Meta descriptions seem important, but do they help websites rank better in search results?
The simple answer that question is, “no,” meta descriptions do not immediately impact search results. However, when we think about user experience and the conversion benefits of an expertly written page 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.
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.
However, writing good meta descriptions should still be a digital marketing best practice you follow.
The reason that they still matter is because meta descriptions often 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:
That black Arial text is the page’s meta description. In this case, the part of the targeted keyword in the meta description, “build,” 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 your 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. Readers will be unable to see any information written beyond 160 characters in the SERPs.
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.
Now that we’ve established that they matter, how do you write a good meta description? We recommend starting with these four steps:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.