A meta description is a piece of HTML code that briefly describes what a webpage is about. It usually appears in the SERP as a short text snippet that contains 1 – 3 appealing sentences, right below the title tag.
Here’s an example of what a meta description looks like in the HTML code:
<meta name="description" content="Your awesome meta description!">
And here’s how it looks in the SERP:
Meta description improves the website’s presence in the search results. There are 2 main reasons why every page should have a properly optimized meta description:
Let’s take a closer look at the importance of meta descriptions for a website.
The primary purpose of meta description is to inform users what the webpage is about just in a few words.
Generally speaking, people try to find relevant answers within the SERP as quickly as possible.
With properly written meta descriptions, users can quickly understand the content of the websites within the SERP and choose the ones that might be useful for them.
Although a meta description does not provide any direct SEO benefit, it can help the users to find relevant content easier and therefore improve the initial UX and impression of the page.
Well-written and appealing meta descriptions can attract more traffic from the result pages and increase the overall CTR (click-through rate) of the website.
Compelling and useful descriptions might convince users to click on the page more often which, as a result, can increase the overall number of visitors, conversion rates, etc.
Tip: Meta descriptions can be used for social media as well!
Social networks (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) use meta descriptions for shared posts, making them more attractive and interesting for the audience.
Since these descriptions are usually shorter, it is recommended to write copies that are specifically designed for social networks and use special metadata (e.g. OpenGraph) to implement them.
Neither the meta description nor its CTR plays any role in Google’s ranking algorithm. Its only purpose is to improve user experience in the search result pages.
Meta description served as a ranking signal in the past but it changed in 2009 when Google stopped using it for its ranking algorithm due to massive keyword stuffing and spamming abuse.
Even though the meta description can increase the CTR of the page, the metric itself is not a ranking signal either.
John Mueller from Google explained that very clearly:
Google can extract snippets of text for the SERP descriptions from 2 sources:
Whether Google will choose the first source or the second one (sometimes both) depends on a few factors.
Even with a prepared and well-written meta description, Google might decide to generate its own description from the page. In fact, Google displays written meta descriptions in search results only 30 – 40% of the time.
Google might generate its own description in 3 cases:
Even well-prepared, high-quality descriptions can be changed by Google to better match relevant search queries.
This usually happens when a piece of content on the page could serve as a better copy for a specific search query rather than the provided meta description.
It is recommended to keep the length of the text between 120 – 160 characters but the truth is that there is no official rule on how long the meta description should be.
Even Google officially stated that:
“There’s no limit on how long a meta description can be…”
The optimal meta description length may even change over time since Google is constantly trying to improve the appearance of search results.
For example, in 2017, Google temporarily increased the character limit of the meta description up to 300 characters on average but after a few months, it returned to the old standard.
In other words:
Although Google does not have a precise limit on the meta description length, it will trim the text snippet if it’s too long, based on the device type.
Therefore, rather than counting characters, it is recommended to measure the length of meta description in pixels:
Keep in mind that the real length of your meta description will always be relative and might be changed at any time or not used at all.
Tip: You can test the length and appearance of the meta description in our free SERP Simulator tool and check out how your copy would look like on various result pages.
You can always try and test different versions of your description before publishing your final copy.
For writing a good meta description, you need to understand your audience, niche and have some SEO and marketing thinking. With a little bit of practice, writing proper meta descriptions will be an easy and straightforward process for you.
Let’s take a look at best practices (with examples) that you should keep in mind when writing a meta description.
Your meta description should summarize the content of the page just in a few words.
If it’s too long or too vague, Google will truncate your description to a shorter version or won’t use it at all.
Try to create a very brief yet specific description that would inform users about your page in 1 – 3 sentences. Also, make sure that your copy is not longer than 120 – 160 characters.
Here is an example of what a concise and accurate meta description looks like:
Each page should have a unique meta description that would provide value to the users (and search engines).
If you have many pages with identical or similar descriptions, Google will ignore them altogether and generate its own descriptions instead.
Tip: You can use tools such as Screaming Frog SEO Spider or Sitebulb to check whether you use the same meta description across multiple pages on your website
Although it is always recommended to have a unique description for every page, it can become a difficult (if not impossible) task for larger websites (like e-commerce) with thousands of pages.
There are a few ways how to resolve this issue and avoid duplicate meta descriptions on your site:
Here’s an example of automatically-generated meta descriptions on the Airbnb website:
Keep in mind that automatically generated meta descriptions are not the best substitution for hand-written copies and might be still ignored by the Google algorithm.
Write an attractive meta description that will stand out from the others in the SERP.
Creating a copy that would draw the audience to your website is one of the most important (and the most difficult) tasks in the process of writing a meta description.
Fortunately, there are a few actionable steps that you can do to make your copy more appealing:
Here’s an example of a highlighted keyword in the description:
Check out this example:
Like in our example below:
Note: Be careful when implementing special symbols and non-alphanumeric characters in your copy, such as double quotation marks ( “” ), since they can create mistakes and errors within the HTML code of the meta description.
Always make sure that any special characters are properly transcoded to HTML either manually or by using CMS or plugins.
Meta description combined with structured data can significantly improve the presence of your webpage in the search result.
Elements such as breadcrumbs, ratings, pricing or even contact information together with appealing meta descriptions can help you boost the CTR of the snippet and bring more organic traffic to your website.
Structured data are especially useful for reviews, recipe pages, etc. where you can highlight important information right on the result page.
Checking descriptions of other websites in the SERP can help you get some inspiration for creating your own copy.
You can manually check HTML (and meta) tags of every competitive webpage in the SERP or do it faster via various plugins and tools such as Mangools SEO extension to get valuable information such as:
If you are using WordPress with plugins such as Yoast SEO, adding meta descriptions to pages is pretty easy:
Info: If you would like to know how to add meta description in other popular CMS platforms, check out these guides for:
This post was last modified on March 6, 2023 11:43 am