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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 the visitor from 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

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.

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.
  1. It should match the content.
    This is important. Google will find the meta descriptions that trick the visitor into clicking. It might even penalize the site that created the meta description. Next to that, it will probably increase bounce rate and is a bad idea just for that. You want the meta description to match the content on the page.
  1. 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. That will make the link more related already.
  2. The meta description should be unique.
    If your meta description is a duplicate, the user experience in Google will be less. Although page titles might vary, all pages seem the same as all descriptions are equal. If you intentionally want / need / are enticed to create a duplicate meta description, you’d better leave the description empty and have Google 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.

 

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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