What is a Meta Description? [+ How long should a meta description be]

A meta description accurately summarizes a webpage’s content in such a way as to benefit the reader and the search engines, and currently can be up to 160 characters long.

What is a Meta Description? [+ How long should a meta description be]

Information resources are rampant across the web today, making it harder than ever to compete.

You only have a few seconds to successfully capture a reader’s attention and entice them to click to your page for the content they’re looking for and potentially convert into a customer.

For this to happen, however, you need to find a way to stand out without resorting to tricky language or an overuse of pushy sales techniques.

What you need, then, is a straightforward approach, and that approach involves a well-written meta description.

The key here is to optimize meta descriptions for every web page, alerting the reader to what you offer in response to a posed query.

If done correctly, these meta descriptions can not only attract more viewers but also indirectly impact your SEO.

While they aren’t the solution to swiftly lift you higher up on search engine result pages (SERPs), they can play an important supporting role.

For this reason, it’s crucial to understand the best way to write one of these meta descriptions to benefit your brand.

Keep reading to know more.

    What are Meta Descriptions?

    Simply put, a meta description is an important HTML element for describing and summarizing your page’s content to benefit both searchers and the search engines themselves.

    A meta description consists of a short blurb, or synopsis, for what your webpage is all about, enticing readers to click on your link to learn more.

    A meta description is also an essential element of a SERP display, serving as an HTML tag or search snippet to show how your page’s content relates to a user’s particular search query.

    You can find it displayed underneath the title of your webpage on a search engine results page.

    However, while you may include your own meta description, it is still at the search engine’s discretion as to whether to show a snippet of it on SERPs or pull from your overall content to create a new one.

    In an automated process, Google may select to create this new one in order to match up more accurately with the searcher’s query.

    Are Meta Descriptions Still Important?

    Debate surrounds the importance of meta descriptions today, yet they are still essential for a few solid reasons. Here are two in particular.

    Crawlability and Indexability

    Meta tags, in general, are extremely important for the correct indexing of crawlers.

    The use of keywords and tags assists crawlers in their analysis and understanding of your content.

    Also, the better the content, the easier it will be for search engine bots and algorithms to navigate through your website, aiding correct indexing.

    Essentially, then, the more you improve the crawlability and indexability of your website with these measures, the more successful your SEO will be.

    Click-through rate and SEO

    While the consensus may be that SEO will not directly benefit from even the best of meta descriptions (since they’re not part of the search engine ranking algorithms), they can provide an important indirect benefit.

    A well-written, compelling meta description can raise the click-through rate (CTR) of your organic search results, increase traffic to your website, and improve engagement with your potential customers.

    Google recognizes CTR as a sign that your content is a good result for search queries. The more viewers click on your content, the higher you can position in the rankings.

    For these reasons, optimizing your meta description remains important and valuable to your overall digital marketing strategy.

    How Long Should a Meta Description Be?

    While meta descriptions can be any chosen length, it’s important to note that Google will only show between 155 to 160 characters total.

    Anything longer, and Google will cut it out.

    Undoubtedly, you want your meta description to adequately describe your content, provide value, and generate clicks.

    For this, you’ll need to be creative yet precise in your wording.

    The best recommendation for how long should a meta description be is to keep your descriptions somewhere between 150-160 characters total.

    Don’t count on these recommended lengths to stay the same, however, as Google often makes changes without notice when it comes to meta description length allowances.

    What Happens if the Meta Description is Too Short or Too Long?

    Creating a meta description that is too short or too long can make it less beneficial or useful to your SEO.

    While there is no minimal meta description length, you do want it to be long enough to provide readers with enough information.

    A meta description is your opportunity to inform information seekers that you have the answers they want and need.

    If your meta description is too short, that is, it contains too few characters, it may not effectively communicate what you have to offer and how you can best help the reader.

    A too-short meta description may also go unrecognized by Google as adequately answering a query and be replaced by an automatically created one.

    Yet, more isn’t always better unless it is concise and speaks directly to the content at the other end of the link.

    But when your meta description is too long, exceeding the 160 characters, you can expect it to be truncated in whatever way the search engine sees fit.

    Depending upon the content of your meta description, this can be a non-factor or may decrease the power of your description, potentially sending readers elsewhere.

    Either way, whether too short or too long, you are missing an opportunity to provide enough of the right information to viewers and risking a lower click-through rate.

    How Do You Write a Good Meta Description?

    A well-written meta description can have the potential to attract the attention of more readers and indirectly benefit your SEO in the process, so you want to make the most of it and include it in your content marketing strategy.

    While it will sometimes be a toss-up as to whether Google will display your prepared meta description as written or automatically create a new one, this shouldn’t deter you from writing the best one possible for your content and for your potential customers.

    So, how do you write a good meta description?

    1. Answer the main question

    Always keep in mind that a good meta description will convince readers that your content offers the best answer to their particular query.

    Instead of trying to be all things, narrow the focus of your meta description for that one purpose.

    Speak to user intent. Determine what it is they are looking for and provide them with a complete answer in as few words as possible.

    Be precise and accurate in the way you claim that your content answers the main question readers are asking.

    You may even want to include a version of the most popular question within the meta description itself.

    Meta descriptions that are too generalized or include more mystery than answers can drive traffic away from your content. So too can sales-speak that skirts around the answer and tries to manipulate the reader to click on your link.

    The bottom line, then, is to stick with the main question being asked most often and answer it directly.

    2. Mention a solution to the challenge

    Wherever a viewer is along the buyer’s journey, there are challenges that need solutions. Finding those solutions is the impetus behind their search queries.

    For your meta description to catch their eye and provide value, then, you need to mention a solution to the challenge.

    This solution can be hinted at along with the answer to the main question.

    Ultimately, you want to inspire confidence that your content provides a solution that satisfies the user intent behind the query.

    You can accomplish this by communicating the benefits of your product or service and how it can provide a solution.

    Appealing to their emotions can also entice them to trust that you understand their dilemma and can help solve it.

    As long as you understand your buyer persona well, you can better anticipate what it is the searcher is hoping to find and include this in your meta description.

    3. Keep the description clear and concise

    You only have so many words and characters to capture a reader’s attention and alert them that you are the best source for satisfying their particular query.

    For this, you need to keep your meta description as clear and concise as possible while also remaining convincing.

    Ensure you select the most relevant keywords for your content and the related query. Consider the semantics behind each of those keywords also for full effect with less wording.

    You will want to avoid being too salesy or spammy in your writing as well. 

    Consumers today frown upon these tactics and will move past you in the SERPs if they detect either of them in your meta description.

    All in all, while you may find a way to include wittiness in your writing, the golden rule for meta descriptions is to keep your wording simple, clear, and concise.

    4. Don’t overuse the keywords

    While you need to include the webpage’s target keywords, do so strategically and resist overusing them.

    Search engines like Google no longer focus on keyword density but instead look at the overall context of your content.

    Google will, however, often bold or highlight the keywords from a query within your description, and this will attract the eye of the reader faster.

    The overuse of keywords in your meta descriptions, however, will put you at risk for Google-imposed penalties, which will take time to overcome and negatively interfere with your SEO.

    For best practice, then, find a way to incorporate your primary and related keywords in the most natural way possible.

    5. Be engaging and unique to readers

    Each meta description for content on your website needs to be unique.

    Never assume that one meta description can serve all but instead make each one relevant to a specific webpage and its unique content.

    Search engines will notice these unique page titles and meta descriptions and will better match you up with queries.

    Another reason for creating unique meta descriptions is to show readers you understand what they need, and you’re not lazy about describing your content.

    You also want your meta descriptions to be engaging to readers.

    You can accomplish this by writing in the active voice, creating excitement in readers, and prompting readers to visit your webpage.

    Another way to increase engagement is to include a short call-to-action (CTA).

    Use such actional phrases as “learn more,” “find out more,” or more precise words such as “Get it now!”

    Another option is to mention interactive content on your web pages, such as a quiz to find out the best product to satisfy their query.

    In the end, a well-written meta description can be a valuable asset. While it may take practice to get it right, the benefits will far outweigh the time spent.

    Wrap Up: Create Impactful Meta Descriptions

    When it comes to the optimal meta description, you have a lot to consider. 

    From the number of allowable characters that will show up on SERPs to the effect it will have on readers, a meta description remains an important part of your overall strategy.

    And remember: SEO best practices lose their effectiveness without conversion rate optimization (CRO) tactics, such as these effective meta descriptions. 

    To avoid that from happening, find out more ways to add the best conversion rate optimization tactics to your strategy with our CRO mini-course.

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    Barbara von der Osten Rock author vector
    Rock Content Writer

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