SEO | Approximate reading time: 12 mins
Written by Matt Press
Last updated: 28 August, 2019
If you'd like to get more website traffic but you don't know where to start, then this is your lucky day.
There might be a lot to SEO, but there's one super-easy job that anyone can do. And it can work really fast, too. Writing a killer meta description will only take a few minutes and we've got an awesome guide for you to follow, complete with examples.
When you're done, you could see some amazing results in just a few days.
Ready to dive in?
Meta descriptions are the small snippets of copy that display in a set of search results.
Whenever a keyword or phrase is entered into a search engine, you're met with up to 10 different options on every page - each with their own brief description. Search engines display this info to try and make things easier for the user.
The idea is that searchers can use these couple of sentences to help them decide what to click on.
In reality though, most website owners don't understand the value of meta descriptions. They either write poor ones or just totally ignore them. Either way, this gives you a massive opportunity.
People are waiting to be led, traffic is ready to be converted and profit is there to be taken.
If you fire up Google and enter the term "copywriters", you should see the Splash Copywriters website at or near the top of the search results. Here's the meta description for our homepage:
From web pages to PDFs, meta descriptions can be created for all types of content. And no matter what you publish, the sole purpose of this copy is to persuade searchers to click on your result over someone else's.
Compare the results in the example above. If you were looking for a copywriter, which description is most helpful? Which one are you drawn to? Which result is most likely to attract interest?
A meta description is also sometimes referred to as a meta tag.
This is because the copy is effectively invisible and doesn't exist anywhere on the page it's describing. Instead, it's entered into your website's content management system [CMS] and lives as a bit of html code in the page header.
In that sense, it's kinda 'tagged' onto the content.
With our homepage example, the piece of code reads:
<meta name=”description” content=”We are masters of psychological copywriter. If you'd like influential and persuasive words to transform your business, call us today on 07812 581297.“/>
But don't worry if you're not much of a techie. We just wanted to explain where this alternative name comes from. As you'll see in a bit, you won't need to touch any coding when you're creating a meta description.
When it comes to reaching the top spots and enjoying SEO success, clicks matter a lot to Google [and let's focus on Google, since it handles 5.6 billion searches every day and boasts the overwhelming market share].
Google measures content against different criteria when it's deciding which web pages to position where. It basically comes up with a best guess... but things don't stop there.
It constantly analyses click-through data to determine how good it's guesses are and adjusts ranking positions accordingly to ensure that users are being returned the optimal results.
If something gets a lot of clicks, Google thinks it's providing value. If it doesn't, Google thinks it isn't providing value. Basically, all things being equal, the more clicks your web page gets, the higher it will rank.
Content is continually being moved up and down. There's no point in keeping a web page in 1st position if no one clicks on it. Or in having something stay in 8th spot if it's hoovering up traffic like there's no tomorrow.
This constant monitoring makes perfect sense, because Google's mission is to surface the best results possible for each search.
If they display irrelevant or low-quality results, that's no good for searchers. Eventually, they'd start using another search engine, Google's ad revenues would be hit and their whole business would be at risk.
So, clicks matter. And because meta descriptions can influence clicks, that makes meta descriptions hugely important.
The better your descriptions, the more clicks you'll get. The more clicks you get, the higher your page will rank. Higher ranking positions means more traffic and more traffic means more leads, customers and profit.
Spending some time this is a no-brainer. It's a genuinely small job that could dramatically transform your business.
The meta title is simply the title that sits on top of the meta description and the pair should work in tandem:
Although shorter in length, they're displayed in a larger font and are more eye-catching, so these titles are important and you should work on these too.
Collectively, the descriptions and titles are often referred to as metadata.
Every CMS should allow users to assign meta descriptions and titles. In WordPress, they'll live within whatever SEO plug-in you're using [such as Yoast].
Typically, you don't want to be exceeding 160 characters. There is no official guideline, but 155-160 characters is widely accepted to be the optimal length. Write anymore than that and you risk having your description truncated like this:
As far as meta titles are concerned, these should be 50-60 characters long. Again, if your title contains too many words then it won't fit or make much sense to searchers:
This is less of a tip and more of a mandatory rule. Make sure you create different meta descriptions for every
piece of content on your website. Take a look at Gillette's description below. There's nothing fundamentally wrong
with it, but it's the type of copy that you'd expect to see on a product page. They'll have to be careful not to repeat
themselves when creating metadata for any pages that sell any of their razors or shaving products.
Certain words and phrases will hit home with your target audience and it's vital to use emotive copy when people
first come into contact with your brand. Ultimately, we all buy stuff because we want or need something that's important
to us. Try to use this desire to your advantage and create a meta description that strikes deep into your ideal customer.
Cisco are pretty bold and go straight for the jugular as they describe their core message.
Every business has some sort of hook or unique selling point to talk about. Do you offer the best product or
service on the market? Perhaps you're the cheapest? What can people get from you that they can't find anywhere else?
Maybe you've just got a really interesting backstory about why your company was created in the first place.
MTV do a good job of positioning themselves as the place to go for music and entertainment.
Competition is rife in every market, so it's important to stand out. And whilst meta descriptions are important to
your business, there's no reason why you can't have a bit of fun with them. Take a look at the description for Ruffles'
homepage. It's not very salesy, but it's eye-catching and makes you smile. Could it influence clicks? Unleash your creativity
and find out. All it takes is a test - you can always change it back again, so you've nothing to lose.
Don't be backward in showcasing your latest deals. Imagine if you were looking to buy a sofa.
You do an online search and out of all the results, one meta description mentions that you can get free delivery
on orders over $25. That wouldn't probably be enough to get a click, wouldn't it? As you can see, Target understands
that online margins are fine and they're leaving nothing to chance. Neither should you. Shout from the hills.
If you'd like your audience to do something, then say so in your description. People like to be led, so be forthright.
There's no messing around with Disney's copy - they lead with a direct instruction and if they can do it, so can you.
Having a CTA injects a bit of urgency into proceedings, which is a good thing because when we're shopping for something,
we all want things yesterday. Capitalise on this mindset with a laser-focused approach.
Meta descriptions are intended to help consumers - it isn't an opportunity to talk generically and blandly about your
business. Check out the ExxonMobil effort below. There's precisely nothing about this copy that's geared towards providing
value for their audience. In fact, it contains completely irrelevant information. No one's interested in company structures at
the search stage and taking this route is risky. Don't make the same mistake.
If your business offers multiple products or services, then you must focus. Don't try to say everything under the sun.
Just put yourselves in your customers' shoes, look at the page you're describing and work out what you would need to read
to get a click. Subway's meta description goes way off tangent. Market overviews and seminars? Doesn't it just sell yummy
sandwiches? Talk about missing a trick. Imagine how many sales they're missing out on.
Use this tool to play around with your copy and see what your metadata will look like when it's live. It will tell
you when you've gone over the character limit, it's ideal for spotting typos and a new backdrop will make it easier to see
where you could tidy things up. Maybe drinks giant Pepsi should have used it. This description has now been improved, but
it just goes to show that even the biggest brands get things badly wrong sometimes.
Struggling to create copy? Just enter a relevant keyword into Google and look at the ads. Because ads need to be
profitable, you can safely assume that the words and phrases in them probably resonate with people. Take some of the
copy, improve on it where possible and incorporate it into your meta description. This is a great hack for defeating writers'
block, if you're not really into copywriting or if you're short of time.
Do some keyword research and, where possible, include this keyword in your meta description. It doesn't help
with SEO, but the term will be in bold after a search has been made. That will make your description stand out amongst
the rest. The article below targets the keyword "trade marketing". We've included it in our copy so that when a user enters
this keyword, their eyes are drawn to our result. It simply intimates relevancy from the off.
Business copy is usually trying to get people to do something, so copywriting should always use an active voice.
Take a look at the great job Kia has done with their meta description. This combines an active voice with nice, simple
language that is very easy to understand. Kia isn't going to lose any potential leads because of lack of clarity. Anyone
looking for a new car knows exactly what Kia is all about and what their options are.
It's vital that your meta descriptions describe the respective content well. Don't be tempted to try to force irrelevant
information into an unrelated description. Use the description below as an example. This is for a blog post, the description
must be about the content on that page [and not the copywriting services we offer as a business]. For Google, that would
be irrelevant. Concentrate on providing value and increasing interest, not making a sale.
What we're doing by creating meta descriptions is hedging our bets. Search engines want them and if we supply them, they'll most likely be used. However, that's not 100% guaranteed to happen.
Search engines may overrule what we supply.
Quite when that happens, is hard to say. However, most SEO experts seem to think this usually occurs when a search engine thinks a page might be relevant to the user's query, but the supplied meta description isn't.
In this situation, the search engine will will trust its interpretation of the page and take a snippet of copy from the page to use as the description instead. Which is a good thing, because it means that we've not potentially missed out on website traffic.
But sometimes there won't be an obvious reason as to why a meta description isn't being used. When we last redesigned the Splash Copywriters website, we came up with a new description, yet Google initially chose to display something else:
The meta description we wrote was swapped out for some copy from our homepage. Now, as much as we love being right at the top of the results and included as a featured snippet, it's a little annoying, since we offer much more than just SEO copywriting services.
And it's interesting to think about why Google thinks it's correct to show information about SEO copywriting for a generic query for "copywriters". The result doesn't seem to answer the searcher's request well.
Things like this are usually short-lived tests. It's machine-learning, really. Google will constantly measure the effectiveness of the copy used in these snippets and work out what's best for everyone. Hopefully it'll use what we wrote in time and we'll retain our position.
Regardless, such situations are out of our control though, so don't sweat it. All we can do is represent our content accurately and let the search engines figure everything out.
If one of your web pages has shown up in a search, then someone is tantalising close to finding your business. They could turn into a lead or customer, so you don't want to waste this opportunity.
That's reason enough for coming up with good meta descriptions.
But a meta description also has enormous sway when it comes to encouraging people to click on your web page.
In turn, that could create a self-fulfilling, exponential effect - your SEO will continually improve and you'll get more traffic. More leads, customers and profit on autopilot? That dream could be closer than you think.
Get going today. And remember that meta descriptions can be swapped out at any time, so you can test out anything.