How to Write Meta Descriptions

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The simple science of writing meta descriptions that work

A meta description is a short summary of a web page found in Google search results. Meta descriptions offer a glimpse into a page’s content and are often the deciding factor for potential site visitors choosing between search results. They’re also a must-have for any ambitious website, as they are an important aspect of SEO basics since pages with a meta description get 5.8% more clicks than those without.

A good meta description is short, detailed, and convinces readers that they’ll find what they need by clicking out to your web page. If you’re here, you’re probably wondering how to write meta descriptions that set your content apart from the competition on search engine results pages (SERPs).

That’s why we’ve created an easy checklist of the four steps you’ll need to follow to write great meta descriptions:

How to write a good meta description

  1. Use relevant keywords.
  2. Know your character limits.
  3. Care about copy.
  4. Keep each description original.

We’ve provided examples in each section, so you’ll know exactly what to do (and what not to do). But first, let’s talk a little more about what these important pieces of text actually are.

Meta descriptions: the technical definition

So, we know that a meta description is a short summary, or snippet, that appears in Google search results. But how does it get there?

example snippet

A meta description is a tag in HTML documents, and it’s part of the head section of a web page. The head section contains several tags that communicate important information, and HTML tags let search engines know which web pages are relevant to certain keywords.

You can edit your meta description directly in the HTML code of a web page, which will look something like this:

code example

That being said, there’s no need to panic if you don’t have experience with code! If you’re using a website builder, you’ll be able to edit meta descriptions in the editor of each page. For example, Wix lets you type your own meta description into a simple text box, highlighted in blue below:

wix meta editor

Most other website builders will provide similar beginner-friendly tools for writing meta descriptions. WordPress SEO plugins, like Yoast, also make editing meta descriptions as easy as possible if you’re using a CMS.

So, now that we know the basics, we can focus on writing effective meta descriptions. Let’s get to it!

Additional Resources

Meta descriptions are just one part of good Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. A lot of elements go into good SEO, and choosing the right platform to get started can make all the difference. That’s why we’ve ranked the Best Website Builders for SEO and the Best Web Hosting Providers for SEO accordingly.

1 Use relevant keywords

Incorporating target keywords into a meta description is important, because it’s an opportunity to remind searchers that you have the specific information they’re looking for. It’ll also help you stay on topic while you try to come up with a short summary of the page.

Check out this practical use of keywords for the search query “travel coffee mug”:

well used keywords

Here, we know we’re getting a list of travel coffee mugs, and we can also see that they’ll be judged on a number of relevant factors like spill resistance and comfort. Compare that to the obvious keyword stuffing going on in this next example:

poorly used keywords

This snippet repeats the search term so much that it starts to lose meaning, and we hardly get any other clues as to what kind of information will be on the page. Make sure to avoid overusing keywords in your writing – instead, use them as a guide to help you stay on topic!

Our Top SEO Tips
  • Anchor Text – Learn how to include stronger links in your content.
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2 Know your character limits

Google cuts off meta descriptions at 150-160 characters on desktop, and about 120 characters on mobile. You should try to optimize every meta description for mobile viewing, since 58% of all Google searches are conducted on mobile.

So, how can you work within Google’s character limits? There are plenty of free tools online that will let you check the length of your meta description, and even preview how the whole snippet will look on SERPs.

meta description length checker

We use Spotibo’s length checker tool, which gives you a character count as you type. This tool can also warn you if your description will get cut off in mobile search results:

meta description length warning tool

It’s good to keep the optimal character length in mind when writing meta descriptions. But don’t be afraid to get a little creative! Writing a meta description that cuts off mid-sentence can sometimes be a good thing for your click-through rate (CTR). If you manage to fit the most crucial information in the first 120 characters, then why not write a cliffhanger of sorts to spark curiosity about your page? Check out this meta description for the keyword “book recommendations”:

mid sentence cut off

This description fits the target keyword and all of the key information into the first sentence. Before we’re done reading, we know that this web page will deliver custom book recommendations. That leaves room for the second sentence to tempt us with the promise of articles, author interviews, and… what else?! It’s the perfect place to cut off – as readers, we’re ready to click and learn more.

If you decide to try this tactic, just use Spotibo or a similar tool to make sure you know where the description will cut off. There’s no use trailing off in an arbitrary place!

3 Care about copy

72% of marketers say that relevant content creation is the most effective SEO tactic, and great content starts with the meta description. You get a short number of characters to convince users to click on your web page, but a little bit of compelling copy goes a long way!

Before you start writing, make sure you research the SERPs for your targeted keyword. Ideally, you should study the top snippets for a few weeks, so that you’ll notice which descriptions are successful and what changes are being made. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with competitors’ strategies!

Before you start writing, you’ll also need to think about what not to do. Avoid writing meta descriptions that are full of fluff, or that don’t paint a clear picture of the web page, like this result for “affordable beach vacations”:

bad meta description content

This description is all set-up, with no tangible information. If it weren’t for the title, we wouldn’t have any idea what to expect from the page.

This meta description may have been auto-filled by Google, which can happen when a website owner doesn’t fill in a meta description themselves. In that case, Google often fills in the description with an excerpt that seems relevant – but as we can see above, such autofills rarely reflect the best content on the page.

Now, take a look at this result:

good meta description content

Right away, we know we can expect a list of cheap beach vacations. Not only does the second sentence clarify this, it also offers a preview of the kind of destinations we can expect to find on the page. This reads like a meta description that was deliberately written by the website owner, and it makes all the difference!

In short, a good meta description is:

  • User-focused
  • Specific
  • Reflective of the page content

A lot of effective meta descriptions also make use of calls to action (CTAs), or short, powerful statements that encourage readers to click on your page:

meta description with cta

The CTA “Browse our coffee beans” is a simple statement that directs the user to a clear course of action. Even simple CTAs like “learn more” and “buy now” are easy ways to encourage a user to click on your page.

Sharpen your writing skills with our tried-and-true guides

4 Keep each description original

It’s important to write different meta descriptions for different pages, rather than a blanket description for most of your site. Google may penalize you for duplicating meta descriptions, and what’s more, you’ll enjoy higher click-through rates when each description is as specific to its page as possible.

Top tip: Meta descriptions are important for search engine results, but they also appear when your content gets shared on social channels. You’ll want to make each description unique, so that casual readers on platforms like Twitter and Facebook will be interested enough to click to your web page!

How to test meta descriptions

There’s no magic content formula that works for every meta description. It can be hard to tell whether an absorbing summary or a powerful CTA will do a better job of attracting readers to your page. For this reason, it’s a good idea to test different meta descriptions to see how they impact your CTR.

Unlike actual page elements, meta descriptions can’t be A/B tested with complete certainty. But by evaluating certain factors whenever you tweak a meta description, you can gain insights into the kind of writing that performs best, and draft future tags accordingly.

search console home

Tools like Google Search Console allow you to track the CTRs for each of your pages over time. You can keep track of this data in a spreadsheet, and make note of the dates that you’ve edited a meta description.

For example, if you wanted to test the effect of a new CTA in a meta description, you could track the CTR for a few months, then add the new CTA and continue monitoring for any changes. It’s worthwhile to track performance for a few months before and after each test, to ensure that you’ll have enough accurate data to inform your decisions.

Why isn't my meta description appearing in search results?

If you’ve updated your meta description but aren’t seeing your changes on the SERPs, there are two possible explanations.

The first is simply that it takes time for Google to “reindex,” or crawl, the page to prepare the new information in search results. Reindexing happens automatically, and your pages will be reindexed somewhere between every four days and every four weeks. For people who want to see results quickly, that can be a pretty frustrating time frame. The best thing to do is to request a recrawl via Google Search Console, which can help speed up the process.

The second possibility is that Google has created its own meta description, based on the assumption that the current description isn’t relevant enough to the page content. This will almost certainly happen if there was no meta description to begin with, but it can even happen if you have written a meta description that seems too redundant.

Ultimately, we can’t control Google’s response to our meta descriptions, but you’ll have the best odds of avoiding this by making your descriptions as focused as possible around your target keywords. Avoiding duplicate meta descriptions is also a good way to make the relevancy of each description more obvious to Google.

Further Information

How to write meta descriptions: recap

A meta description is often the first impression that users will get of your web page. And now, you have everything you need to make sure your descriptions will earn as many clicks as possible. In summary, these are the four critical steps to success:

How to write a good meta description

  1. Use relevant keywords.
  2. Know your character limits.
  3. Care about copy.
  4. Keep each description original.

By putting these tips into action, and testing each description to compare results, you’ll become the master of meta descriptions in no time!

Written by:
I grew up scribbling in notebooks, and until recently the thought of relocating my writing to the digital world seemed like an impossible goal. But when I finally took the plunge and created an online portfolio, I immediately saw the benefits of having my work out on the web. Since then I’ve learned everything I can about creating different websites, so that I can help those in a similar situation get online without a similar headache.

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