By Aliza Earnshaw on March 1, 2011
A Meta Description is an Ad
The meta description of a web page usually appears in search engine results as the description for that page. So a compelling, accurate meta description is an important part of making your site more visible on the Web.
The meta description for an important page on your site is like an advertisement: It should persuade someone to take action. In the case of a meta description, the desired action is a click on the search result for your page.
In the image below, we show results from Google for a search on Grand Canyon hotels. The meta description for each web page appears in black text below the blue link text. Search engines get that link text from the title tag for the web page. Title tags are also like mini-ads for web pages - learn more about them in our article, Increase Site Traffic with Title Tags.
Do Meta Descriptions Matter for SEO?
The meta description does not help a web page rank higher in search results. However, because it appears so prominently in search results, it can help you get more visitors to that page.
Writing a compelling, accurate meta description that features the important keywords for a web page can make the page more visible to people searching with those keywords. Search engines emphasize the keywords used in someone's search by showing them in bold in search result listings. You can see in the image above that the search term Grand Canyon hotels appears in bold text in both the clickable titles and meta descriptions.
There's another bonus to writing good meta descriptions: You're more likely to attract visitors to your site who are really interested in what you're offering. People who read the descriptions in search results are more serious searchers than people who just glance through the clickable titles.
Need a little more persuasion? If you don't write a meta description, search engines will select some text on the page that's relevant to the search query and use that snippet for the description of the page. Maybe they'll choose text that grabs people's interest...and maybe not. Don't leave it to chance. Write a good meta description for every important page on your site.
How Long Should a Meta Description Be?
Search engines will generally read 200 to 250 characters of the meta description, but usually display just 150 characters, including spaces. The first 150 characters should contain the most important keywords for the web page. Using fewer than 50 characters could mean you’re not saying enough about the page.
The AboutUs Site Report will warn you of any meta descriptions on your site that are too long.
HTML Code for a Meta Description
Here's what the meta description coding could look like for a web article about meta descriptions:
This coding is placed between the ' and ' tags for a web page, along with the title tag and possibly other coding.
If a web page does not have a specific meta description, search engines will pick up a piece of text in the web page that corresponds to the terms used for a search, and will display that text as the description. That's not necessarily a bad thing. If a web page is likely to come up in searches for less-popular keywords, and you have plenty of well-written text on the page, it's probably better to let the search engines pull a descriptive "snippet" from the page itself. You'll save work, and the descriptive text will be accurate for that page.
Every Page Should Have Its Own Meta Description
Don't use the same meta description for different pages on your site. Every page on your site is unique, right? (It should be!) The meta description for each page should accurately reflect the page's unique content.
Does your website have any duplicate meta descriptions? Find out by using the AboutUs Site Report.
The World's Greatest Meta Description
Okay, I'm stepping out here. Maybe it's not the world's greatest meta description, but it's pretty darned good:
This meta description for Drybar, a blow-dry salon in Los Angeles, tells you everything you need to know: What they do, how much it costs, where it is, and which phone number to call for an appointment. You don't even need to go to the website!
Something to aspire to.