It’s no secret that meta descriptions don’t carry official weight when it comes to search engine algorithms, but that doesn’t mean you should stop caring about them.
When a user searches for something, the first impression he or she will get of your site, brand, product, offering, etc., is what is presented on the SERP. This includes the title, description, URL and more, if you have rich snippets. You are competing for the user’s attention on this ever-changing search space. How are you going to win the user’s eyes and, ultimately, clicks to your site if you’ve got a crappy description for a possible landing page?
Therein lies the importance of meta descriptions.
This theory, like others, suggests that your site’s CTR has impact on your ranking. Google’s Webmaster Tools gives you search queries, impressions, clicks, CTR and average position. This shows that, as an SEO, this is something Google wants you to look at (via their tool). They are presenting information they deem important to a webmaster’s site; therefore, you should make it important.
With that, this 2010 eye tracking study showed that the most focused on “Area of Interest”(AOI) for users on SERPs is the description (or snippet, as they call it).
As you can see, the snippet (description) gets the most action from the user’s eyes … another reason to put importance on it. What does this mean? If you have compelling meta descriptions, then users are probably more likely to click on your link.
How do you write a compelling meta description, you ask?
Good question. Here’s how:
Six Steps to a Better Meta Description
(Because they DO matter)
- Stick to the recommended length of 160-character maximum.
If you go over this, chances are, you are getting words cut off, and it could be in places that may not make sense to the user. So, don’t go over 160 characters!
- Use up as much space as you can.
Since you have 160 characters to use … use them! Maximize the space you are given. This can also help ensure that your meta description is relevant to search engines and, hopefully, make it less likely that they just pull some site content and plug it in.
- Keywords are okay to use. Don’t worry, you aren’t ‘stuffing.’
Yes, keyword stuffing is bad … this isn’t a new thing. But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from using them all together. Search engines bold these words in the SERPs for a reason: so users can get their attention brought to them. Use your keyword, as in, the one and only one you are going for on a page, and use it naturally in a sentence. Preferably closer to the beginning so there is even less risk of it getting cut off and appears farther to the left (see why below). With this, make sure the title has the keyword, too, along with your brand name and/or section of site it’s on.
Bonus tip: Keywords in title tags should be as far left as possible to eliminate risks of getting cut off and, because according to this study, that’s where the user’s eyes are anyway.
- Use action words/verbs.
Show how a user will interact with your site. Start your description with something that makes the user want to do something. Using verbs, action words and call-to-actions like, “discover,” “read about,” “learn how to,” or “look through,” etc., can make your site content actionable even before the user lands on your site. The user can see that they will be interacting with your site rather than getting handed a site with nothing to do on it.
- Include cliffhangers.
You want to entice the user to click on your link within the SERP but not give them all the details right there. Otherwise, they might not see the point in clicking on your site at all if they’re getting all the information they need without clicking.
- Write descriptions for your inner user.
That’s right. You are a Webmaster, SEO, etc., AND a user. After you’ve written your description, read it back to yourself as though you were the user. Would you want to read that? Would you feel like you needed to click? Does it make sense for the keywords you are going after? If not, then you probably need some more adjusting.
Bonus tip: If you’re also running search ads, try comparing your best performing ads on the same keywords and see if you can use any of that ad copy in your meta description.
Voila! You’ve created a compelling meta description!
But how do you measure this?
One key metric to look at is if your organic traffic is up, especially for pages that are already ranking. This isn’t to say that an increase in organic traffic is due only to your new amazing meta descriptions, but it is definitely a playing factor and something you should look at.
Another way is with SERP Turkey’s split-test tool, with which you can test different snippets and SERPs and see which has more click-throughs. The creator wrote an introduction to this tool and a breakdown of how it works. Essentially, you can create different SERPs, send out your unique testing link for custom SERPs (with your new descriptions implemented) and retrieve a CTR analysis.
So, you’ve got the reasons why you should care about those little forgotten meta descriptions, how to perfect them and how to measure them. Now, go create compelling descriptions for amazing click-throughs!