Meta descriptions are a simple but often overlooked aspect of writing SEO-friendly content.
While many people know what they are, there is still confusion over the basics, including how long it should be, what it actually is for, and how to write one that gets clicks and helps you rank higher in search engines.
Here’s how to write a great meta description.
A meta description is part of your meta tags and helps describe the contents of your page or blog post. This small snippet of text will typically appear under the title of your post in search results. While you can write a specific meta description, Google will sometimes pull a description that it has determined is a better fit.
You can find any page’s meta description by right-clicking anywhere on the page, then clicking “inspect” or “view page source,” depending on which browser you’re using. Then, hold command or control “F,” and type in “description.” The first result should be the description for the page.
You’ll find something that looks something like this:
You can also use a “meta tag scraper”, that you simply paste a target URL into. It will then show you the meta tags of the page and other information. It’s personal preference, but this method can sometimes be more time-efficient.
Meta descriptions are important because they help with user experience.
A good meta description will accurately describe to a user what the page is about, and it will provide them with the necessary information to decide whether it’s a good idea for them to visit the page.
On your end, a meta description is important as it provides you with an opportunity to increase the probability that people will click through to your content, resulting in more traffic and indirectly better search rankings.
That said, meta descriptions don’t directly affect search rankings how you may think. Meta descriptions aren’t direct ranking factors. It’s not so much about keywords, but rather the experience a user has interacting with your meta description. If someone clicks on your page because the meta description was enticing, the high click-through-rate may lead to more people spending time reading your content, which can directly improve your rankings.
While there is no “rule” about writing meta descriptions, there are certainly some good practices you can follow.
Here are 5 simple steps we recommend:
Search intent is the intent behind a person searching for a specific keyword. There are different types of search intent. For example, an individual who is searching for “cbd side effects” is representing an “informational” search intent. They are searching for educational and accurate information about the side effects CBD may or may not cause.
Someone searching for “buy SEO content” has a transactional search intent. They are clearly looking for SEO content that they can buy, rather than information about that specific topic, such as “how to write for SEO“. By starting with search intent and trying to understand what your target audience is searching for, you’ll know what to write about in your meta description to compel them to select your post over others in search results.
Google generally cuts off meta descriptions at around 160 characters. There are exceptions, but this is typically the case. Google doesn’t determine meta description cut-off points based on character count but on pixels. But 160 characters is a good maximum range to aim for. We recommend between 80 to 160 characters.
Use what’s necessary to accurately describe the page and write a compelling description rather than focusing on a specific word count. You can search for a “snippet optimization tool,” which will help you preview what your meta description will look like in search results. These tools are great for ensuring your meta description will be readable and seeing how it might look.
Writing a meta description is copywriting. Its purpose is to inform, but more importantly, compel a user to click through and read a page or post. To successfully do so, you must write a meta description that is focused on their needs, desires, and wants.
That’s why researching and understanding the search intent behind keywords that will lead to your page is so important. Use more “yous” and few to no “Is” when writing your descriptions.
Always re-read your meta description, and think to yourself, “If I were the person reading this, would I actually click through to the post?” If the answer is no, then think about how you can change the wording to write the meta description in a more compelling and personalized way.
If the purpose of a meta description is to compel a person to click on your page, then it must be actionable. You’ll find that many meta descriptions end with a clear call to action such as “read on to learn more.” This makes it clear to a user that clicking on the link will provide them with the information that they’re seeking.
If you don’t have a call to action, then they may be less likely to click through to your post, especially if there is another post ranking above or below it that has a more compelling call to action.
That said, you don’t necessarily need to write a literal call to action, such as “click here,” but the description should be written in a way that makes the idea of clicking on the page appealing, such as “here’s our ultimate guide to X.”
While using specific keywords in your meta description won’t directly contribute to your rankings to the same extent as it would for your meta title and URL, including keywords in your meta description still makes sense if it can be done naturally since it helps validate the search intent of users. For example, this is the meta description for this post:
Writing a meta description is an important part of on-page SEO. Here’s everything you need to know about how to write a great meta description.
As you can see “how to write a meta description” is the focus keyword of this article, and it makes sense to include it in the description as it naturally fits. But if your focus keyword were “side effect cbd,” you don’t have to write this in your meta description to benefit SEO.
In fact, doing so may achieve the opposite as it provides a worse user experience. Instead, writing “want to know what the potential side effects of CBD are?” is perfectly acceptable despite not including the exact keyword you may be targeting.
Let’s dissect the anatomy of a good lookin’ meta description and see why it works.
We’ll take this blog post on meta descriptions by Luke Harsel from Semrush as an example.
First, let’s see the meta title:
Meta title: What Are Meta Descriptions and How to Write Them
Now for the description:
Meta description: Learn everything you need to know about the basics of meta descriptions. In this post, we talk about what they are, why they are important, and how to leverage them for your website’s SEO.
It’s clear this post is geared towards people who want to understand what meta descriptions are and how to write them.
The beginning of the meta description clearly defines this search intent: “Learn everything you need to know about the basics of meta descriptions.”
Now that the user knows that this is the information they’re looking for, the remainder of the post validates that this is indeed the case: “In this post, we talk about what they are, why they are important, and how to leverage them for your website’s SEO.”
The user clearly knows what the post is about and what information they will find once they click on the post. Furthermore, the meta description is actionable, as it starts with “learn everything.” This shows that the post provides educational material, and it’s comprehensive, so they’ll get all the information they’ll need from this post alone.
Writing great meta descriptions is an overlooked part of on-page SEO, but it’s important.
While meta descriptions won’t make or break your SEO success, it’s still worth putting the time into writing compelling descriptions that help improve user experience.
To summarize, write a meta description as if you were writing an ad. Make it compelling and actionable. Include keywords in your meta description if you can, but don’t compromise on user experience to include keywords just cause.
Do all that, and you’ll be just fine!