A meta description is a HTML tag which summarizes the content of a page. Google and other search engines use it to determine the relevancy of a page for a particular search term or query.
It’s the text snippet that comes under the blue clickable link in Google search results.
If the meta description of your page has all the keywords that a user searched for, search engines will determine that your page is highly relevant to what the user is searching for and will rank it higher.
So optimizing meta descriptions is a plus one for on-page SEO.
As mentioned earlier, it’s just a HTML tag which summarizes the content of your page. The HTML code looks like this:
<meta name="description" content="This is the meta description text"/>
You should place this code at the very top of your page, inside the head section of every page in your site. Also, there is no separate closing meta tag. Meta tags are self-closing tags.
The main purpose of a meta description is to get more people to click your links. In other words, a meta description increases the click through rates from search engines and social networks.
Google claims that meta descriptions are not a part of their page ranking algorithm and while this may be true, it can still improve the SEO of your page indirectly. Let me explain.
When you write a good meta description, the click through rate from search engines will naturally increase. And when Google finds out that a certain page is getting more clicks than others, Google will definitely increase its page rank.
The meta description of your page is just as important as the title, so never neglect it.
Google recently changed the maximum character length of meta descriptions from 160 to 320, doubling the previous limit. Text that exceeds this limit will not be shown.
The meta description should temp users to visit your page. Give them a good enough reason to do so. A good example of this is given below.
“This guide will explain what a business plan is, why it is important and steps to follow when creating one. You will also get a free business plan template at the end. Grab it now!”.
The meta description should match the content of your page. Trying to trick users into clicking your link with irrelevant text will get your entire website penalized by search engines.
If users can’t find the information they are looking for, they will leave your site immediately and will never return again. This increases the bounce rate, which is bad for site reputation.
What words should users type in Google to find your page? These words are known as keywords and they should be included in the meta description.
Search engines will be more inclined to recommend your page to a user if its meta description contains some or all of the words used in the search query and will highlight them.
Don’t just slap a bunch of keywords inside your meta description and expect to get more visitors. Your meta description should make sense and the keywords should be included at a natural pace. No one likes keyword stuffing.
Copying and pasting the same meta description across multiple pages will negatively affect on-page SEO. Each page in your site should have its own unique meta description.
If you can’t think of a good meta description, just leave it empty for search engines to pick a suitable snippet from the content of your page.
Whenever Google detects a quotation mark (either single or double) inside a meta description, it cuts off the rest of the text and only displays the text prior to the first quotation mark.
To prevent this from happening, make sure you only include alphanumeric characters in your meta description.
The only way around this is to use the HTML entity version of a quotation mark without the actual mark.
Most SEO consultants and researchers say that it’s a must to write meta descriptions for your all pages but that’s not always the case. You should only write a meta description when targeting 1-3 heavily searched keywords.
If you are targeting long-tail keywords with more than 3 words, you are better off letting search engines pick a meta description for you.
Why am I saying that? Well, Google doesn’t just randomly pick text for your meta description, they always focus on the keywords used in the search query and displays the text surrounding those words from your page.
Sometimes Google will cut off the text in weird and awkward places when the character length is exceeded.
The other drawback is social sharing. Social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn use a technology called Open Graph (OG) to turn any website link into a nicely formatted card when shared. This card will show the featured image, title and meta description of the shared page.
By not specifying a meta description yourself, social networks won’t know what to do and will typically resort to filling it with the first bit of text in the page regardless of the relevancy.
So the user experience will depend entirely on the quality and richness of keywords in the first paragraph of your page.
If the meta description doesn’t properly summarize the content of your page, or if it has been copied from another page, Google will not show it.
Instead, Google will scrape the content of your page to find a snippet which can better answer the search query and display it as the new meta description.
You can do this manually by copying the HTML code shown at the beginning of this article and pasting it in the head section of every page in your site.
If you are using a CMS such as WordPress, you can include meta descriptions easily with the help of plugins. For example, the Yoast SEO plugin lets you add a meta description to any page/post easily.
When you edit a page/post, you will see the Yoast SEO meta box at the bottom of the page. Add one or more keywords to focus on, and then switch over to any of the keyword tabs.
In the “Snippet preview” section you will see a button called “Edit snippet”. Once you click it, a form will appear letting you type in a custom meta description for that page/post.