Meta Descriptions

Meta Descriptions are snippets of text you place inside your website code, in the head of any html document.

They don’t directly influence page rank, so are not an SEO feature, but I’ll include them here and explain how you can leverage the rank status of your page to improve your chances of getting people to your website.

Like title elements, the Meta Description influences your Click-Through-Rate (CTR) and is another opportunity to convince the search engine user to visit your website, but it comes with a complication: You can’t make Google or Bing show your Meta Description in search results. The best you can do is engineer your Description to increase the likelihood that it will show.

Key functions of Meta Descriptions are:

  • Ideal Meta Descriptions are ones that render in search more often than dynamic snippets that Google swaps in
  • Succinctly state a benefit to the viewer for clicking through to your website to positively influence a click from search
  • State what it is you want the search engine user to do on this page: call, visit, shop etc so they know what to expect when arriving

Meta Descriptions are only useful to you if they render where someone can see them.

If most of your pages are not yet appearing on the first 2 pages in Google search, then there’s no stress in writing them just yet. You are much better off launching your site without them, than for them to be the thing that holds you back from launching.

Writing great Meta Descriptions can be very time consuming and requires a good grounding in SEO copywriting skills – an SEO service we specialise in.

While it’s a good idea to have one ready for your home page when you are about to launch your website, it’s not absolutely critical that you write them for all of your web pages.

This is because search engines like Google will extract text content from your page instead if it thinks the text is a better match to the search phrase being used.

Meta Description Length

There is a limit to the number of characters that can be rendered in Google search from a Meta Description encoded into your page, so it’s important to be aware of this length restriction before starting to write them for your pages.

The limit equates to 312 characters, including spaces, give or take a few, but it’s measured in pixels, in the same way that Title Elements are restricted (see Step 3).

Using all upper case will use more space than all lower case letters, so to get the most out of the available space, I recommend using standard sentence first word capital and proper noun first capital, but lower case for everything else.

If you’re aiming to use as much space as possible, avoid using a final full-stop as Google has an ellipsis rule that chops off the last word if any characters in that word passes the last available pixel mark.

In other words, any word passing the imaginary barrier where the Meta Description space runs out will get swapped for “…”. If it happened to be the full stop that crosses that line, then you lose the entire last word.

Generally, I advise writing a Meta Description that will comfortably fit within the allowed space, without you having to severely compromise the meaning of your message.

Meta Description Content

Keywords are an important inclusion for Meta Descriptions, not because they add to the SEO strength of the page, but because they are highlighted in Google search results in bold lettering.

Generally, the more bold lettering that appears in Google search results pages, the more it stands out that the web page may be relevant to the searcher and therefore influences Click Through to your page.

Google will bold any word that it deems to be a match to the search of the user, but this doesn’t mean the words match exactly – sometimes the matches are about the meaning of the search, and not the actual words themselves. For example the word ‘company’ may become bold in the search results if a search was made for ‘firm’ or ‘business’.

These matched meanings are determined by Google’s ‘Hummingbird’ algorithm that is designed to detect the meaning of a search and provide search results that are most appropriate, even if different wording was used.

For this reason, you should explore and make use of different phrases that could carry the same or similar meaning as your main keyword phrase when implementing SEO on any given page.

Calls to Action are an optional element that you should consider including in your Meta Description. In their most simplistic form, it’s an instruction to the viewer that tells them what you want them to do: ‘call us’, ‘visit here’, or ‘buy online’ for example.

Benefits are great to help convince the viewer that they have found the right place, but it’s sometimes difficult to predict exactly what kind of benefit the viewer is searching for.

Depending on what keywords your page is being optimised for, you can usually figure out what kind of benefit statement could work best, for example, a search for ‘cheap t-shirts’ could have a benefit statement that matches this meaning by saying something like: ‘save 50% on our latest range of t-shirts’.

The Ultimate Combination of Content in the Meta Description contains all three elements stated above.

Reverse Engineering the Meta Description

Here I will describe the steps to reverse engineer your Meta Description in order to increase the chances that it is rendered in Google search:

Step 1. Using your Google Search Console account, access the Search Queries report for your site and click on the ‘Top Pages’ tab. If you haven’t already got a Google Search Console account, set one up here.

Step 2. Take note of which pages are receiving the most impressions in Google search. Order the pages by most impressions first by clicking on the ‘Impressions’ column header. It’s most likely that your home page is the top page in the list.

Step 3. Click into the page in the ‘Page’ column to show a list of search phrases that this page is getting impressions for. Your page may be getting the most search impressions for a phrase like “cheap t-shirts”, for example.

Step 4. Search for the phrase you found to be first on the list and confirm if your Meta Description is showing. If it isn’t, carry on to Step 5. If it is, you needn’t do anything else.

Step 5. Re-write your Meta Description to use The Ultimate Combination of Content from the guidelines above.

Step 6. In Google Search Console, use the Fetch command to get the page crawled, and then submit the page for indexing.

Step 7. Sit back and wait. Your change to the Meta Description can take anything from 1 hour to several weeks to show up in Google search, but from now on, it’s more likely that your hand-crafted Meta Description renders in search results for searches that trigger an impression for your matching page. Test it by searching for “cheap t-shirts” (or whatever you reverse-engineered for) and confirm if your Meta Description shows in search.

Step 8. Do this for at least every page that is getting page 1 or page 2 search impressions in Google or Bing search.

Deploying Meta Description Spans

You can extend your Meta Description engineering to also include your content. This is recommended if your page is getting page 1 search impressions for more than 1 search phrase.

For example, you got page 1 impressions for “cheap t-shirts” and also “custom printed t-shirts”.

You can’t write two Meta Descriptions that both work, so instead you can leverage the fact that Google extracts page snippets that best match the search phrase.

To do this, write a second Meta Description sized piece of text so that it fits all the elements of length and content as described on this page. Paste that text into the body copy of your page as a text feature like a callout, quote, title or body copy element.

When the alternative text is searched, you will have increased the chance that a well-written Meta Description-like span is extracted and shown in Google search results.

Repeat as many times as you feel necessary to leverage search impressions and snippet extraction, but keep in mind that your page content should stay well structured, logical and engaging for your page visitors.

This is not likely to be necessary if your page already has a lot of great text content that’s both informative and engaging – Google already does a great job at extracting informaive snippets from context.