For on-page optimization, there are several different factors that you need to consider, with meta descriptions being one of the top ones.
Read our latest guide to learn how to write meta descriptions for SEO. We’ll cover:
A meta description is a short snippet, or an HTML meta tag, that summarizes the content of your webpage. Meta descriptions are placed beneath the page title/URL in the search engine result pages (SERPs). It will also appear as a description for pieces of content that are shared on your social media channels, like Facebook or Twitter.
Meta descriptions should be placed in the header code of your web pages as a HTML snippet. This can either be done manually, or through certain plugins or content management systems, depending on what your site currently operates on.
The key point of the meta description of a webpage is to drive visitors from SERPs and social media and entice them to click on your link. In a way, it’s giving a preview of the content of the page.
Like I mentioned before, the meta description helps influence the click-through rate (CTR) of your website in the SERPs.
Users will click on content that appeals to them and respond to their question, so make sure to keep your target audience in mind as you write the meta description.
Looking to learn more about search engine optimization? Read our SEO beginner’s guide for everything you need to know about SEO and how to drive business results through search engines like Google and Bing.
Below we’ll walk through a two considerations to keep in mind as you begin writing your meta descriptions for SEO:
Google bases meta description lengths dependent on pixels, so be mindful of this specification for the presence on the SERPs of your meta descriptions. The screen limit is 920 pixels on desktop, so a good rule of thumb is to aim for about 160 characters. For smartphones this limit is shortened to 680 pixels, or about 120 characters.
Keep in mind that the character limit is a soft rule - each letter will take up different amounts of space, so when in doubt, defer to the pixel limit.
If your meta descriptions are above the defined pixel limit, it will be truncated by ellipses (...), so you’ll want to keep your meta description within the pixel limit or run the risk of it being cut off.
When writing a meta description, you want to avoid being overly spammy. It should be unique and entice users to click through to your web page without being clickbaity or overselling.
Here are six other best practices to follow when writing your meta description:
The meta description acts like advertisement copy, attracting readers to your website and influencing CTR.
Try writing your meta description as you would ad copy. You can also leverage existing ad copy from competitors and mimic their verbiage / tone of voice.
The benefit of doing this, is you know that the copy from paid search placements are vetted (because companies are spending a lot of money for the placement) and because Google uses a quality score to determine which ads get the best placements, depending on the ad copy / budget for that keyword.
This ties in with leveraging strong ad copy, but be sure to include a strong call to action to entice users to click-through to your result.
As part of on-page SEO for your web pages, you should identify a primary keyword that your page is targeting / trying to rank for. Use the primary keyword in your meta description to help improve your chances of ranking well in the search results.
Similar to researching a primary keyword to target, make sure that the meta description captures the intent / purpose of your web page.
It’s a bad signal to Google if users click through to your web page expecting one experience, but having the page not match their intent, causing them to quickly leave your website.
One key SEO best practice is to avoid duplicate content on your site pages. Having duplicate content can cause keyword cannibalization, or confuse search engines. When a search engine is faced with trying to rank several similar pages for a keyword, it can reduce your overall rankings, or may even choose to not show any of your pages for that query.
When quotation marks are used in a meta description, Google will cut off the description at the quotation mark because of the HTML rules it has in place. Make sure to remove any special characters or symbols from your meta descriptions to avoid truncation.
Search engines can, in some cases, override the meta description defined by a webmaster in the HTML of a website. It is unpredictable exactly when this happens, but it always occurs when Google does not think that the current meta definition sufficiently addresses the query of a user and finds a fragment from the target page that better suits the query of a searcher.