January 22, 2016 | Sarah Danks
Today’s “workout” is simple: it’s time to exercise your website’s meta descriptions. Take a few minutes to look at them…
…how do they look? Are they well-written? Do you even use them?
And, why do they even matter?
Do meta descriptions even matter?
Meta descriptions are an important part of a page’s snippet in the search engine results page (SERP). While many marketers argue that they don’t get weighted into the overall algorithm for ranking purposes, meta descriptions DO muscle their way into a user’s thinking process of whether or not to click on your result over someone else’s.
And, since user behavior is so important to search engines — especially Google — doesn’t it stand to reason that descriptions ARE considered in the ranking process?
Regardless of whether or not you think they’re a ranking factor, it’s important to take the time to write a clear, concise and descriptive meta description to entice users to click.
And it’s always a good idea to wade in there and give them a lift from time to time.
How and where can I change meta descriptions?
If you’re using a popular CMS for your website, such as WordPress, you most likely have some type of plug-in (we love Yoast) for your “meta data.” In that case, adding/changing your meta descriptions is very easy.
Simply scroll to the bottom of your page in the Edit view and voilà! There it is.
If you’re not a WYSIWYG fan, you can always wade into the code to change the descriptions. PS: you’ll want to work with the <meta name=”description” content=””> section!
Great! Now that you know WHERE to write and change your meta descriptions, what the heck do you put in that box?
Well, that IS the question. Here’s the thing (there’s always a thing): you really can’t mess this up. Especially in Yoast, which tells you exactly how many characters you have left (or have gone over) so as to show the entire meta description in the SERP snippet — previously the limit was ~150-160 characters, these days it’s a whopping 320 characters.
Doesn’t get much easier than that!
What do I write about in my meta description?
It shouldn’t be hard to craft a succinct description of each of your website’s pages. Think of it like a tiny book report — you want to touch on the important parts. Basically, you want to write a more in-depth description than is possible to squeeze into your <title> tag.
If you can throw some type of incentive in there, go for it — i.e., if you offer free consultations, free shipping, etc.
For example, here’s our home page meta description:
“ThinkSEM is a Minneapolis search marketing firm focused on PPC (Google AdWords Premier Partner) management & responsive web design. Call us at 651-200-3831 to talk about how we can help your online marketing program.”
Is it brilliant? Nope. Is it straightforward, succinct, tells what we do and gives people a way to contact us? Yup. It’s not rocket science, and the great thing about these descriptions is you can change them quickly and easily as needed.
Or sometimes it’s just good to re-shape them a bit. (I just re-wrote a few of ours today — not that there was anything wrong with them from before; we just happen to wander in and refresh them every so often.)
Keep in mind, even if you re-write all the meta descriptions across your site, it’ll take the search engines a bit to catch up — indexing isn’t instant so don’t be alarmed if it takes a while for your newly strengthened descriptions to show up in the SERPs.
Do the meta descriptions I write always show in the SERPs?
Here’s the kicker — there are times when search engines decide what to show as a description in the search snippets. If there’s no meta description provided, OR if search engines don’t think the provided description relates well enough to the keyword query, they’ll pull relevant text off the page and show it, as seen here in a search for horse boarding in Minnesota:
You might think, “but those meta descriptions look okay…”
In the first listing, the provided meta description is <META NAME=”description” content=”Dakota Stables horse boarding.”>, which doesn’t give users (or search engines, frankly) a lot of information. So, Google has decided to pull the first couple of sentences in as a meta description instead, since that text is more informative.
The second listing doesn’t even have a meta description, so again Google’s pulled text from the page.
The third listing does have a custom meta description: <meta name=”description” content=”We are a small boarding and training facility located just north of the twin cities. We have a 6-stall barn, round pen for training and 10 acres of lush pasture for grazing.”>, and while it’s well-written, notice how Google has replaced it with snippets of text from the page that include the search terms I used.
The fourth listing also provides a custom description: <meta name=”description” content=”Best Horseback Riding in Minnesota. Pasture Boarding too! Please Call the Ranch for trail riding reservations or more info. Carver, Minnesota 952-361-3361″/>, but it, too, has been replaced with what Google thinks is more relevant information from the page (again, based on the query I used).
The fifth listing doesn’t have a meta description.
So, you see, search engines don’t always show custom-written meta descriptions. They *mostly* will, but it’s still a best practice to craft a customized description for each page, or you run the risk of relying on search engines choosing a description for your pages every time they show in the SERPs.
To Cool Down…
It’s important to exercise those meta descriptions to ensure you’re giving yourself the best chance for a click-through in the search engine results.
In conclusion, you want to be sure to do a few things:
- Write clear, descriptive text that describes each page
- Keep the description as short as you can to fit within the search snippets’ limits
- If you have offers/specials, include those to entice the click
- Create custom tags for every page, but know they MAY not show 100% of the time
- If content changes on the page, be sure to update descriptions to match
So there you have it — a simple guide to writing custom meta descriptions. Hope it works out for you!