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."/>

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 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

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

meta description specifications

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

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. So they probably made something up for you, as they 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 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 »

Learn keyword research right!

  • Find your most effective keywords
  • Expert advice from SEO pro's at Yoast
  • Online & on-demand SEO training
  • Hands-on: start optimizing today!
More info

26 Responses to How to create the right meta description

  1. Paul Hayman
    Paul Hayman  • 6 days ago

    Thanks, for giving me a deep insight on making right meta descriptions. All of your tips are precise and crisp. I will surely implement these strategies in my future posts. Loved it!

  2. Amith Reddy
    Amith Reddy  • 1 week ago

    I always learn something new from these tutorials

  3. Jack Son
    Jack Son  • 1 week ago

    I am very happy about your meta description details because it has been a long discussion topic for years now. I am absolute with you that the authors should first look at 300 characters – but if there is anything else to say

  4. Digital Marketing Agency
    Digital Marketing Agency  • 2 weeks ago

    I have learned a lot about creating meta description. The discussion is very comprehensive. Good job.

  5. srborewells
    srborewells  • 2 weeks ago

    Great article
    Thank you for valiable information. Now i can create a accurate meta description.

  6. tauseef shah
    tauseef shah  • 2 weeks ago

    The meta description means a lot, since it tells search engines about your page.

  7. Syed Ahxn
    Syed Ahxn  • 2 weeks ago

    Great post! It’s time to change meta description of my web pages. :)

  8. Bikram Kalsi
    Bikram Kalsi  • 2 weeks ago

    Hello There,

    Very nice tutorial. Wanted to ask you one thing? If I use two seo plugin would that hurt the performance of the website?
    Squirlly SEO

  9. Daniel Parsons
    Daniel Parsons  • 2 weeks ago

    Enjoy your training tutorials. By following examples like this meta data article, I have increased the number of customers for my companies products. Thanks Yoast !

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 weeks ago

      That’s awesome! You’re welcome, Daniel.

  10. Devon
    Devon  • 2 weeks ago

    I thought the closer the keyword to the beginning of the description the better, so generally mine always start off the same. I will start changing them up more from now on.

  11. Freedygist
    Freedygist  • 2 weeks ago

    yes l know of this. but in some post creating a des. for them is exremely hard o

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 weeks ago

      Hi Freedy, Try to focus on what visitors can get out of the post or page. What will they find there and how will that help them? Hope this helps. Good luck!

  12. James Morazzini
    James Morazzini  • 2 weeks ago

    Good article. I always thought the meta description should be taken from the post itself. Now that I see it just needs to be an accurate description I can create better ones.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 weeks ago

      Hi James, Sure you can! Good luck!

  13. Michael Kohlfürst
    Michael Kohlfürst  • 2 weeks ago

    I am extremely happy about your meta description statement as this is a longterm discussion theme for years now. I am absolutely with you that writers should concentrate on the first 155 characters – but if there is more to say – do IT ! THX for that Michiel

  14. Erlend
    Erlend  • 2 weeks ago

    This was very useful, i did something similar before when i used “Frontpage” as a sitebuilder. I really miss that one. But maybe there is hope by doing it this way. I will certainly try it out.
    Thanks

  15. Mike
    Mike  • 2 weeks ago

    Great information. Still learning, so knowing to add key words to the META description should help. Keep up the tips.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 weeks ago

      Thanks, Mike!

  16. Sandra
    Sandra  • 2 weeks ago

    I like to print your articles to save and to also teach my daughter so she can manage my site. When I print your articles at the bottom of each page is your “privacy policy note about cookies etc” It shows up on every page I print and cuts off the bottom sentences of your article. I tried contacting you directly about that, but the response I received from you was “sorry, your subscription has expired so we won’t answer you”.
    I have been a Yoast user for over 10 years and have the premium version is this good customer service?

  17. Pedro
    Pedro  • 2 weeks ago

    Hello!

    Very useful article! I will for sure take it into consideration for my future posts.

    Reading the text has made me think of this, though: would you consider the meta description in taxonomies and tags as important as in posts and pages?

    One example: travel blog which categories are destinations. Each category, sub-category, etc., will be focused on the experiences, inspiration, resources… that took place in that particular destination. Would you still suggest to write unique, original descriptions, instead of a pattern like “in this section you will find all the […] of the beautiful Netherlands? (and change the destination for each category).

    Hope I explained myself.

    Thank you! :D

    • Michael Ligot
      Michael Ligot  • 2 weeks ago

      SEO experts recommend writing original meta descriptions for each page, instead of a template meta with given words changed. Apparently Google looks at that as lazy at best or spammy at worst. So it’s best to change things up for the different pages, like “See all the museums in the Netherlands”, “The Netherlands offers many great restaurants”, “Wondering what festivals happen in the Netherlands?”, and so on. It’s more work, but it looks better to Google.

      • Pedro
        Pedro  • 4 days ago

        Thanks for your replies, Michael and Willemien :-)

        I will certainly follow your advice!

      • Willemien Hallebeek
        Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 weeks ago

        Hi Pedro, we definitely recommend to create original ones. Not only for Google, but for your potential visitors as well. When you focus on something specific for that country it will be easier to entice people to click. If you have many tags and you want to prioritize, you could take a look at your Google Search Console data to see which tags rank highest and start from there.

  18. Durgesh
    Durgesh  • 2 weeks ago

    Really, It was very helpfull for me. I am a beginner so, after reading I understand very well how I should write meta descriptions.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 weeks ago

      Hi Durgesh, that’s great to hear!


Check out our must read articles about Content SEO