How to create the right meta description

The meta description is a snippet of up to about 155 characters – a tag in HTML – which summarizes a page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched-for phrase is within the description, so optimizing the meta description is crucial for on-page SEO.

What does a meta description do?

The meta description is an HTML tag, which looks like this in the HTML code for the page:

<meta name="description" content="A page's description, 
  usually one or two sentences."/>
An example meta description from yoast.com as seen in the search results
An example meta description from yoast.com as seen in the search results

The purpose of a meta description for your page is simple: to get someone searching on Google to click your link. In other words, meta descriptions are there to generate click-throughs 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. But there is an indirect benefit: Google uses click-through-rate (CTR) as a way of working out whether you’re a good result. If more people click on your result, Google considers you to be a good result and will – based on your position – move you up the ranks. This is why optimizing the meta description is so important, as is optimizing your titles.

Adding the date to the snippet preview

People often ask questions about the option ‘Date in snippet preview’ which you’ll find in the Search appearance section of our Yoast SEO plugin. If you choose ‘show’, it ‘ll just add the date in the snippet preview in our plugin, not to Google!

But it will help you decide on the right length of your meta description, as your description may be cut short if Google adds publish dates to your articles. So check if Google does that first! If it does, select ‘show’.

Characteristics of a good meta description

Just about every article on meta descriptions will include some of these, but I have combined all characteristics that make sense to me here:

1. Up to 155 characters – and sometimes more

The right length doesn’t really exist; it depends on the message you want to convey. You should take enough space to get the message across, but keep it short and snappy at the same time.

Every now and then, Google changes the length. Nowadays, you’ll mostly see meta descriptions of up to 155 characters, with some outliers of 300 characters. At least, try to get crucial information in the first 155 characters of your meta description.

2. Actionable and written in an active voice

Of course, it should. If you consider the meta description the invitation to the page, you can’t just make it “A mixed metaphor describing a non-existent, yet implicitly high level of qualification.” That’s a dull description and people won’t know what they’ll get. I’ll explain this further with some examples later on.

3. Including a call-to-action

“Hello, we have such and such new product, and you want it. Find out more!” This overlaps what I said about the active voice, but I wanted to emphasize it. It’s your sales text, where your product is the page that is linked, not the product on that page. Invitations like Learn moreGet it nowTry for free come in handy here.

4. Containing the focus keyword

If the search keyword matches a part of the text in the meta description, Google will be more inclined to use that meta description and highlight it in the search results. This will make the link to your site even more inviting.

5. Possibly showing specifications

For example, if you have a product for the tech-savvy, focusing 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 won’t have to convince them, and the presence of information like the price will trigger the click. Note that you could, of course, try to get rich snippets for this as well.

6. Matching the content

This is important. Google will find out when meta descriptions trick visitors into clicking and might even penalize the sites that do this. But apart from that, misleading descriptions will probably increase the bounce rate. It’s a bad idea for that reason alone. You want the meta description to match the content on the page.

7. Unique

If your meta description is the same as those for other pages, the user experience in Google will be hampered. Although page titles might vary, all pages will appear to be the same because all the descriptions are the same. If you intentionally want/need/are tempted to create a duplicate meta description, you’d be better off leaving the description blank. Google will pick a snippet from the page containing the keyword used in the query.

Visit Google Webmaster Tools > HTML Improvements or use Screaming Frog SEO Spider to check for duplicate meta descriptions.

Examples of a good meta description

While researching this post I read many articles covering meta descriptions, and while I found plenty of wisdom, there were almost no examples. But there’s nothing like actual examples to make it easier for you to learn to construct a proper meta description. Let’s take a look at a few, taking the seven numbered points above into account:

The right length

puppy training example meta description right length

This meta description describes what you’ll find on the page and stays within 155 characters.

In an active voice

Active, motivating and addressing you directly. And you’ll know what you’ll get!

Including a call-to-action

example meta description call to action

‘Learn how to use it to your advantage’; that’s the call-to-action!

Including specifications

meta description specifications

The electrical heart sensor, that’s what I wanted to know. I don’t need that sales stuff here; I just want that watch.

Containing the focus keyword

example meta dscriptions focus keyword and synonym

The focus keyword and variations: note that Google sometimes highlights synonyms like [Academy Awards] as well when searching for [Oscars]. This will make your search result stand out even more.

Want to see this in your own snippet preview as well? In Yoast SEO Premium you can add synonyms of your focus keyword.

Adding a meta description with Yoast SEO

editing the meta description in the Yoast SEO snippet preview
In the ‘Meta description’ field in the snippet preview in Yoast SEO, you can enter and edit your meta description.

If you’re on WordPress and using Yoast SEO adding a meta description is easy as pie. You can create it in the Yoast SEO snippet editor, just like the SEO title and slug. Moreover, you can check immediately what it looks like in the snippet preview:

Want more of this? Marieke also wrote a detailed explanation on how to create awesome meta descriptions with Yoast SEO.

I’ve got lots of pages; where to start?

Do you feel like you need to change all your meta descriptions? But not sure how to fit that in your schedule? Google has the answer:

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.

You can check which of your pages rank highest with Google Search Console. Simply take it from there. And be sure to add meta descriptions to all-new content from now on.

Troubleshooting meta descriptions

I’m sure you can think of others, but I think these are the two main issues:

1. My meta description isn’t showing

Your meta description is a suggestion to Google. There’s no guarantee that it’ll actually be shown. So, if you don’t see your description, that means Google probably made something up for you. Perhaps it felt the meta description you created didn’t represent the content of the page, or is a duplicate, for instance. Here you’ll find all the possible reasons why your meta description doesn’t show.

2. Another description for social sharing?

Do you have Yoast SEO? In that case: check the social tab in the Yoast SEO meta box below your post or page. You can add a separate description for your social media channels there. In Yoast SEO Premium, you even have social previews! If you don’t have Yoast SEO, add OpenGraph tags or Twitter Cards to your website and use any description you want.

Read more: How to optimize a blog post »

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19 Responses to How to create the right meta description

  1. adbell media
    adbell media  • 3 weeks ago

    this line is so good (If you intentionally want/need/are tempted to create a duplicate meta description, you’d be better off leaving the description blank) yes, right, sometimes meta description like a title.

  2. John Bhai
    John Bhai  • 3 weeks ago

    I am using Yoast since 2013 and I am happy with it and now I am going to buy premium.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 weeks ago

      That’s awesome, John. Thanks a million and I hope you enjoy all the extra features!

  3. IMG Global Infotech
    IMG Global Infotech  • 3 weeks ago

    I have a blog website and I have optimized meta description of each and every page. My site ranks higher in google search results only because of the meta I have optimized properly even I hadn’t build backlinks yet. Thanks to YoastSEO and for the wornderful article.

  4. Benny
    Benny  • 3 weeks ago

    Great article. Yoast is doing a great job in SEO for websites. Analysing competitors meta may helpful for avoiding duplicates meta.

  5. Jody Flores
    Jody Flores  • 4 weeks ago

    I’m definately impressed with this article. I changed the name of my website and now have to go through all of my titles and meta descriptions and change them. I’m hoping I’m succeeding, after reading this article i’m pretty sure i’m getting it right. It looks like (when doing a google search) the meta descriptions are longer on mobile vs computer…. Is that correct?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 weeks ago

      Hi Jody, Perhaps this article helps: https://yoast.com/snippet-variables/ With Yoast’s snippet variables you can set fixed elements of your titles, so you won’t have to go through them one by one! And about the length, we actually experience the opposite, on desktop the appear to be longer than on mobile. Good luck with your site!

  6. jeena
    jeena  • 4 weeks ago

    Hi,
    Such a helppful post!!I am a new learner.I just knew from your post about Containing the focus keyword.I just wanna know that if there is any specific number of focus keywords I could use in meta description?and using many keywords will create any problem??

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 weeks ago

      Hi Jeena, Well, you wouldn’t want to stuff keywords into your meta description… If you want your audience to click on your result, it’s better to select the most important one and craft a nice and enticing sentence with it!

  7. Erik van Hilten
    Erik van Hilten  • 1 month ago

    Nice article but why put Yoast

    <meta name=" description" and not <meta name="description"

    Now no meta discription is recognized by Google

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 weeks ago

      Hi Erik, Thanks for your question! Where have you seen this? If we check the source code it all seems fine :-)

  8. general4
    general4  • 1 month ago

    The snippet preview for our home page is showing an incorrect image. How do I fix this. Im able to select a specific image for facebook and twitter, but not the default. This causes an issue when I share the page on linkedin. It shows the incorrect image

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 weeks ago

      Hi! The snippet preview takes the featured image of the post or page. Perhaps you haven’t set that on your homepage? If you can’t do that, setting a Facebook image should solve the issue of showing the wrong image on LinkedIn too!

  9. Nick Stamoulis
    Nick Stamoulis  • 1 month ago

    Meta descriptions are an essential component of any SEO strategy. They can help websites control what Google has to say about a certain page and it could help search engine users make the decision as to whether they will click on your link or not.

  10. karina
    karina  • 1 month ago

    Hello Joost,
    I’m a user of Genesis Framework on my travel blog and for the destination pages (like a country page) I use a combination of custom taxonomies (to create the destination, instead of using a “normal” category) + custom fields (to insert the additional info I’d like to display) + Genesis Simple Hooks plugin + php code to display that info (text + images) before the posts. Does it make sense? (For example, this is the page for Portugal, displaying that additional country info + available posts: ( https://kawalk.com.br/destinos/portugal/

  11. Rohan
    Rohan  • 1 month ago

    Hi,

    I have a blog website. I was wondering whether to implement AMP. Is it true that AMP makes keyword to rank faster and it has a direct correlation in ranking at the top page?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 weeks ago

      Hi Rohan, Thanks for your question. Well, it takes more than just AMP to rank on top… but it might give you an advantage because you’ll have a very fast loading version of your post. Implementing isn’t that hard on WordPress with the official AMP plugin. Here you can read everything about it: https://yoast.com/setting-up-wordpress-for-amp-accelerated-mobile-pages/

  12. sadanand
    sadanand  • 1 month ago

    Hello sir, I am also a blogger but I have written a lot of blogs but I do not know how to write content like you. Help some