The meta description is a HTML Attribute that describes what a page is about. It can appear as a snippet under the title tag in search results to provide more context.
This is what the code snippet looks like:
Even if the meta description attribute is not a ranking factor and Google only shows it in 37% of the cases in the search results, it is still part of the on-page SEO that content publishers encounter frequently.
This guide will show you how to quickly create great meta descriptions and review them efficiently. But first let me explain why meta descriptions are still important despite their seemingly low level SEO Importance.
Why meta descriptions are still important
A compelling meta description will attract more people to click your website in search results. This is important even though Google only shows meta descriptions 37% of the time.
For example, if your page receives 50,000 impressions per month, Google will show the meta description for an average of 18,500 of those impressions. Increase yours CTR from 4% to only 4.5% would in this case lead to almost 100 more clicks.
While you shouldn’t get obsessed with meta descriptions, it is still worth spending a minute of your time on pages where “yes” is the answer to at least one of these questions:
- Should the site promote organic traffic?
- Is it likely to be shared on social media?
This second question probably needs some explanation.
You see, when a page is shared on social media, the description is pulled from Open Graph meta tags.
But if you haven’t hired one AND or Twitter description, the meta description is retrieved instead. So, if you just want to go out of your way to set one of these tags, this should be the meta description.
On the creation process. …
How do I write a meta description
Follow these five steps to make your meta descriptions quick and easy:
- Expand your title tag
- Match search intent
- Use active voice
- Be precise
- Provide the meta description
Let’s get into that.
1. Expand your title tag
Always think of the description as something that complements the title tag. Titles should summarize a page with some main keywords that characterize the subject. The meta description offers the opportunity to expand this further.
In the above case, the brief description motivates users to click on our broken link checker because:
- It checks pages and websites.
- It takes internal and external links into account.
- The tool is quick.
- It’s not a lead generation trap. You can use it on the side right away.
Don’t worry about keywords here. It’s more important that you create something that connects with the reader and makes them click. Use your USPs if necessary.
2. Match search intent
Search intent is the “why” behind a query. In other words, what are most people looking for when they search for your main keyword?
- Do you want information?
- Do you want to buy something?
- Are you looking for a specific website?
- Do you want a quick answer to a question?
You can use the search results as a proxy for this. Google strives to deliver the most relevant results to searchers. Therefore, look for similarities between the excerpts of the top ranking pages.
For example, almost every result for “Meta Description” shows a definition in the snippet …
… So we’ll continue with that too.
Other SERPs might not be that straightforward, but there are always some pointers you can use. Let’s take a look at How to Tie a Tie:
All of the snippets talk about different types of knots and most mention how the post includes step-by-step instructions. That tells us these things are probably important to seekers and worth putting in a meta description.
Be careful with SERPs with mixed intentions such as “standing desk”.
You can see that there is a mix of results here. Some are blog posts reviewing the best desks, others are product category pages from online stores.
In such cases, you should take inspiration from the page clippings that most closely match the type of content you are posting. If you’ve written a blog post about standing desks, check out the review and comparison posts. If you’ve created an ecommerce category page, take a look at this.
3. Use active voice
Active voice improves clarity and attracts the click by addressing the searcher directly.
Here is an example:
You can see it starts with a verb and makes the finder the subject of the sentence. In other words, it is the seeker who takes the action.
Now look at this:
Compared to the first example, it’s boring and demotivating. That’s because it’s written passively.
I wrote this as a bad example to make the point clear. It’s not an actual description.
Of course, it is not always advisable to use your voice to write meta descriptions. Case in point: definition style descriptions. As a rule of thumb, however, passive voice is the exception rather than the rule.
Learn more about the difference between active and passive language here.
4. Be specific
Meta descriptions are not a storytelling place. Every word matters because users quickly decide what to click by scanning the results, and because descriptions are truncated after a certain length.
Currently this length is 920 pixels (~ 160 characters) on the desktop and 680 pixels (~ 120 characters) on the mobile phone. The best way to keep them in length is to use a tool like this or a WordPress SEO Plugin like Yoast with the built-in functionality.
Whether you can optimize better for mobile or desktop users depends on your target audience. In general, if you want longer descriptions for desktop users, make sure you reach the point 3/4 the length so mobile users can see it too.
What is there to take away? Be precise for users, not search engines. The length restriction is a good signal that there may be unnecessary words.
5. Provide the meta description
If you use one CMSIt’s super easy. Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, and most others can find a place to type your meta description or paste it in the backend.
In WordPress, plugins like Yoast and RankMath add the same functionality.
If you don’t use one CMSJust paste the meta description tag into thatSection of your HTML Code.
If you include the meta description directly in the code, do not use quotation marks in the description itself, as this can cause problems. Use the HTML entity " this is how it looks:
If you put in quotation marks when adding a meta description CMS and plugins they usually take care of that HTML Transcoding for you.
This is how you prioritize the creation and editing of meta descriptions
You shouldn’t only consider meta descriptions during the publishing process. You may already have pages with a poor meta description or no meta description at all.
There’s no point in checking your entire website for meta descriptions. Instead, focus on the pages with the highest search traffic. Then a better meta description can make a real difference.
You can find these pages in Ahrefs Webmaster Tools. Just create a free account, crawl with Site Audit, and then go to Page explorer and apply these filters:
Then click the “Manage Columns” button and select “Organic Traffic”, “Meta Description” and “Meta Description Length”:
Finally, sort the pages according to their organic traffic:
Now look at your most important meta descriptions. Look for those who are not great or who are completely absent.
Although I recommend this “catch-all” method, you can only check missing meta descriptions. And that’s even easier because it’s right in the On page Report:
Click the “Show Affected URLs” button to open the report and sort the pages by organic traffic to get the right prioritization:
That was a pretty easy test, wasn’t it? What about a little more inspiration to write?
Great examples of meta descriptions
Let’s summarize a few examples of well-designed meta-descriptions across different industries and search intentions.
Most seekers seem to be looking for a definition here. This is what this meta description shows. It then prompts the reader to click to learn more about the benefits of glycine. Simple and efficient.
I thought I would see mixed neighborhoods and hotels results here, but the search results are mostly focused on Prague’s areas. And that description fits the intent perfectly. It offers a solution in a precise, carefree and actionable way. The mention of the “five best” neighborhoods also shows that you don’t have to spend any age reading them.
Here the searcher looks for sales items. I like the urgency signal at first; it feels more original and less aggressive than they usually are. Then you see confirmation of what you came for, and you end up with Patagonia’s distinctive asset: supporting sustainability and conservation.
This is the epitome of a great ecommerce category page in search results. It is likely that Nordstrom will list the most popular types of coats and brands here. Free shipping is probably one too USP mentioned in these SERPs as just another result.
Our last example is a homepage. This is a category of its own as it needs to reflect your brand and activities. Shopify does this well. It is clear and encourages you to try the service for free.
Their homepage is the only page I would recommend spending more time on the meta description as it is mostly displayed for brand queries where the intent is clear. As a result, Google is more likely to display the meta description in the SERPs.
Meta-descriptions are one of the first topics most people encounter when entering the world of SEO. Fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest to understand and master, so you’ll never have to spend a lot of time on it.
For more things that move the needle in SEOCheck out our list of actionable ones SEO Tips.
Do You Have Questions? Feel free to ping me on twitter.