15 secrets to creating the perfect meta descriptions

With the clos­ing of open con­tent direc­to­ry DMOZ and Google recent­ly com­ing out and say­ing meta descrip­tions are more impor­tant than ever, we reached out to SEOs to get their best-kept secrets for craft­ing the per­fect meta descrip­tion. In oth­er words, aside from...

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 4 comments

With the clos­ing of open con­tent direc­to­ry DMOZ and Google recent­ly com­ing out and say­ing meta descrip­tions are more impor­tant than ever, we reached out to SEOs to get their best-kept secrets for craft­ing the per­fect meta descrip­tion.

In oth­er words, aside from for­get­ting about meta descrip­tions alto­geth­er, using the same ones across mul­ti­ple pages or uti­liz­ing low-qual­i­ty meta descrip­tions, here are SEOs’ 15 best tricks to help boost organ­ic CTR sim­ply by con­vinc­ing con­sumers to click on your links in the SERPs:

1. Optimize pages ranks for queries with high impressions and low clicks

If over­haul­ing your meta descrip­tions seems like an over­whelm­ing task, the best place to start is like­ly with those that aren’t work­ing.

That’s accord­ing to Max Schle­ich­er, SEO cam­paign man­ag­er at cus­tomer feed­back soft­ware firm Review­Track­ers.
“Track your CTR rate and any­thing with low CTR rel­a­tive to its aver­age posi­tion should jump out at you,” he said. “Start with those ones. Users are telling you that these descrip­tions aren’t work­ing.”

In oth­er words, Vladimir Fefer, SEO man­ag­er for retail­er Zoro.com, said mar­keters should look in search ana­lyt­ics in their Google search con­sole accounts, fil­ter out the brand­ed queries and sort by most impres­sions.

Look for the queries that have a lot of impres­sions but low clicks. Find out what page is rank­ing for that query and then opti­mize the meta descrip­tion of that page for that spe­cif­ic query,” Fefer said. “Then if you want to go deep­er, fil­ter the search con­sole query report for just that URL and see all the oth­er queries it’s rank­ing for and make sure that your con­tent is well suit­ed for those high-impres­sion queries. I’ve con­sis­tent­ly seen CTR improve using this tac­tic and then rank­ings tend to fol­low a few weeks lat­er.”

In fact, Julie How­ell, SEO direc­tor for legal mar­ket­ing agency Postali, advised pulling a list of pages with high impres­sions and low CTRs every six months and eval­u­at­ing those meta descrip­tions to deter­mine why CTR is low, like miss­ing a call to action or a trun­cat­ed descrip­tion.

2. Use multiple resources

When think­ing about what to include, Chris Williams, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ag­er for IT and web con­sult­ing agency Plan­et­Mag­pie, said to con­sid­er mul­ti­ple sources, like buy­er per­sona descrip­tions to char­ac­ter­ize your audi­ence and inform your con­tent approach, key­word research to find and ver­i­fy key­words con­sumers use in search and Ana­lyt­ics and/or Google Search Con­sole to make sure the key­words you select have rel­e­vance.

3. Include the right keywords – but don’t go overboard

Per Tom Wright, SEO/SEM spe­cial­ist at retail­er AmericanEagle.com, one of the best ways to increase CTR in organ­ic search is to make sure the main key­word is in the meta descrip­tion.

This is because the key­words are in bold in the search results,” he said.

And this means con­sumers will eas­i­ly see the tar­get­ed terms they are search­ing for, added Bill Row­land, direc­tor of SEO at e‑commerce con­sult­ing and opti­miza­tion firm Trin­i­ty Insight.

It can also mean Google will dis­play the meta descrip­tion you want.

Google does­n’t have to dis­play the meta descrip­tion in the SERPs. In many cas­es, it will opt to pick a more rel­e­vant sec­tion of con­tent from the page and dis­play that instead,” said Jonathan Jenk­ins, SEO man­ag­er at Thrive Inter­net Mar­ket­ing. “This rel­e­vance is deter­mined by whether or not the search term used match­es the query, hence the moti­va­tion to include some traf­fic-dri­ving key­words in your meta descrip­tion. This will increase the like­li­hood that your care­ful­ly craft­ed meta descrip­tion appears in SERPs, instead of some ran­dom­ly select­ed piece of con­tent from the page.”

4. Make sure it describes what customers are looking for so they get what they want

Per­haps most impor­tant­ly, Ter­ence Chan­non, prin­ci­pal of tech­nol­o­gy and mar­ket­ing ser­vices firm NewLead, said to make sure the meta descrip­tion accu­rate­ly reflects the page title and the con­tent on the page.

This way, when the user reach­es your page on the heels of your search result con­tent, they can again say, ‘Yes, this is what I was look­ing for!’” he said. “Google also rewards excep­tion­al cus­tomer expe­ri­ences — and that includes the rel­e­vance and like­li­hood for a user to click on your search result due to its rel­e­vance to the user’s ini­tial search term and the user tak­ing action on your site once there [ver­sus mere­ly bounc­ing].”

Sam War­ren, man­ag­er of mar­ket­ing and part­ner­ships at SEO firm Rank­Pay, said this means think­ing care­ful­ly about con­sumer intent.

Instead of say­ing what you want to say about your brand/site/product, focus on what the searcher is hop­ing to find,” War­ren said. “Try putting your­self in the searcher’s shoes and imag­ine what you’d like to see when you per­form the exact search that your page is opti­mized for. You might just be sur­prised by what you find while brain­storm­ing.”

As if that wasn’t enough, if the meta descrip­tion does not sat­is­fy intent, the brand could end up with a high CTR and a high bounce rate, added Rob Mars­den, head of SEO at SEO and dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency Search Lab­o­ra­to­ry.

James Rice, head of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing at Wik­i­Job, a forum, jobs board and careers advice por­tal, agreed.

Answer the ‘So what?’-question,” Rice said. “Where’s the val­ue for the read­er? Why should they both­er click­ing through?”

5. Survey the existing landscape

Dave Her­mansen, CEO of e‑commerce train­ing course Store Coach, said not to cre­ate meta descrip­tions blind­ly, but rather to search for the key­word phrase you’re tar­get­ing for a page and look at the AdWords ads com­pa­nies are run­ning for that phrase.

Those ad head­lines and ad copy have like­ly been split test­ed hun­dreds if not thou­sands of times to deter­mine what the most effec­tive words are for get­ting clicks,” he said. “We look for words that the ads have in com­mon and use those words in our titles and meta descrip­tions. Why guess when oth­er peo­ple have already done the test­ing for you?”

Indeed, War­ren agreed brands should look at what their com­peti­tors are doing on the same SERP – and do it bet­ter.

If they’re all doing the same thing, but doing it poor­ly, mim­ic the approach, but do it bet­ter,” he said. “If they already have strong meta descrip­tions, then brain­storm ways to dif­fer­en­ti­ate your own list­ing from the mass­es. This could be pos­ing an unusu­al ques­tion to searchers. It could be let­ting your per­son­al­i­ty shine through. If it’s appro­pri­ate, you could high­light a sale or ben­e­fit of choos­ing your brand.”

Schle­ich­er sug­gest­ed look­ing inward, too, and find­ing which sites are under­per­form­ing.

You can get a lot of great ideas for your meta descrip­tion by see­ing what is work­ing on that page,” Schle­ich­er said. “When you start think­ing about meta descrip­tions as copy, you’ll start to rec­og­nize why your com­peti­tors are win­ning and you’re los­ing for those organ­ic clicks. Two things — short titles [and] com­pelling num­bers in titles or descrip­tions — can go a long way to improv­ing CTR.”

6. Write like a writer

Dan Sevi­gny, CEO of dig­i­tal agency Spooky Dig­i­tal, said his advice to dig­i­tal mar­keters is to study the sci­ence of copy­writ­ing and learn how to write per­sua­sive copy that sells.

You have 150 char­ac­ters in a meta descrip­tion to tell the user what your site is about and con­vince them to take the next step and click your link,” Sevi­gny added.

And that means being pre­cise with lan­guage, includ­ing emo­tion­al, atten­tion-grab­bing words, Sevi­gny said.

David Erick­son, vice pres­i­dent of online mar­ket­ing for pub­lic rela­tions agency, Kar­wos­ki and Courage, too, not­ed the meta descrip­tion has the pow­er to entice con­sumers to click – but only if it includes the right lan­guage.

This is your chance to direct­ly influ­ence the user’s will­ing­ness to click on your site – don’t screw it up,” added Chris Casse­day, direc­tor of oper­a­tions at GNGF, a mar­ket­ing firm that is focused on help­ing lawyers. “Be provoca­tive and engage the user – you will get the click over your com­peti­tor.”

And this can have fur­ther impli­ca­tions in terms of over­all rank­ing.

Think about it. If Google shows your link with key­word-stuffed meta descrip­tion on the first page for a week and no one clicks it, is it in Google’s inter­est to leave it there? No,” said Michael Mignogna, CEO of SEO mar­ket­ing firm Miny­ona. “Google is in the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing the best answers to peo­ple’s ques­tions. If every­one ignores one of the ten organ­ic answers, Google will replace it with one that gets more play. In short, write for humans, not robots.”

In oth­er words, James McCarthy, CEO of SEO agency Place­ment Labs, said to make meta descrip­tions fun and/or inter­est­ing.

I have noticed that many SEOs and con­tent cre­ators make metas that are very plain and mat­ter-of-fact. I have found much more suc­cess when I have tak­en the time to try to be a lit­tle more clever or orig­i­nal when writ­ing them,” he said. “Per­haps try to add a lit­tle bit of humor or an inter­est­ing fac­toid – any­thing that might pique a poten­tial reader’s inter­est. This will help your new page from an organ­ic traf­fic stand­point, as you stand to get more clicks than your com­peti­tors who have bor­ing metas.”

7. Think like your PPC counterparts

In fact, Mark Churchill, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing man­ag­er at invest­ment ser­vice Wealth Club, said to approach meta descrip­tions like you would a PPC ad.

That means show strong rel­e­vance, but, cru­cial­ly, give the searcher a hook that means they have to click through to find out more,” Churchill said.

Jonathan Alon­so, nation­al mar­ket­ing man­ag­er at smart­phone repair firm uBreak­i­Fix, agreed to think about meta descrip­tions like paid ads.

Many peo­ple for­get that CTR is a rank­ing fac­tor,” Alon­so said. “When apply­ing behav­ioral words we use in paid search like Free, Best, Low Cost and oth­ers, we can not only see an improve­ment in CTR, but you will see a lot more in SERPs.”

For his part, Mars­den said adver­tis­ers run­ning paid search cam­paigns are like­ly run­ning mul­ti­ple ads per ad group and like­ly already know which head­lines and phras­es work best and pro­duce the opti­mal CTR for tar­get key­word cat­e­gories.

If you take USPs, phras­es and call to actions from your best per­form­ing ads and use them in your organ­ic list­ings, you can be more sci­en­tif­ic in your approach and increase your aver­age [CTR],” Mars­den added.

8. Include numbers

In addi­tion to rich lan­guage, Paul Allen, SEO con­sul­tant with SEO com­pa­ny DublinSEO.co, said to use num­bers.

Num­bers are extreme­ly eye-catch­ing as we are nat­u­ral­ly intrigued by prices, offers and pro­mo­tions,” Mars­den added. “Using num­bers when­ev­er pos­si­ble in meta copy will make your list­ings more like­ly to get click-throughs and lead to con­ver­sions.”

9. Include details about special offers

Sim­i­lar­ly, How­ell rec­om­mend­ed think­ing about your brand’s most pow­er­ful dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fac­tors and mak­ing sure they are includ­ed.

Chances are, the meta descrip­tions on any SERP are going to be pret­ty sim­i­lar,” she said. “If you can high­light some­thing that makes you stand out, you improve your chances of gar­ner­ing more click-throughs.”

Jenk­ins said that con­tent can also include spe­cial offers.

For many peo­ple, the process of com­par­i­son shop­ping for a prod­uct or ser­vice starts with the first search in Google or one of the oth­er search engines,” he said. “If your meta descrip­tion includes ‘Free Ship­ping & Han­dling’, or ‘Same day deliv­ery’, that’s very like­ly to pos­i­tive­ly impact your click-through rate.”

10. Use schema

Swap­nil Bhag­wat, senior man­ag­er of design and dig­i­tal media at IT ser­vices and busi­ness process man­age­ment com­pa­ny Orches­trate Tech­nolo­gies, said to use schema markups like star rat­ings, prod­uct infor­ma­tion and cus­tomer rat­ings to increase the appeal of meta descrip­tions.

Mars­den agreed sites that use struc­tured data like rich snip­pets can expect a sig­nif­i­cant increase in CTR and rank­ings.

The more you can give search engines about the struc­ture and con­text of infor­ma­tion on your web­site, the bet­ter,” Mars­den said. “For instance, if you use schema to mark up the address on your web­site, search engines will iden­ti­fy your loca­tion. This makes your site more like­ly to appear in local­ized results for local search­es. Google real­ly likes to show rich con­tent with­in its search results. If your site con­tains plen­ty of rich con­tent, it’s going to be more vis­i­ble than sites that don’t, there­by increas­ing your click-through rate and site inter­ac­tion. Recipes, reviews, events and prod­uct infor­ma­tion should all be marked up with­in the source code of your web­site, wher­ev­er fea­si­ble.”

11. Make sure it doesn’t truncate

A meta descrip­tion that gets cut off means con­sumers miss your mes­sage.

Mars­den point­ed to online tools that can be used to ensure Google does not trun­cate the meta descrip­tion and cut off impor­tant infor­ma­tion.

Keep in mind that the max­i­mum descrip­tion length allowed will be small­er on mobile than desk­top so cre­ate the descrip­tions with a mobile-first mind­set,” he added.

12. Test multiple versions

And, of course, you should always test mul­ti­ple ver­sions to ensure opti­mal results.

Allen point­ed to Google Adwords’ A/B test­ing fea­ture, which allows adver­tis­ers to test and retest what works for increas­ing CTR.

The good thing is the results of these tests are free to observe through the result­ing ad itself,” he said.

A/B test sev­er­al ver­sions of your meta descrip­tions on dif­fer­ent pages and dis­cov­er which ver­sion worked best for your desired tar­get audi­ence,” said Matt Edstrom, head of mar­ket­ing at health sci­ence start­up BioClar­i­ty. “Once you have found the best per­form­ing vari­a­tion, you can then go back and adjust the oth­er meta descrip­tions accord­ing­ly.”

Sam Kessenich, SEO Spe­cial­ist with dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing firm RyTech, agreed.

Once you have a rank­ing on a search engine or a fol­low­ing on social media, test out a few dif­fer­ent types of meta descrip­tions. Try a more broad descrip­tion that can catch a vari­ety of people’s atten­tion, then a more fact-focused descrip­tion,” he said. “Through this all, keep in mind the cus­tomer you’re try­ing to focus on and how they think. The tone and ver­biage will change depend­ing on the age, gen­der, loca­tion and indus­try you hope to tar­get.”

Kate Neuens, mar­ket­ing ana­lyst at online lender OppLoans, said this should include exper­i­ment­ing with length and where you are posi­tion­ing the key­word, as well as how you phrase the call to action.

How­ell even advised ask­ing friends in paid search to share insight on ad copy tests.

This can give you tremen­dous­ly use­ful insight on what type of lan­guage works well to dri­ve clicks in your spe­cif­ic indus­try,” she said.

13. Make updates easy

Cassedy sug­gest­ed mak­ing it easy to update meta descrip­tions on an ongo­ing basis.

If your site is a Word­Press site, use a plu­g­in like Yoast that can allow you to make bulk edits quick­ly,” he said.

Sim­i­lar­ly, Williams said brands should not let their descrip­tions go stale.

Plan to update your descrip­tions every time you update your con­tent [or the top­ic your con­tent cov­ers under­goes a change online],” he said. “At the very least, go through the entire site every six months and update all the meta descrip­tions.”

And, per Mars­den, even though it’s a good idea to reg­u­lar­ly update meta copy with offers or pro­mo­tions, brands must nev­er let them go out of date as this can have a neg­a­tive impact on the way audi­ences see your busi­ness in search engines.

14. Tap into location authority

For his part, Bob­by Hol­land, own­er of SEO and web­site devel­op­ment com­pa­ny Bip­per Media, said one way busi­ness­es can lever­age meta descrip­tion tags in a pow­er­ful way – and that vir­tu­al­ly no one is using – is to tap into loca­tion author­i­ty.

For local busi­ness­es, or busi­ness­es cre­at­ing city pages to tar­get sur­round­ing mar­kets, includ­ing your address — or at least the city/state… — would be a pow­er­ful way to influ­ence loca­tion author­i­ty,” Hol­land said. “And loca­tion author­i­ty direct­ly cor­re­lates to the pres­ence your busi­ness achieves in search — both local/Google Maps and organ­ic.”

15. Consider leaving it blank for blogs

For blogs specif­i­cal­ly, Kessenich said leav­ing a meta descrip­tion blank can work to your advan­tage some­times.

When longer tail keywords/voice search is being uti­lized, a meta descrip­tion can be catered by search engines to include the sec­tion of text users are search­ing for,” he said. “I’ve been click through rates sky­rock­et and believe they will only con­tin­ue to go up with the grow­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of voice search.”

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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