What is an SEO Meta Description Tag?

what is meta description for seo

Last Updated on 6 September 2020 by Lukasz Zelezny

Ever since its introduction, the concept of Search Engine Optimization or SEO has revolutionized the way the internet works. Today, millions of website and business owners make use of SEO to rank higher in the results page of search engines, so as to drive in more and more traffic and customers.

The SEO of a website depends upon a number of factors, starting from optimization of websites with the help of keywords and backlinks to analyzing business rivals for the improvement of the marketing strategy of that website. Clearly, there are many different answers to the question: How to improve the SEO ranking of your website or business? However, improving the SEO of a website through keywords, Pay-per-click or PPC strategy regarding ads, and backlinks, and conducting thorough analysis on top competitors are things that almost every business focuses on, these days. Owing to this, it becomes much harder to strategically conduct search engine optimization in order to actually improve the traffic of a web page and the overall performance of a website.

So, the question arises: What else can you do to improve the overall traffic and performance of your web pages and build a larger clientele for your website? If you own a business, opting for local SEO is one option that can help you improve your site’s ranking and gain more traffic and customers. However, if you really want to leave no stones unturned and want to do everything in your power to improve the performance of your website and the clientele of your business, you must definitely devote some of your valuable time into improving the meta description of the pages of your website.

What is meant by Meta Description for SEO or SEO Description of a web page?

The SEO description or meta description of a web page is essentially a snippet that describes the nature of the content of a particular web page. It is basically a snippet that summarizes what a specific web page is about and the range of information that particular web page and its site is concerned with. The meta description of a web page is also known as its metadata or sometimes simply, as page description. This meta description is written within the meta description tag or meta tag in the HTML code of the web page.

The meta description of a web page or site does not appear on the web page itself; rather, the meta tags provide search engines with valuable information on the content of your web page and your site so that the search engines can understand if the content your web page deals with is related to a particular search or not.

This meta description is generally only present in the HTML code of a web page. However, this description might also show up when someone shares the link to your web page in their social media. Sometimes, search engines also display this information as the description below the title or link of your site in the search engine results page. Although, this may not always be the case. If your web page has a meta description, Google and other search engines will display that meta description below the title of your page, for a majority of related searches. However, every now and then Google might also return customized search snippets instead of the meta description you provided for your web page.

The meta title of your web page, on the other hand, usually appears both at the top of your meta description in the search engine results page as well as at the top of your web page itself, in the URL. The meta title, just like the heading of your web page, precisely and accurately defines the content of your page.

The meta title is often the same as the heading of the web page. However, it does not necessarily need to be exactly the same. In fact sometimes, it becomes essential to include some additional information in the meta title that may not be present in the heading. This is because the heading needs to be precise but it need not summarize everything that is included in the web page; whereas, in the case of meta titles, the more precise and accurate the meta title is, the easier it is to attract viewers from the search engine results page.

How long should the Meta Description of your web page be?

You may wonder, how many characters can the meta description of your web page have? Or what is the recommended length for the meta titles or meta descriptions of the pages of your website? In general, the meta description of your web page can be as long as you want it to be. However, it is neither practical nor helpful to make your meta descriptions longer than it is actually required to be. Search engines usually display about 155 to 160 characters of the meta description of a web page in the search engine results page.

Google, which is one of the most extensively used search engines out there, uses this format as well. For some devices, the length of characters that the search engines actually display in their results page can be even less, approximately about 120 to 125 characters. However, most devices and search engines nowadays usually display up to 160 characters.

So, it is highly recommended to keep the meta description length of your web pages within 160 characters, including spaces and other symbols, for impacting the SEO of your website. However, your meta description also needs to be as descriptive and informative as possible within the limit of those 160 characters. So, it is advisable to avoid making the SEO meta description length of your web page less than 50 characters.

As of 2020, the optimum length of the meta description or meta data description of any web page of any site is considered to be between 120 to 158 characters. The meta title of any web page, as already mentioned, must be very precise and well defined. Meta titles are usually   characters long.

Why is it important to write a Meta Description for your web page and what happens if you don’t write a Meta Description?

You already know, when you provide a meta description for a particular web page or post, the search engine displays that description along with the meta title on the search engine results page, for a majority of searches related to the content of your web page.

The significance of this meta description lies in its usefulness at attracting target customers or potential clients from the search engine results page. SEO friendly meta descriptions are especially helpful for increasing the click-through rates or CTR of your web page or website.

But, what happens when you don’t add metadata descriptions to your web pages? When you don’t add a meta description to your web page, search engines like Google create search snippets based on phrases from the content of your web page that are related to the search or contains keywords used in that particular search.

So, what are the advantages of adding a meta description to your web page as opposed to not including a description? While Google returns related key phrases from the content of your web page when you don’t add a description, these phrases are sometimes discontinuous or incoherent and hence, fail to logically describe the content of the web page. When this happens, the search snippets often fail to attract target customers from the search engine results page. This affects the click through rates of the corresponding web page and hence, hampers the performance of the website.

Does Meta Description affect SEO?

Speaking from a purely theoretical point of view, meta descriptions do not directly affect SEO. This is because search engines like Google do not use the information provided in meta keywords or meta descriptions to rank web pages on the search engine results page. So, from a micro perspective, it can be said that meta descriptions do not affect SEO.

However, meta descriptions do aid the purpose of SEO and help improve the performance of on-page SEO. You may think, if the meta descriptions of web pages are not used to rank websites in the search engine results page or SERP, then how can it be possible for them to help the purpose of SEO. The purpose of SEO is to ultimately increase the traffic of a website and attract potential customers to improve the clientele of that particular website.

As mentioned earlier, a good meta description is very useful in increasing the click-through rates or CTR of a web page or website, that is, a well designed meta description will not only tell potential clients what a particular web page can offer them but also make them want to actually visit that page.

According to this research conducted by this website, it has been found that web pages with a meta description has 5.8% better click-through rates as opposed to web pages without a meta description. Owing to this, pages with meta descriptions often attract more traffic and perform better. So, from a macro perspective, it can be said although meta descriptions do not directly affect SEO, it does help the performance of SEO on a web page and its CTR and eventually, becomes a very important part of on-page SEO.

Where and How to write a Meta Description: HTML versus Content Management Systems?

By now, you must have an idea on what a meta description is and why it is important. You also know that the best length for a meta description for SEO is about 120 to 158 characters. But, where and how to actually write a meta description? First, let’s discuss where to add the meta description of your web page. It has been already mentioned that the meta description of any web page is present within the meta tags of its HTML code.

Even if you have a basic understanding of HTML, you know tags in HTML are codes that define the font and layout of the content of web pages. <html>…</html>, <title>…</title> are examples of tags in HTML. Here, we are dealing specifically with the meta tags used to add meta description in HTML. The meta tags of a web page are always written inside the <head>…</head> tags. Attributes associated with meta tags in HTML include: charset, name, content, and http-equiv. You can see the values associated with each of these attributes here.

Syntax or format for writing the meta tag in HTML is something of this sort:

<head>

<title>...</title>

<meta name = "type of name" content = "value of name"/>

</head>

If you’re confused, don’t worry. This is actually very simple to understand. An in-depth understanding of the meta tag in HTML can surely help you in many ways. However, even if you don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the meta tag, you can still write a striking and compelling meta description in HTML by simply understanding how the ‘name’ and ‘content’ attributes function with the meta tag. The ‘name’ attribute of the meta tag specifies the name of the metadata, and the ‘content’ attribute specifies the value associated with the ‘name’ or ‘http-equiv’ attribute.

Again, let us consider the following example:

<meta name = "description" content = "This page has detailed information on what metadata is, how to use meta tags, how to write SEO friendly meta description and the best practices related to it."/>

This meta description can be considered quite apt for SEO. It not only specifies exactly what the web page is about to the search engines and potential clients on the search engine results page but also follows the optimum length for writing meta descriptions, contains the keywords of the web page, and still manages to sound natural yet compelling to the viewers.

So, this is how SEO friendly meta descriptions are written in HTML. But, what about content management systems, like WordPress or Drupal or Joomla? It is even easier to write compelling SEO friendly meta descriptions if your website uses content management systems or CMS.

This is because when you are working with content management systems, you don’t really need to know how to code to write meta descriptions for your web pages. If your website uses WordPress, you can easily use Yoast SEO plugin to write SEO friendly meta descriptions for each of your web pages on your website. One of the best WordPress plugins available is Yoast SEO.

In addition to providing the ability to add meta descriptions to your web pages, Yoast SEO also helps you optimize the overall SEO of your website and conduct competitor research. Here is a detailed explanation for the step-by-step procedure of using Yoast SEO plugin in WordPress to write meta keywords and meta descriptions.

How to write and optimize your Meta Descriptions for SEO?

Now that you understand where and how to write the meta description for your web page, lets talk about how to make your meta description SEO friendly. Here are a few tips to optimize your meta descriptions or metadata for SEO:

  1. Make the meta description of your web pages specific and straightforward:

Ensuring that the meta descriptions of your web pages sound specific and straightforward will make potential customers from the search engine results page understand exactly how you can help them with their query or need while also adding a certain appeal to your description. Being specific with your words will solidify your meta description and make your target audience feel like you know what you’re talking about. This will make it easier for them to put their faith on your web page, thereby, making them actually want to give your website a chance.

  1. Make sure your meta description sounds natural and conversational:

Often in the process of trying to optimize the meta description of your web page for SEO, you might end up with a description that sounds mechanical or robotic. This does not make for an attractive quality in meta descriptions. In order to make the meta description of your web page feel more natural and conversational, you can use active voice while writing your description. Using active voice for the meta description of your web page will make it sound welcoming as well as add a personal touch to it.

  1. Stick to the optimal character count for the meta description of your web page:

This has already been mentioned above. However, in order to optimize the meta description of your web page for SEO, this is a must. It is very important to remember that most search engines only display metadata that are up to about 160 characters long. Anything written as a part of meta description beyond these 160 characters cannot be seen by target customers, and hence, cannot improve the traffic, performance or the SEO of your website.

  1. Include the primary keyword of your web page in the meta description:

You may have this question: If search engines don’t use meta descriptions for ranking sites, then why is this important for SEO? Including the primary keyword of your web page in your meta description may not be very important to search engines for ranking pages in the SERP but it is definitely important for your viewers and to improve the click-through rates of your site. If a potential customer sees the keyword they searched for in your meta description, they are much more likely to click on your link than when their keyword is absent. So, adding the primary keyword to your meta description is always a smart choice. However, while doing so, make sure you’re doing it subtly and refrain from keyword stuffing.

  1. Treat your meta description like an advertisement for your web page:

The meta description of your web page must be influential enough to make your target audience actually want to click your link and view your site. Your meta description is like an ad copy for your web page. This means that it must carry some value to your target customers. This is very important for improving the click-through rates and overall traffic of your web page. You can make your meta description sound more compelling by highlighting the contextual need of your target customers in your description itself. Including a call to action like, “Click here to learn more” or “Try it for free” in your meta description can also be very helpful in achieving this.

What are the best practices associated with Meta Descriptions for SEO?

When you understand what qualities a meta description should have, it becomes easier for you to craft one for your own page. However, even if you manage to write a natural, thought provoking and compelling SEO friendly meta description for your web page, you still need to keep an eye on a few important factors associated with creating a good meta description. In order to make this simpler for you, here is a list of some of the best practices associated with meta descriptions for SEO:

  1. Make sure the tone of your meta descriptions and that of your web pages are same:

This simply refers to brand management. Having a brand means having a distinctive style or tone for your website. This allows you to add a certain kind of uniqueness to your web pages. The whole aura around your website will depend upon the tone that you set for your site. In such a scenario, it becomes necessary to make sure the meta descriptions of your web pages has the same brand voice as that of your website.

  1. Avoid using clickbait strategy for writing meta descriptions:

If you just write trending keywords in your meta description irrespective of whether or not it relates to the content of your page and use your description to trick your potential customers into clicking the link to your web page, this will create a negative impression of your website on your viewers. Doing this can not only increase the bounce rate of your website but also hamper your site’s overall traffic and performance in the long run. So, it is very important to remember to keep your meta description honest and conforming to the content of your web page.

  1. Avoid using duplicate meta descriptions for multiple web pages:

Make sure the meta descriptions you use for the web pages of your website are unique to one another. Even if some of the content of your web pages are similar, avoid using the same page titles and meta descriptions for multiple web pages. Using duplicate meta descriptions might make search engines consider those descriptions as spam. As a result, search engines might completely disregard those meta descriptions and instead show customized search snippets from the content of your web page in the SERP.

  1. Try to fit the most significant parts of your meta descriptions within the first 120 characters:

Even though most search engines display up to 160 characters of meta descriptions, in some devices and cases, the descriptions get trimmed to about 120 characters. So, make it a point to fit the most important parts of your meta description along with your primary keyword within the first 120 characters.

  1. Do not use double quotation marks in meta descriptions:

Keep your meta descriptions free of double quotation marks because Google doesn’t recognize double quotations in between meta descriptions and hence, truncates your description at the point where they appear. So, even if you write a compelling, SEO friendly meta description of optimal length for improving the click-through rates of your web page, if you use double quotations somewhere in between, your description will be trimmed short in the SERP.

  1. Conduct research for your meta descriptions:

Conducting research on the meta descriptions of your competitors and understanding the needs of your clients can provide you with valuable insights on how to improve your own meta descriptions for SEO and CTR. So, make it a point to keep track of your competitors and target customers.

You know that Google displays the meta descriptions of web pages in the search engine results page. In case, Google does not display any meta description along with the title of a particular web page, it does not automatically mean that the web page does not use meta tags or meta description for SEO. In such cases, how can you tell if your competitors use meta descriptions or not?

In order to find out whether a particular web page uses meta descriptions or not, all you need to do is view and analyze the HTML code of that page. In case you don’t know how to do that, it is actually very simple. Just visit the web page you want to check for meta descriptions, right-click anywhere on it and go to “View Page Source”. This will open a new tab or window with the HTML code of the page. If the web page uses meta tags, they will be present within the <head>…</head> tags at the top portion of the code.

What are some examples of excellent Meta Descriptions for SEO?

It is important to note that most of the top rated websites make use of meta tags in their web pages in order to improve the traffic and performance of their websites. Here are a few such examples of excellent meta descriptions and why they work:

Example 1: Netflix

Page: Homepage
Meta Description:
Watch Netflix movies & TV shows online or stream right to your smart TV, 
game console, PC, Mac, mobile, tablet and more.

 

Plus points:

  • The description sounds both welcoming and natural at the same time.
  • Quite a few striking keywords of the website have been added as a part of the description as well.
  • The use of the phrase “and more” at the end kindles the curiosity of the viewers.
  • The brand name is present in the description.
  • Number of characters amount to 120 exactly and thereby, the meta data not only conforms to the optimum length for SEO but it also allows the entire meta description to show up in the search engine results page, irrespective of the device in which it is being viewed.

Example 2: Nike

Page: Homepage
Meta Description:
Inspiring the world's athletes, Nike delivers innovative products, experiences and services.

 

Plus Points:

  • This meta description acts like a well designed ad copy for the web page and the site and highlights everything they can offer that is of value to their clients.
  • The description contains the brand name.
  • It manages to skillfully describe the site’s goal within a span of just 92 characters.
  • It is precise but sounds compelling.

Example 3: https://seo.london/

Page: Homepage/Login
Meta Description:
For years as SEO Consultant in London I am managing organic growth, 
visibility, and customer engagement for UK largest brands. Let me help you!

 

Plus Points:

  • This meta description is to the point and helps potential clients understand exactly what the site is about.
  • It has 144 characters in total, which is quite good for the SEO of the site.
  • It is written in active voice and sounds very direct and conversational.
  • The way the words are put together in the meta description makes the site sound interesting and has the ability to compel the readers to try it out.

 

If they are written and optimized properly, meta descriptions can have a very powerful impact on the click-through rates of your website. When a website has high click-through rates, search engines start considering that website as important and favorable. This eventually leads to a higher ranking of the website in the search engine results page.

Hence, even though search engines don’t use these meta descriptions directly for ranking web pages in the SERP, these descriptions ultimately do have an impact on the performance of the site and thereby, can be used to improve the overall long term SEO of the website.