta descriptions aren't displayed in the pages the user sees, it's easy to let this content slide. But high-quality descriptions can be displayed in Google's search results, and can go a long way to improving the quality and quantity of your search traffic.

Be Descriptive. The language in your meta description should introduce the user to what the page is about. In general terms, sketch out the page’s content. If the user is going to the trouble of clicking on it, he or she wants to make sure that the page really is about what they are interested in.

Be Persuasive. Great meta descriptions involve a touch of the persuasive. To get clicks, go ahead and tug a little bit. Some SEOs advocate using a call-to-action in the description. I’m not convinced that this is necessary; I do, however, recommend that you create a meta description that invites a response, even if it doesn’t directly call for it.

Inspire Curiosity. One of the most persuasive things you can do with your meta is to spark curiosity. This is particularly true for informational queries (as opposed to transactional queries). By the time a user finishes reading your description, they should be curious about what the page will say about the topic. You need to provide just enough information to explain what the page is about but not so much that it ruins the curiosity factor. It’s your sales text, where your product is the page that is linked, not the product on that page. Invitations like Learn more, Get it now, Try for free come to mind.

  • It should be actionable and written in an active voice.
    Of course it should. If you consider the meta description the invitation to the page, you can’t just make it “A mixed metaphor describing a non-existent, yet implicitly high level of qualification.” That’s a dull description. I’ll explain this further with some examples later on.
  • It should include a call-to-action.
    “Hello, we have such and such new product, and you want it. Find out more!” This overlaps what I said about the active voice, but I wanted to emphasize it. It’s your sales text, where your product is the page that is linked, not the product on that page. Invitations like Learn moreGet it nowTry for free come in handy here.
  • It should match the content.
    This is important. Google will find out meta descriptions that try to trick the visitor into clicking and might even penalize the site that do this. But apart from that, misleading descriptions will probably increase bounce rate and is a bad idea for that reason alone. You want the meta description to match the content on the page.
  • It should contain the focus keyword.
    If the search keyword matches text in the meta description, Google will be more inclined to use that meta description and highlight it in the search results and that will make the link to your site even more inviting.
  • The meta description should be unique.
    If your meta description is the same as those on other pages, the user experience in Google will be hampered. Although page titles might vary, all pages will appear to be the same because all the descriptions are the same. If you intentionally want/need/are tempted to create a duplicate meta description, you’d be better off leaving the description blank and Google will pick a snippet from the page containing the keyword used in a search. Visit Google Webmaster Tools > HTML Improvements or use Screaming Frog SEO Spider to check for duplicate meta descriptions.
  • Use The Right Words. The keywords may not matter for search engines, but they do matter for users. In order to be compelled to click, the user needs to see relevant words. These words should be associated with his or her query. The right words in the right places make the difference between a SERP entry that gets overlooked, and a SERP entry that gets a click.

    Make Them The Correct Length. If you write a meta description that is too long, Google will truncate it. The standard accepted length is 135 to 160 characters long. Unlike page titles, meta description cut-offs do not seem to be pixel-based in the same way that page titles are.

    Do Not Use Double Quotation Marks. Google will cut them off. If you deem quotes to be important in your meta description, use single quote marks.

    1. It could contain structured content.
      If you have a product for f.i. the tech-savvy, focussing on technical specs of the product could be a good idea. Manufacturer, SKU, price, things like that. If the visitor is specifically looking for that product, chances are you don’t have to convince him. Things like a price will trigger the click. Note that you could, of course, use rich snippets for this as well.

    Example

    In an active voice

    Get Yoast SEO for WordPress training. Nuff said.

    Including a call-to-action

    There are two, actually. ‘Learn more now’ and the site link ‘Buy Now $ 399.00’. Both encourage clicks.

    Including structured content

    8 MP Camera, that’s what I wanted to know. I don’t need that sales stuff here; I just want that phone.

    Containing the focus keyword

    And variations. Note that Google highlights Academy Awards as well when searching for Oscars. This will make your search result stand out even more.

     

    Allowable Punctuation

    Undefined

    If you don’t have time to create a description for every single page, try to prioritize your content: At the very least, create a description for the critical URLs like your home page and popular pages.

    What if I don't include a meta description?

    One will be chosen for you. Some bloggers and web site owners do not fill in meta descriptions and let the search engines decide what is best. I think this can be perilous and have unintended consequences so it is best do write a good description.

    In the end, meta descriptions are still a worthy thing to focus on in your overall SEO efforts. At the very least, you shouldn’t neglect them — your meta description is the only thing standing between a search result and a visitor.

    References

    Google on page descriptions

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