by Matt Press

Updated: January 23, 2023

If you'd like to get more website traffic but you don't know where to start, then this is your lucky day.

There's one super-easy job that anyone can do which will make a huge difference... and it can work really fast, too.

It's all to do with meta descriptions.

Writing a killer meta description will only take a few minutes, so we've got an awesome guide for you, complete with easy-to-follow explanations and examples.

Are you ready?

What is a meta description?

Meta descriptions are the small snippets of information 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 on page one.

Here's the current meta description that shows up:

The Splash Copywriters meta description

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. 

Okay, so what's a meta tag then?

Well, 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=”The right words can transform any business. Instantly access over 40 years of copywriting business by calling us on 07812 581297 today.“/>

Now, don't worry if you're not much of a techie. As you'll see in a bit, you won't need to touch any coding when you're creating a meta tag. We just wanted to explain where the whole 'tag' thing comes from. 

Why you daren't ignore your meta descriptions

When it comes to reaching the top of page one and enjoying SEO success, clicks matter a lot to Google [and by the way, we're focusing on Google because 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 good guess and then analyses click-through data to determine how accurate it's been. Google then continually adjusts ranking positions to ensure that users are always being shown the best results. 

It's pretty simple. If something gets a lot of clicks, Google thinks it's chosen the right thing. If it doesn't, Google thinks it has got it wrong. 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 take a huge 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.

Remember your meta titles too

The meta title is simply the title that sits on top of the meta description and the pair should work in tandem:

A good meta title

Although shorter in length, they're displayed in a larger font and are more eye-catching, so these titles are important.

Collectively, descriptions and titles are often referred to as metadata.

Where do you create 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]. This is a WordPress site, so here's how the metadata for this very post appears:

Metadata displaying in Yoast

How long should a meta description be?

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:

Nescafe's meta description

How long should a meta title be?

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:

Meta title mistake

13 tips for creating awesome meta descriptions

Tip 1: Make your descriptions unique

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 shouldn't repeat themselves when creating metadata for pages which sell their razors or shaving products.

A description from Gillette that is unique

Tip 2: Use power words and leverage emotion

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.

A meta description from Cisco that uses power words and leverage emotion

Tip 3: Focus on a hook or USP

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, celebrity news and popular entertainment.

A description from MTV that mentions a USP

Tip 4: Showcase your brand identity

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.

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.

A meta description from Ruffles that shows some personality

Tip 5: Flag up any special offers

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. 

A description from Target that mentions special offers

Tip 6: Have a clear call-to-action

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.

A description from Disney that tells someone what to do

Tip 7: Have self-awareness: it's not all about you

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.

A description from ExxonMobil that offers no value

Tip 8: Don't try to say too much

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.

A meta description from Subway that tries to say too much

Tip 9: Preview your meta descriptions

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 since been improved, but it just goes to show that even the biggest brands get things badly wrong sometimes.

A meta description from Pepsi that doesn't make sense

Tip 10: Use PPC ad copy for inspiration

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.

An example of a PPC ad

Tip 11: Contain the focus keyword

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.

The metadata for my trade marketing post

Tip 12: Use an active voice

Business copy is usually trying to get people to do something, so business copy should always be in 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 can instantly see exactly what Kia is all about and what their options as a consumer are.

A meta description from Kia that uses an active voice

Tip 13: Represent the content accurately

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.

A meta description that specifically refers to a blog post

A word of warning

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 ignore the information that we supply.

Quite when and why 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 totally helpful.

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. For a while Google didn't display the meta description we wrote for our homepage. Instead it chose to show something else:

The Splash Copywriters meta description that we didn't write

This was obviously a little annoying, since we offer much more than just SEO copywriting services.

But this has now been changed, which shows how Google tests everything. So, even if it doesn't display what you want it to, things will probably work out okay.

Remember that, ultimately, Google is trying to help.

In this case, we can see that it doesn't make sense to show information about SEO copywriting for a generic query for "copywriters". The result doesn't seem to answer the searcher's request well... and Google eventually realised.

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.

Don't leave money on the table

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 be creative.

Want to talk about how we could transform your business?