How to create the right meta description

The meta description summarizes a page’s content and presents that to users in the search results. It’s one of the first things people will likely see when searching for something, so optimizing it is crucial for SEO. It’s your chance to persuade users to click on your result! This post will show you the characteristics of a good meta description and how Yoast SEO can help you get it right.

Table of contents

Did you get a red traffic light for the keyphrase in the meta description check in Yoast SEO? Read what this check does, and how to turn this traffic light green. Yoast SEO also checks the length of your meta description. Read about how that check works, and how to write a concise meta description.

What is a meta description?

The meta description is an HTML tag you can set for a post or page of your website. In it, you can use roughly 155 characters to describe what your page is about. If you’re lucky, Google will show it beneath your page’s title in the search results. It allows you to convince search engine users that your page will offer what they are looking for.

In Google’s search results, this is where it can be displayed:

An example of a meta description in Google Search showing a post on yoast.com
A meta description from yoast.com, as seen in the search results

And this is what it looks like in the HTML code of the page:

<meta name="description" content="Do you want people to click on your search result? Learn how to write the best meta description. Including 7 characteristics and examples!" />

Why set a meta description?

The purpose of a meta description is simple: it needs to get someone searching with a search term 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 SEO 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) to determine 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 your meta description is important, as is optimizing your titles.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that Google will display the description that you’ve written. But, as there is a chance it will, it’s always worth the effort to add it to your post or page.

In this Yoast SEO academy video, Fleur will explain how titles and meta description help increase your visibility on Google:

What does a good meta description contain?

Here’s a list of elements you need to write a good meta description:

  1. Keep it up to 155 characters
  2. Use an active voice and make it actionable
  3. Include a call to action
  4. Use your focus keyphrase
  5. Show specifications when needed
  6. Make sure it matches the content of the page
  7. Make it unique

Let’s go over them in detail!

1. Keep it up to 155 characters 

The right length doesn’t exist; it depends on the message you want to convey. You should take enough space to convey the message but keep it short and snappy. However, if you check the search results in Google, you’ll mostly see snippets of 120 to 156 characters, like in the example below. Google says you can make your meta descriptions as long as you want, but there is a limit to what we can see in the SERPs — and that’s around 155 characters; anything longer will get truncated.

This search result from a Yoast SEO user shows a succinct meta description in Google

Unfortunately, you can’t fully control what Google displays in the search results. Sometimes it shows the meta description, and sometimes it just 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 description you’ve written, it won’t be cut short. 

2. Use active voice and make it actionable 

If you see the meta description as an invitation to visit your page, you have to think about your user and their (possible) motivation to visit your page. Make sure that your description isn’t dull, difficult, or too cryptic. People need to know what they can expect to find on your page.

The example in the image below is the description you should strive to write. It’s active, it speaks to you and addresses you directly. You know what you’ll get if you click on the link!

Make people want to click your search result

3. Include a call-to-action

“Hello, we have such and such new product, and you want it. Find out more!” This overlaps with what we said about the active voice, but we wanted to emphasize it again. 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.

Get people to click on your link

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 even highlights synonyms. In the example below, both the Academy Awards and Oscars are highlighted. Getting your results emphasized like that makes them stand out even more.

The image shows a meta description for the Wikipedia page about the Academy Awards. The words 'Academy Awards' and 'Oscars' are shown in bold text.
A listing for the Academy Awards on Google

5. Show specifications, where possible 

If you have a product in your Shopify or WooCommerce store aimed at the tech-savvy, it can be a good idea to focus on the technical specs. For example, you can include the manufacturer, SKU, price, etc. If the visitor is specifically looking for that product, you won’t have to convince them. Can the watch help us stay fit? Sign us up; that’s all we need to know. Note that to optimize your result in this manner, you should work on getting rich snippets.

Google search result describe the Apple Watch SE
Make it spark

6. Make sure it matches the content of the page

This is an important one. Google will find out if you use the meta descriptions to trick visitors into clicking on your result. They might even penalize you if you do it. But besides that, misleading descriptions will also increase your bounce rate. Which will also lower people’s trust in your company. 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 

Adding the date to the snippet preview

People often ask questions about the date shown in the Google preview of our Yoast SEO plugin. We’ve added this because search engines may display a date with your snippet. So it’s important to factor it in when you decide on the right length of your meta description. Unfortunately, there’s no way to directly control whether this date is shown or not, but you can try to manage the dates they use in the search results.

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 better leave them blank. Google will pick a snippet from the page containing the keyword used in the query. That being said, writing a unique meta description for every page you want to rank with is always the best practice.

How Yoast SEO helps you write meta descriptions

Adding a meta description is easy if you’re on WordPress or Shopify and using Yoast SEO. Firstly, you can write it in the Google preview section of Yoast SEO. But Yoast SEO also gives you feedback on it in the SEO analysis. The plugin checks 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. 

You can edit your meta description in Yoast SEO
You can edit your meta description in Yoast SEO for Shopify

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. After your research, you should end up with a combination of words that most of your audience is most likely to search for. We’ve already discussed 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.

What a green bullet looks like in Yoast SEO
What a green bullet looks like in Yoast SEO for Shopify

How to get a green traffic light for the keyphrase in meta description

If you don’t mention the keyphrase in the meta description at all, you’ll get a red traffic light. So, make sure to write one. But don’t stuff your meta description with your keyphrase, because that will also get you a red traffic light. And make sure to mention all the words from your keyphrase near to each other. Search engines are pretty smart nowadays, but you still need to make it clear what your page is about. 

Yoast SEO Premium plugin takes the synonyms you’ve added into account when it performs its analysis. This allows you to write more naturally and will result in a text that’s a more pleasant read. Moreover, it’s easier to score a green traffic light this way. Use it to your advantage!

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What does the meta description length assessment do?

This meta description length assessment measures whether your description is too short (less than 120 characters) or too long (more than 156 characters).  When your meta description has the right length, you’ll get a green traffic light. If it’s too long, or too short, you’ll get an orange traffic light in the SEO analysis of Yoast SEO (or red, if you’ve marked your article as cornerstone content).

What the check looks like in the Yoast SEO meta box
A green bullet in the Yoast SEO for Shopify app

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 sidebar or meta box. If you want to write a meta description, click on “Google preview” in the Yoast SEO sidebar. This will open the snippet editor and 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 Google preview editor will 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. When you add too much text, it will turn orange again.

The bar will change color when your go over the limit
Checking the Google preview in Yoast SEO for Shopify

Writing or editing your meta description in the Yoast SEO meta box underneath your post editor is also possible. Just go to the SEO tab in the meta box (if it’s not on this tab by default), and you can start typing in the field under Meta description right away.

What to do if you need meta descriptions for a lot of pages?

Does it feel like you need to change all your meta descriptions after reading this? But not sure how to fit that into 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.

Advice from Google Search Central documentation

You can check which of your pages rank highest with Google Search Console. Take it from there. Additionally, it’s also possible to optimize your meta descriptions with variables in Yoast SEO. This allows you to speed up this process without having to worry about duplicate descriptions.

If you prefer to write a unique description for each page and have a lot to get through, you can use the Bulk editor tool in Yoast SEO for WordPress. Head to the Tools page, click on ‘Bulk editor’, and then select the ‘Description’ tab. You’ll be able to see any meta descriptions already set for your pages, and you can quickly add new ones without having to open each page individually. However, with this tool, you won’t get warnings if your description is too short/long, or if the focus keyword is missing.

Meta descriptions for social sharing

Do you have Yoast SEO? In that case: check the Facebook and Twitter preview in the Yoast SEO sidebar or 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 that show you what your post or page will look like when shared on social media.

Read more: How to use the Google preview in Yoast SEO »

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7 Responses to How to create the right meta description

  1. Lebogang
    Lebogang  • 1 year ago

    Hi madam. I trust that you are well. I’ve trying to get a meta description write and have looked at the toast variables to help me with it. We have a directory and we want the meta descriptions of the listing pages to tell the user for instance “Search results 1 to 20 of 200” followed by a separator and then our promise for better search experience. I’ve not been able to get the first part right and am looking for guidance. We are using a mylisting theme and are using the yoast seo plugin

  2. Magnus
    Magnus  • 1 year ago

    thanks for the great article. I have not adding any call-to-action, now I will surely add call to action.

    Regards,
    Magnus

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 1 year ago

      You’re welcome, Magnus. And good luck with that :)

  3. Jodi
    Jodi  • 1 year ago

    Hi – I really love your posts they are super helpful and make understanding SEO easier. I also really love your graphics. Is there any way you can share who does your graphics? I understand if its done inhouse and you can’t. But thanks anyway.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 1 year ago

      Hi there, Jodi. Thank you for your lovely comment! Our graphics are actually created by our very own team Brand, consisting of three people: Mijke, Erwin and Niels :)

  4. Rani
    Rani  • 1 year ago

    I like yoast plugin. It helped to create an seo based content. I have created a good content many times with the help of yoast seo

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 1 year ago

      That’s great to hear, Rani! We hope you keep enjoying our plugin :)