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Meta descriptions and SEO

Meta Descriptions: Your SEO's Opening Pitch

Meta descriptions are crucial for SEO. They are the short descriptions of a web page that, although not visible to the visitor, play a significant role in driving traffic to your site.

Why Meta Descriptions are Crucial for SEO

Although not a direct ranking factor, meta descriptions significantly impact SEO performance. They're often displayed in search results, providing a first impression of your site. A well-crafted meta description can significantly increase the Click Through Rate (CTR) from search results to your website.

A meta description shown in the SERP
The text below the blue link is a meta description.

Meta Description vs. Snippet: What's the Difference?

Google uses meta descriptions as one of the sources for its search snippets. These snippets are the summaries shown in search results, often derived from a page's meta description or its content.

It's essential to distinguish between a meta description and a Google snippet. While the meta description is under your control, Google generates snippets based on search queries. However, recent studies show that Google rewrites meta descriptions over 70% of the time, meaning your own meta description is likely to be used around 30% of the time.

Setting Your Meta Description

Place your meta description in the head section of your webpage. Most Content Management Systems like WordPress or Drupal allow easy entry of meta descriptions for each page. This is what a meta description in the source code looks like:

<meta name="description" content="In this article we discuss the basics of SEO: technology, content and relevance, and how they fit together">

5 Key Tips for Crafting an Effective Meta Description

  • Prioritize Clarity and Relevance: Your meta description should clearly and accurately reflect the content of the page. Avoid misleading or vague descriptions. Ensure that it's relevant to the page's content and aligns with user search intent.
  • Incorporate Target Keywords: Include the primary keyword for the page in your meta description. This helps search engines understand the page's relevance to search queries. However, avoid keyword stuffing; the inclusion should feel natural and readable.
  • Create a Compelling Call-to-Action (CTA): Encourage the reader to click through to your website. A CTA can be a question, a prompt, or an invitation that creates curiosity or highlights a benefit, such as "Discover more" or "Learn how to...".
  • Keep It Concise and Engaging: As mentioned earlier, the ideal length is about 156 characters on desktop and 118 on mobile. Within this limit, your description should be concise yet engaging. It should captivate the user’s interest and make them want to read more.
  • Avoid Duplication Across Pages: Each page on your website is unique and should have a meta description that reflects its individual content. Duplicate descriptions can diminish your site’s appeal in search results and negatively impact SEO.

Google's best practices for meta descriptions

Google has provided some do's and don'ts for meta descriptions:

  • For shops: don't just provide a list of keywords. Instead, provide info about the products it sells, the location, and opening hours.
  • For news articles: don't use a generic meta description for all articles. Instead, use a relevant snippet from the article.
  • Don't just copy a part of text page. Instead, use a summary of the page.
  • Don't make it short. Instead, use a specific and detailed meta description.

Meta descriptions and click-through rates

The main goal of a meta description is to get people to click on your site in the search results. How often that happens, is measured by the click-through rate (CTR)

Meta descriptions optimized with keywords can significantly boost CTRs. Optimized descriptions average a CTR of 8.1%, compared to 3.2% for non-optimized ones. 

Your meta description should act as a mini advertisement, offering users a compelling reason to visit your page. Highlight your unique selling propositions and tease the content without giving everything away. 

The quality of your meta description is largely reflected in the CTR from search engines. A high CTR indicates an effective meta description, while a low CTR may suggest a need for improvement.

Calculate your CTR curve

SiteGuru's meta description report

SiteGuru monitors your meta descriptions for length issues, helps you make sure they are unique, and offers AI capabilities to quickly optimize the meta descriptions.