Meta Descriptions are a very important part of search engine optimisation, but not necessarily as you may have been led to believe.
There’s no evidence that they directly affect your search engine ranking position, but they serve an important purpose, nonetheless.
What Is A Meta Description?
In the <head> section of a html document, there are often a number of <meta> tags that help the browser and search engines understand more about the page.
A “Meta Description” tag looks like:
<meta name=”description” content=”This page is about awesome SEO tips” />
You just change the part in red to whatever you want the search engines to say your page is about.
The best way to think of a Meta Description is as advertisement copy for that page. The title of your page is the headline of the ad, but the description shows up to hopefully entice a searcher to click on your listing.
As an example, the listing for Local SEO Perth when you search for “SEO Perth” is:
The Meta Description is the part in black text. Notice how it’s to the point and says exactly what a searcher will find when they click the link?
It’s important to follow some best practices to get the most out of your listing.
Meta Description Best Practices
Always make sure the primary keyword for that page appears in the Meta Description. It only needs to be there once, but try to put it as close to the start as possible. As you can see, I have it first up. The reason for this is that it 1) helps establish relevance and 2) it gets bolded if the searcher types in that keyword.
Keep it short. No more than 155 characters or it will have an ellipsis at the end (that’s the …), but shorter is better. If you can say it in only a few words, do that.
Be as descriptive as possible about the page. If it’s the Meta Description for your homepage, it can describe the site, but otherwise, it should be about that page.
Treat it like the advertisement copy of your page. The whole purpose is to get the searcher to go to that page and realise how awesome you are :)
If you don’t have a Meta Description set, the search engine will cobble together something based on what the searcher typed in. So it could take text from your navigation, which would be virtually illegible.
Finally, don’t stress too much over it, except for the main pages on your site.
Jonathan L. Keller says
Great Article, I think META Titles & Descriptions are so important for SEO, but less about a ranking factor and more about being an inciting pathway onto your site. You’ve explained it well and your best practice tips are great.
I’d like to add to your list: Try to make the description explain what a visitor can expect to be on the page, without giving too much away. Elude to the content on the page in a way that will encourage users to click on your link rather than other links in search engine results.