In Lesson 3, we learned how to Create Effective Meta Titles that follow best practice guidelines and catch the reader's attention. In this lesson, we will learn how to Create Effective Meta Descriptions by following best practices and SERP guidelines.
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Creating Effective Meta Descriptions
In our previous lesson, we focused on creating attention-grabbing Meta Titles that focused on following the best practices, but also hitting the most relevant searches by using descriptive keywords. Now, we need to focus on the Meta Descriptions that appear under the links.
"It is possible to give a short description of the content of any given webpage (e.g. homepage, subpage). This [meta] description is laid down in HTML code and does not appear on the website. Search engines display the [meta] description in their search results (directly underneath the page title). If a webpage does not have a [meta] description, text from the page will often appear instead. In the search results, the search term should be emphasized in bold. Ideally the page description should contain the search term for which the website has been optimized." - Searchmetrics.com
What does a Meta Description look like on a Search Engine Results Page (SERPs)?
Whether you're searching for adorable puppies or funny cat videos, Meta Descriptions will all display the same way. Here I've pulled the example for MOZ's Meta Description as an example:
As you can see: the Meta Description is a short sentence or two about the content of the page that you're about to enter. Visitors have a chance to read a short blurb about your page before deciding whether your link is the best result for them to click on. This means your description can literally mean the difference between capturing a sale, or never seeing a visitor at all.
How long should a Meta Description be?
"Meta descriptions can be any length, but search engines generally truncate snippets longer than 160 characters. It is best to keep meta descriptions between 150 and 160 characters." - MOZ.com
Now that we have the basics down on what a Meta Description is and how long it should be, we need to dive in to the recommended guidelines to get the most out of your Meta Descriptions.
1. The language you use in your Meta Description is NOT factored into the Google Search Algorithm.
- This may seem counter-intuitive, however, from Google's guidelines, the Meta Description is used to influence user behavior. You want to write something that is going to capture the user's attention and get them to click on your link, instead of your competition's.
2. User Behavior IS factored into the Google Search Algorithm.
- This is a very important thing to note. User behavior is tracked all throughout Google and is more heavily monitored than the descriptions or keywords themselves. This user behavior tells Google's Algorithms which links are actually valuable, and which are considered "junk". Think of it as crowd-sourcing this information: Google monitors how long you spend on websites, how many webpages you click, if you sign up for anything or even if you make any purchases! The more time a user spends on a website, the better it looks to Google, and that website moves up through the SERPs ranks.
3. Click-Through-Rate (CTR) is just as valuable as time spent on page.
- The two things Google is really watching for is your CTR and time spent on the page. The more often users click on your link and stay awhile, the more this indicates to Google that your site has relevant and valuable content related to the specific search query the user made. this increases the validity of your website and helps Google decide to push your site up in the rankings.
4. Avoid Duplicate Content!
- If you remember anything, remember this: DO NOT COPY AND PASTE THE SAME INFORMATION FROM PAGE TO PAGE. Google will eat you alive for duplicate content, and this can be seriously harmful to your ability to be found on any Search Engine. Always write unique and captivating Titles and Descriptions for your web pages. The point is to stand out amongst your competition, not sound like a broken record!
5. Every page should have a Meta Description.
- Per Google's Guidelines: "Make sure that every page on your site has a meta description. The HTML suggestions page in Search Console lists pages where Google has detected missing or problematic meta descriptions."
Just like in the previous lesson for Creating Meta Titles, we're going to walk through the process of creating a Meta Description for a page. I'm going to continue with the example of the puppy photography (because who doesn't love an adorable puppy??):
In the previous lesson, we came up with the title of "Adorable Teacup Yorkshire Terrier Puppy Prints", but we need to finish out the SEO by adding the Meta Description underneath it:
Also, as a refresher, here's the adorable pup:
So, how do we write compelling copy to get a customer to click on our link without ever seeing our adorable puppy image? This becomes the crux of our ability to draw in customers from just a short blurb of text.
Let's look at some really great examples of Meta Descriptions to gather some ideas for our page:
In this example, MOZ uses their credibility and a call-to-action to invite potential visitors to click on their links. While this isn't the frilliest Description I've seen, this is a great example of being short, concise and with a great call to action ("Start your free trial today!"). Let's keep this in mind as we go down these examples.
Mailchimp chose to be direct, and to the point about what their software is and telling people that it's available to integrate with other programs, which is especially great to know when using a newsletter software. They have some great keywords in the description, which can help someone find them more easily -- without having to search the name of the product directly!
With these examples in mind and the guidelines above, I've come up with possible examples of descriptions that would be a good fit for this image:
As you can see, both of the above examples accurately describe what is on the page, and what the customer might be looking to do: purchase fine art prints online of an adorable Yorkshire Terrier Puppy. These both encourage the customer to click on the link to see the image available, and lets the customer know that the prints are available to be printed and shipped right to them.
Keep in mind, though, you will still need to do some management of your SEO fields. While this description does fit all of the guidelines, this is a basic example and should also be researched over time for performance. Descriptions can change -- and should change, based on relevance and CTR. Refer back to the Lesson on Keyword Research for great resources on how to do research on the effectiveness of the keywords you've chosen.