Do Meta Descriptions Matter for SEO?

Tom Shearman

By Tom Shearman

Meta descriptions seem important, but do they help you rank better in search results? The short answer is no, but the long answer is… yes.

Here’s why. Let’s start with the ‘no’ – meta descriptions are not a direct ‘ranking factor.’

Back in the day, search engines used to use meta descriptions and meta keywords in their ranking algorithms, but that hasn’t been the case since at least 2009. So this means that writing a meta description that includes your keywords is not going to help you rank better on its own.

However, writing good meta descriptions should still be a digital marketing best practice you follow, for a range of reasons – some of which directly impact your SEO.

Are Meta Descriptions Still Important?

The reason that meta descriptions still matter is that they often appear as page ‘snippets’ in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). For example, here’s what our listing looks like when I Google “Chicago SEO

How meta descriptions impact SEO results

That black Arial text of around 155 to 160 characters is the page’s meta description. Think of this as 160 characters of copy, encouraging readers to view the content on your web page. It’s an excellent opportunity to write a page description that entices users to click through to your website.

If your meta description goes over 160 characters, your content and description will be cut off and unreadable by uses in search engine results.

Click Through Rate (CTR) and SEO

Meta descriptions are not a direct ranking factor in search engine results. However, because they appear as snippets with your search listing, they have a profound impact on click through rate (CTR) from SERPs. And this is a ranking factor. As our friend Dr. Pete at Moz explains:

Whether or not a result gets clicked on is one of Google’s and Bing’s first clues about whether any given result is a good match to a query.

As search engines gather more data about the ways in which searchers are (or aren’t) clicking through to the search results on your website, they develop clearer and clearer pictures of whether a given page is a good match for a given search query. And this data is factored into your rankings.

How to Write a Great Meta Description

Now that we’ve established that meta descriptions matter, how do you write a good meta description? Start with these four steps:

  1. Accurately describe the page’s content so you create a consistent user experience from search to landing on your site.
  2. Feel free to inspire some curiosity, providing enough information to explain what the page is about, but leave a reader with a reason to click through and read.
  3. Incorporate your targeted keywords, if it makes sense to do so. They’ll be bolded (as seen in the “Chicago SEO” example above), showing that your page is relevant to the search query.
  4. Use a unique description for each page. This is particularly important in SERPs where multiple pages on your domain rank.

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