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What are meta descriptions and why are they important for SEO?


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Search Engine Optimisation is a field of digital marketing that is under constant transformation, forcing SEOs to be responsive to any major algorithmic changes that will shake up the rules of the game. One element that looks to remain unchanged in the long run are meta-descriptions. From the very beginning, meta-descriptions have been a key component of SEO that can play a significant role in improving your click through rate (CTR).

By understanding their uses and what impact they can have on traffic, your website will have an advantage of others on the results page. Below we’ll teach you all of the important aspects of meta-descriptions, how to write them effectively and how you can optimise them like a professional.

What are meta-descriptions?

In a nutshell, a meta-description is an HTML element that summarises the content of a webpage. After you’ve typed in a query into Google there will be a list of websites displayed on the SERPs page. Beneath each heading, there is a small box of text that explains the content of each website. This is your meta-description (see below).

what is a meta description

Why are they important in SEO?

Meta-descriptions have minimal bearing on rankings but they are still an important tool for improving your click-through rate which can improve your traffic. These short snippets are your opportunity to advertise the content on your website to searchers, which will influence whether or not they choose to click on your website.

A well-written meta-description that includes keywords relevant to the user’s query can be the small nudge required to encourage people to visit your page. And so, it’s better to view your meta-description as advertising copy.

How to write great meta-descriptions for Google and the user

Crafting a compelling description that is succinct and includes relevant keywords is the cornerstone to any effective meta-description. The important thing to remember is that quite often the meta-description will be the first thing that people will see about your website and so first impressions count. The secret to writing an effective meta-description is that simple is better. Below is a checklist of all the important features that should be included in your meta-description:

  • Contains the focus keyword. Ensure that you include the most important keyword in your meta-description. Quite often on the SERPs the keywords that were included in the searcher’s query will be highlighted in bold in the snippet.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing. Cramming keywords into your meta-description will make it look less authentic and more spammy. Aim to write copy in a way that’s coherent and human-friendly.
  • View the meta-description as though it’s an advert for your page. Make it relevant, make it compelling, make it descriptive. Remember that your website is competing amongst many others on the SERPs, making the meta-description an important part of the decision-making process for users. A well-written one can tip the scales in your favour.
  • Length. Google generally truncates meta-descriptions that go beyond 155-160 characters long. Be descriptive and succinct when writing about your page whilst trying to make it as appealing as possible.
  • Use call to actions (CTAs). CTAs help gives viewers a small nudge of encouragement to click on your website.
  • Use rich snippets. By using schema mark up, you can instantly give your website an advantage over others on SERPs. Rich snippets can display important data, such as star ratings and customer reviews to make your page more appealing.

Do they increase click-through rates?

Providing that they are well-written and follow the guidelines from above, then yes, meta-descriptions can certainly improve click-through rates!

How long should they be in 2020 – how many characters?

As we’ve mentioned previously, Google will cut off the remainder of any meta-description that exceeds 155-160 characters. As a rule of thumb, try and write your meta-description between 50-160 characters. Make it long enough to adequately describe the page but short enough to read.

How to write them in WordPress

Fortunately, optimising your meta-descriptions on WordPress is very simple. The CMS has an abundance of plugins that allow you to do this. We are going to focus on two:

  • Yoast SEO plugin: Regarded as the best SEO plugin for WordPress, Yoast SEO makes writing meta-descriptions simple and easy. Under the main content block of your post or page, you should find the snippet editor in the Yoast meta box. The snippet preview displayed is how it will appear on the search results. Here you can play around with your meta-description until you find the right fit. A handy bar is also provided underneath the text that will turn green when you achieve the right length.
  • Rank Math SEO plugin: Similar to Yoast SEO, Rank Math SEO will give you live feedback as you write the meta-description using a colour scheme, ranging from red to green. As part of overall feedback on your metas, they will provide you with a checklist to help you make sure that your meta-description ticks all of the right boxes to making it fully optimiseable.

Final Thoughts

Meta-descriptions play an important role in the overall experience of your website. Overlooking their importance due to the minimal impact it has on rankings is a common mistake that a lot of marketers make and by adopting the same approach, your website will be on the back foot.

The trick is to see your meta-descriptions as advertising copy, which will hopefully change your perspective on how important they are. Always remember that your meta-descriptions are one of the first lines of contact with users, so it’s important that you try to optimise them the best you can!

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Targeted SEO is a specialist search engine optimisation company based in Southampton. We focus on developing websites which grow in organic traffic, resulting in more leads, online enquiries and sales for our clients.

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