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 it in search results mostly when the searched-for phrase is within the description. So optimizing it is crucial for on-page SEO. In this post, I tell you the characteristics of a good meta description, and how Yoast SEO can help you with it.
What is a meta description?
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."/>
Its purpose is simple: it needs 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 rankings. This is why optimizing the meta description is so important, as is optimizing your titles.
Characteristics of a good meta description
Based on the research I did on this topic, as well as my experience, I came up with this list. Here are the elements you need to make a good meta description:
1. Keep it up to 155 characters
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. However, If you check the search results in Google, you’ll mostly see snippets of 120 to 156 characters, like in the example below.
Unfortunately, we can’t fully control what Google displays in the search results. Sometimes it decides to show the meta description, and sometimes it grabs some sentences of your copy. Either way, your best bet is to keep it short. That way, if Google does decide to show the meta description you’ve written, it will be shown fully.
2. Use active voice and make it actionable
If you consider the meta description the invitation to the page, you can’t just write “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.
The example in the image below is the kind of description you should strive to write. It’s active, motivating, and addressing you directly. You just know what you get if you click on the link!
3. Include 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. The meta description is your sales text. Except, in this case, the “product” you are trying to sell is the page that is linked. Invitations like Learn more, Get it now, Try for free come in handy and we use them too.
4. Use your focus keyword
If the search keyword matches a part of the text in the meta description, Google will be more inclined to use it and highlight it in the search results. This will make the link to your site even more inviting. Google sometimes highlights synonyms. In the example below, both Academy Awards and Oscars are highlighted. Getting your results emphasized like that can make them stand out even more.
5. Show specifications, where possible
If you have a product for the tech-savvy, it can be a good idea to focus on the technical specs. For example, you can include the manufacturer, SKU, price, things like that. If the visitor is specifically looking for that product, chances are you won’t have to convince them. As in the example below. The watch can help me stay fit? Sign me up, that’s all I needed to know. Note that to optimize your result, you should work on getting rich snippets.
6. Make sure it matches the content of the page
This is important. Google will find out if you use the meta descriptions to trick visitors into clicking. They might even penalize you if you do it. But apart from that, misleading descriptions will probably increase your bounce rate. It’s a bad idea for that reason alone. That is why you want the meta description to match the content on the page.
7. Make it unique
If your meta description is the same as those for other pages, the user experience in Google will be hampered. Although your page titles might vary, all pages will appear to be the same because all the descriptions are the same. Instead of creating duplicate meta descriptions, you’d be better off leaving it blank. Google will pick a snippet from the page containing the keyword used in the query.
How Yoast SEO helps you write meta descriptions
If you’re on WordPress and using Yoast SEO, adding a meta description is easy as pie. Firstly, you can write it in the Google preview section of the Yoast SEO meta box. But, Yoast SEO also gives you feedback on it in the SEO analysis. The plugin checks for two things, the meta description length and whether you’ve used your focus keyphrase. So let’s see how the plugin helps you, and what you can do with it.
What does the keyphrase in meta description assessment in Yoast SEO do?
This check is all about using the keyphrase in the meta description. A focus keyphrase is the search term you want a page to rank with. When people use that term, you want them to find your page. You base your keyphrase on keyword research. In a nutshell, after you do your research, you should end up with a combination of words that the majority of your audience is most likely to search for. I already mentioned that when you use your keyphrase in the meta description, Google will likely highlight it. That makes it easier for people to see that they’ve found what they are looking for.
Yoast SEO checks if and how often you use the words from your focus keyphrase in the meta description text. In addition, if you use Yoast SEO Premium, it also takes into account the synonyms you enter. If you overdo it, the plugin advises you to limit the use of your focus keyphrase.
How to get a green bullet for the keyphrase in meta description
If you don’t mention the keyphrase in the meta description at all, you’ll get a red bullet. So, make sure to write one. But, don’t stuff your meta description with your keyphrase, because that will also get you a red bullet. And, make sure to mention all the words from your keyphrase within one sentence, or you will see the red bullet again. Search engines are pretty smart nowadays, but you still need to make it very clear what your page is about.
Our Yoast SEO Premium plugin lets you enter synonyms and related keyphrases for your keyphrase. Then, it takes the synonym into account when it performs its analysis. If you’ve included your keyphrase and a synonym, that counts as two mentions. Use that! A few highlighted words draw more attention than just the one.
What does the meta description length assessment do?
This check measures whether your meta description is too short (less than 120 characters) or too long (more than 156 characters). When your meta description is the right length, you get a green bullet. If it’s too long, or too short, you get a red bullet in the SEO tab of the Yoast SEO meta box.
How to write a concise meta description
A good meta description convinces people that your page offers the best result to their query. But, to be the best result, you must know what people are looking for. What is their search intent? Are they looking for an answer to a question? If they are, try to give them the most complete answer. Are they looking for a product? Write down what makes your product stand out and why they would best buy it in your store. Be concise and convincing!
You get real-time feedback on the meta description length in the Google preview section in the Yoast SEO meta box. If you want to write a meta description, you should click on the “Edit snippet” button. If you do that, the snippet editor will open. You’ll see input fields to edit the SEO title, the slug and the meta description. When you start typing in the meta description input field, the snippet preview at the top of the snippet editor will also immediately show your new text. Underneath the input field, there is a bar. It’s orange when you start typing and will become green when you’ve added enough information, or red when you add too much text.
So, use the advice I gave you in this article, and start writing actionable, attractive short and sweet descriptions!
What to do if you need meta descriptions for a lot of pages?
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.
Meta descriptions 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.