What are meta descriptions and why are they important?

The meta description field provides your first real chance to sell your web page to searchers. Google frequently uses meta descriptions to double as the ‘snippet’ of information describing each page in the results (beneath the blue underlined title).

Hence, it’s your opportunity to persuade searchers to click on your link rather than your competitors’. And a well written meta description can greatly increase your Click Through Rate.

How does Google use meta descriptions?

While meta descriptions are useful marketing vehicles, they aren’t of much practical use for SEO. Today it’s widely accepted that Google’s ranking algorithm largely ignores meta descriptions, but that’s not to say that the other search engines follow suit or that the situation won’t change. And because meta descriptions are so quick and easy to write, there are no excuses for cutting corners.

Rules for writing killer meta descriptions

  • An effective meta description will provide a concise description of the page’s content aimed at snaring searchers.
  • Each page needs a unique meta description, so don’t be tempted to simply ‘borrow’ a sentence or two from the on-page copy.
  • Keep meta descriptions short and sweet. Search engines rarely display more than 160 characters, so you’ve got less than 20 words to get your point across.
  • Try to include the primary keyword phrase once, but don’t go OTT and above all write naturally. If you try to stuff keywords into the meta description, Google will simply pull the ‘snippet’ from elsewhere.

As an example, a meta description for this ‘page’ would read: How to write meta description tags for Search Engine Optimization. It’s short, to the point and tells readers exactly what the page focuses on.

If you choose not to ‘bother’ with meta descriptions (and plenty of webmasters don’t) Google will choose what it thinks is the most relevant information from your page. At best the results are far from alluring and at worse far from descriptive; both outcomes will undoubtedly have a negative impact on your click through rate

DMOZ and meta descriptions

You may find that Google has ignored your carefully crafted meta description and is instead displaying an entirely different snippet. If you aren’t happy with the new description you’ll need to find out where Google is getting their information from and take action. The first step is to see if the description appears elsewhere on your website. If so, simply rewrite the copy and keep your fingers’ crossed that the snippet changes the next time that Google crawls your site.

If Google can’t find a suitable snippet on your website they often turn to DMOZ for help. Also known as the Open Directory Project, DMOZ is arguably the web’s most influential and authoritative directory. It’s written and edited by ‘humans’ as an objective source of information, and consequently their ‘straight-talking’ description of your website might be at odds with your marketing goals.