By OLIVER ANDREWS
Top Tips on How to Write the Best Meta Description for SEO
We asked 39 SEO experts about character limits, best practices, and dealing with almighty Google. Here’s what they had to say.
Every digital startup has wondered how to use meta tags for SEO. It’s an essential question to consider, even in 2021; despite some voices insisting that meta descriptions are no longer relevant to SEO, they continue to hold sway over a company’s success or failure in the marketplace.
Meta descriptions are one of the more overlooked aspects of a modern SEO or marketing strategy. Understanding how to write one and stand out from the crowd is a skill that SEO experts and content writers hone over several years. Luckily, some of that experience is on display right here.
A Treasure Trove of Expertise
We reached out to dozens of SEO and digital marketing experts, marketing startup founders, content writers, and conversion rate gurus. Each of them answered four questions relating to their strategy for writing and optimising meta descriptions.
We received a wealth of information from 39 experts, answering basic and complex questions like:
- What is the function of a meta description?
- Is there a standard formula for writing one?
- What character limit should I obey?
- Should I include keywords, and if so, how many?
- How can I get better at writing meta descriptions?
- How does Google impact the tags my webpage uses?
If you’re ready to take a look at what the best minds in the SEO world have to say about meta tags, read on. But first…
Are Meta Tags Useful in 2021?
While it wasn’t a question we asked directly, most of the experts we approached stressed their opinion that meta descriptions are alive and well in today’s digital landscape—though not necessarily for the reasons you’d expect.
“Even though it is not as important as it used to be,” admits Angel Sanchez of Wanderlust Portraits, “SEO ranking still plays an essential role in on-page SEO.”
“You might have been told that keywords in titles and descriptions are becoming less and less important as time goes on and Google gets smarter,” says Searchant founder Marcus Clarke, “and that’s probably true. But ensuring your titles and descriptions match the expectation of the searcher and ultimately your potential customer is extremely important.”
Deepak Shukla, an award-winning SEO specialist and consultant, has a similar take. “Meta descriptions are not ranking signals,” he explained, “but they do give a snippet of the webpage and therefore influence click-through rates. That’s why it is a good idea to show how your webpage solves a genuine ‘pain problem’ for the user. Basically, are they going to find the answer they are looking for quickly and easily on your webpage?”
From Andrew Maff, founder of BlueTuskr: “Meta descriptions don’t have nearly as much SEO power as they once did. Now you have to utilise them almost like you would a snippet preview of an email campaign. Your description should mention the keyword you’re targeting, but outside of that, it needs to be written for the user and entice them to click.”
Ultimately, the consensus among all of our experts was that meta tags are more critical for click-through rate (CTR) and conversion than traditional SEO. With that in mind, let’s get into it.
What we will cover in this article
What are your top tips on how to write the best meta descriptions?
Considering that meta tags are more for the audience than for Google, most experts recommended a flexible approach. “I think perspective is the big thing when writing an effective meta description,” suggests Sean Chaudhary, CEO of AlchemyLeads. “Who is your audience, what keywords will they be searching, how can you position the text to be a quality CTA? Keep perspective in mind in order to really benefit from a meta description and not just have it be ‘filler text.’”
Cary Haun, a technical SEO specialist at Twelve Three Media, also prefers putting oneself in the reader’s shoes. He describes the process of conceptualising a meta description as “offer[ing] a compelling elevator pitch version of the service you can provide, where that service is located, and who is providing said service at that location.”
“If you sell clothing and are writing a meta description for a jacket, don’t just write about your whole company and brand,” says Hannah from Bite Digital. Her company focuses on SEO, PPC, CRO, analytics, content, and social media marketing. She adds that you should “think of the keywords audiences might search for if they were wanting to get to the thing you are writing a meta description for.”
GR0 co-founder and CEO Kevin Miller tells us, “You want meta descriptions to read like a normal sentence.” Christian Velitchkov, a co-founder of Twiz LLC, agrees. “Title and meta description are the face of the page. They create the first impression for any visitor. The best advice is to write exactly what the page is all about, [and] never misguide your audience. The length should be optimum and ensure that you mention the keyword in the meta description.”
What have you found works best?
Many experts repeated a similar sentiment when answering this question: There is no one best way to write a meta description. “I don’t actually think that there is a rule for what works best, because it is so dependent on the user intent,” admits Karolina Cala, a marketing manager at Levitex with three years of SEO experience.
“We’ve found that there is no one formula,” concurs Luke Genoyer, a business development manager with United World Telecom. “A landing page…should have an attractive meta description that includes the brand promise or the ‘deal’ being advertised. On the other hand, an informative piece of content…will need a different approach, where you summarise what the reader will gain from reading.”
Naman Bansal of Xplorers of Fun has a unique equation for writing an appealing meta tag: the PSBA Formula. It stands for “Problem, Solution, Bait, Action” and is applied like this: “Link Building is hard [Problem], but this ultimate guide makes it easy! [Solution] Learn how to get more links to your site and rank higher! [Bait] Read Now! [Action].” Naman suggests adding CTAs at the end of every description for this reason.
Keywords: How Much is Too Much?
As we’ve already shown, keywords were another point of agreement in almost every response. The short version? Use your primary keyword but don’t use too many additional words.
“Don’t obsess about including multiple keyword variations,” counsels James Rice, Head of SEO at Picked. “Sure, get the primary phrase in there somewhere. But it’s much better to read naturally than be over-optimised.”
Elizabeth Weatherby, an SEO specialist with CSI Financial Group, also urges others to avoid overusing keywords. She recommends sprinkling them “naturally throughout the meta description, describing the purpose of the page [while being] careful not to stuff the meta description with tons of keywords, as this could be detrimental.”
“Since you can’t (or shouldn’t) stuff keywords, stuff context and concepts instead!” suggests Cary Haun. “Wordplay is a good way to stack your meta descriptions with different concepts.”
The digital marketing agency Dealers League added that smart device compatibility is also essential. “Keep [your meta tag] short and concise,” they suggest, “especially if your visitors access your web page often from a cell phone or tablet, as the number of characters of the meta description that are visible is lower.”
Other points of debate included whether or not you should answer a search query in the meta tag itself. Tihana Drumev, Senior Content Marketing Executive at Best Response Media, thinks you should.
“If [the user is] searching for ‘how to get rid of mould,’ answer [in] the meta description,” she says. “That will make the searcher stop, see you’re trustworthy and make them click on your answer.”
Self-made marketing expert Mila Chervenkova disagrees, however. “Instead of including the answer in the meta description, write something like this: ‘Bodybuilder Dorian Yates finds the solution for big calves. Here is what to do.’”
What tips and tricks have you got for people to improve their meta descriptions?
This question was where the advice offered by our experts got more diverse. We were lucky to have so many unique tips and tricks sent our way, a selection of which are listed below:
- Joey Randazzo is the founder of Portland SEO Growth, a small marketing agency with a resume that includes several leading brands. He says his best tip for improving a meta description is to “write 2-3 sentences that accurately describe what your page talks about while making it incredibly enticing for the Google searcher to click.”
- Matt Thomason, an SEO consultant and founder of The Witney SEO Guy, recommends short and catchy word choice to grab the reader’s attention. “You’ve got to give the user a reason to click and take action, so make sure you’re using active language like ‘get,’ ‘learn’ and ‘discover.’”
- “Remember, few people actually read the meta description the way they read a title,” offers Deepak Shukla. “Most people only glance or don’t read them at all! That’s why it is essential to write a short and skimmable meta description.”
- “Sell benefits,” encourages Arpit Agarwal, a freelance SEO Copywriter with two years of experience. “[Paint a picture of] what readers will gain after reading the blog.”
- “Treat the meta description as if it’s an advert for your webpage,” recommends Brian Jansen, chief editor at vpnAlert. “The summary should not only complement the page’s content, but it should also be as enticing as possible.”
- Lee Silsby, a personal finance expert and the founder of EarningsPortal, advises checking in on your search engine results page (SERP) neighbours to see where things sit. “Scan through everyone else’s meta descriptions and then make sure your meta description is a better, more clickable one.”
The Wrath of Google
An oft-repeated warning relates to the way search engine giants treat your meta description. “Google rewrites meta descriptions in a high percentage of cases, so it’s really important to be accurate in your description of what the page is about,” cautions Rob Powell, who has written about meta descriptions here. “Avoid exaggerated statements and avoid being overly self-promotional.”
“Google is notorious for rewriting or ignoring your meta description. One of the ways to combat this is to put your meta description in your intro,” suggests Darren DeMatas, a co-founder of Orbit Local who has worked in SEO for more than 13 years. “The meta description should be used as a teaser to drive someone to click and keep reading. Once they get on your page, you want them to stay on your site.”
“Submit the URL of the page to Google Search Console’s inspect URL tool and click to crawl and index it,” urges Filip Silobod, an SEO specialist at Honest Marketing with six years of experience. “Check tomorrow or when the page is crawled by Googling your key phrase [in Incognito mode]. Does Google show the description as you wanted? If not, try again—shorten it, change it, maybe put less keywords, and see if Google shows the description for your search.”
“If you’re only using your meta description as clickbait, you may end up getting penalised,” warns Jason Brown, who formed his startup last year after three decades working with Fortune 500 companies. “You’ll only increase your bounce rate by being misleading.”
Perhaps surprisingly, several experts recommended adding emojis to meta tags, including Filip Silobod and Nomad Life 101 SEO consultant and blogger Melissa Giroux. “Using checkmarks or any related emojis is a great way to stand out from your competitors,” Melissa suggests. She adds that a great way to test them is by “head[ing] to Google Search Console and pick[ing] posts that rank on the first page; test different emojis in both titles and meta descriptions.”
Daniel Roberts, a co-founder of ThinkImpact, says he uses “at least one relevant emoji, and three at most, in every description that my writers curate. Google algos may not understand those cartoons, but it surely excites Google surfers and intrigues them to click and land on our pages.” He adds that iemoji.com is an invaluable resource for his team.
How many characters should you use?
Another crucial factor is the character limit. “Abide by the character limits and keep it concise and straight to the point,” advises Greta Simeonova, an SEO specialist and content writer with PAN Digital Marketing. Where we found some disagreement, though, was over what the proper character limit is.
Harrison Sharrett, a digital marketing specialist at London-based Prime Office Space, emphasises that meta tags “should be kept below 160 characters.” Janis Thies, a managing partner at SEOlutions, offers a lower estimate. “What we are aiming for is a unique meta description that is under 155 characters, that matches the voice of the target page.”
So, which is it? Should you use 160 characters or 155?
According to Amanda White, a freelance SEO specialist with over 10 years of experience, the fundamental factor is pixels, not characters. “If you use narrow letters like ‘I’ and ‘j,’” she explains, “you can actually get a higher character limit than using long letters like ‘W.’ You can roughly have just over 1000 pixels in length rather than thinking in characters.”
Anastasya Prach, an outreach specialist at Snov.io, gives a more detailed description of this principle. “Think about pixels. Remember, the world has gone mobile, and many users will read your content on their smartphones. Draw the line: stick to 920 pixels (that’s about 158 characters) for desktop meta description and 680 pixels (about 120 characters) for the meta description on mobile devices.”
How can they get the best click-through rate?
When it comes to CTR, our experts offered another batch of diverse tips.
“Bold works,” insists Set The Record Player founder and editor Ahmed Elnaggar. “The number of words in bold in the meta description will usually result in higher CTR; this is due to the fact that it automatically gives the impression that this article is more relevant to the search query than others and thereby worth clicking on first.”
“To get the best click-through rate, do research on the customer journey to know what users are searching for throughout their visit to your website,” offers Matt Bentley, CEO of CanlRank. “Create a site structure based on that journey, and create new content or pillar pages to help guide the customer to conversion.”
Leanne Scott, a blogging coach and strategist who works with Passive Income Superstars, recommends “using power words inside your metadata description. Power words have the ability to evoke emotions. These could be positive emotions like excitement, curiosity or trust. They can also be negative like fear of missing out or of failure.”
“Make sure that your meta description conveys value to the reader,” lists Tayyab Akram, Digital Marketing Manager at WPBrigade, as part of his CTR process. “Write the meta description in active voice, and always ensure that every page of your website has its own unique meta description.”
Michael Steele, CEO of Flywheel Digital, says he has helped double his company’s revenue each year since 2018 by adding a call to action at the end of meta tags. He calls this “an excellent opportunity to convince readers to click on your URL, and ultimately increase both your click-through rate and overall SEO ranking.”
Brian Robben of Robben Media insists that content writers should always “write for humans first… By writing for humans, I mean add persuasion, interest, intrigue, or a question into the meta description writing. This gets people motivated to click through to your site.”
SEO is an ever-growing field. The professionals we sat down with come from various backgrounds and experience levels, yet they all have something to say about how to use meta tags for SEO in 2021. The biggest takeaway, they suggest, is always to trust your audience and cater to their needs. By putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, your meta tags will almost certainly bring in more conversions.
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