If you were so far awed by the word ‘meta’, it simply means ‘self-reference’. The term comes from creative art, but in the art of SEO, meta-data is simply the data about the data on your web page.
Why Meta Descriptions are Crucial for SEO
The next member in the meta family is the meta description. (In case you missed the previous post, the ‘page title’ is the head of the meta-data clan). Many site owners conveniently ignore meta descriptions because Google says it doesn’t consider meta descriptions for ranking websites. And this is where the plot thickens.
It turns out Google ranks websites based on hundreds of search signals. Agreed, that meta descriptions are not one of these signals, but think about it for a second. Google measures hundreds of signals to determine one overarching factor…the ‘user experience’. The better user experience a site offers and the more valuable content it hosts, Google is more likely to make this website more visible to searchers. Meta description is the first experience your customers have with your website after the title.
Meta descriptions play a crucial role in making people click on your search results. In other words, meta descriptions are critical for your SERP click through rate or CTR—the percentage of customers who click on your search results. And CTR is a well known search signal that Google and other search engines rely on to determine which site will be presented higher on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). A higher CTR means more users like to engage with your page, and to Google, it’s good user experience.
Where would you order your food?
If you are not writing meta descriptions, you’re leaving it up to the search engines to pick out the snippet from your content and display it on their SERPs (search engine results pages). This can work sometimes, when the search engines match certain long tail keywords with the phrases in your page’s content. At other times, it can be a disaster.
For instance, compare the first and the last search result on this SERP screen-grab for the search terms ‘Canada catering’. The first one probably had its meta description written by a human, whereas the second had its description pulled up by Google. Which search result would you say a user would be more likely to click?
But SEO is not the only reason why you should start writing meta descriptions. Your meta description show up when someone shares your content on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and some other social media networks. Whereas Google spiders are still kind enough to pick up the relevant snippets from your content, Facebook bots may show an irrelevant or absurd description if you have left the meta description blank.
Best Practices for Writing Meta Descriptions
- Write killer copy. Make sure your meta description is intriguing for the reader and coaxes them to click.
- Stay below 156 characters. Search engines will slash out extra characters, so there’s no use writing them.
- Don’t use special characters. Google will not display anything that comes after a quote (“) sign.
- Use your keywords in meta descriptions. They will not count toward your ranking, but will be displayed in bold if they match the search terms, so your SERP description will become more noticeable to the searcher.