Do Meta Descriptions Matter for SEO?

Meta descriptions seem important, but do they help websites rank better in search results?

The simple answer to that question is, “no,” meta descriptions do not immediately impact organic rankings. However, when we think about user experience and the conversion benefits of an expertly written meta description, the answer becomes “yes.”

Let’s dive into why meta descriptions are not direct ‘ranking factors’ in a page’s visibility in search engine results.

Are Meta Descriptions Still Important?

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

The reason that meta descriptions still matter is because they appear as page ‘snippets’ in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

For example, here’s what our agency’s listing looks like when you type “Chicago link building” into Google:

Screenshot of meta description.

That black Arial text under the blue Title Tag, “Chicago SEO Link Building Services” is the page’s meta description. In this case, the part of the targeted keyword in the meta description, “link building,” is bold. It’s Google’s visual cue that this page is relevant to the searcher’s query.

Think of this as a snippet of copy summarizing your page content in just a few sentences. It’s an excellent opportunity to write a page description that entices users to click through to your website to learn more.

How Long Should a Meta Description Be?

The rule of thumb is they should be no longer than 160 characters. If your meta description goes over 160 characters the text will be cut off and ellipses will be added. These are the 3 dots you may see within search engine result pages when descriptions and titles are cut off, or contain more than the max amount of characters allowed. Readers will be unable to see any information written beyond 160 characters in the SERPs.

Click Through Rate (CTR) and SEO

It is important to note that they are not direct ranking factors in search engine results.

However, because they appear as snippets with your search listing, meta descriptions have a profound impact on click through rate (CTR) from SERPs. CTR 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 are not clicking through to the search results on your website, they develop clearer pictures of whether a given page is a good match for a given search query. This data is then factored into your rankings.

How to Write a Great Meta Description

Now that we’ve established that they matter, how do you write a good meta description? We recommend starting with these four steps:

1. Accurately describe landing page content

Your copy should accurately describe the page’s content. Users should gain a brief understanding of the information that can be found on the webpage. Thus providing a consistent user experience from search engine results to the landing page on your website.

2. Inspire curiosity

Meta descriptions shouldn’t reveal everything. They should give just enough information to indicate page relevancy. But not provide so much information that there’s no reason to click through to your website’s landing page. For example, include some similar hints you would give in a title tag to entice a reader. If you have a “top-10” blog, entice readers to “dive in” or “check out” the top-10 items you are writing about.

3. Incorporate targeted keywords

There is no need to “stuff” your meta description with keywords. However, you should use the most relevant keywords or key phrases in your meta description. Targeted keywords will be bolded, showing users that your page content is relevant to their search query.

Bonus Tip: Include keywords towards the front of the description to catch a reader’s eye.

4. Describe only one specific page

Each one of your website’s pages should have its own, unique meta description. This is particularly important in SERPs where multiple pages on your domain rank. Duplicate meta descriptions are missed opportunities to uniquely describe each individual page to utilize call to actions. Google will also replace duplicate URLs with its own created version, usually from copy on the page.

Start Writing Descriptions With Search in Mind

Meta descriptions are one of the first impressions customers have with your website. When written with a balance of user search tendencies and SEO in mind, they can attract clicks and drive targeted traffic to your website.

Need help writing page descriptions, title tags, or deeper SEO work like website architectures and technical issues? Reach out today to get started improving your SEO.

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