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What Are Meta Descriptions
Meta Descriptions are tags in the HTML code of a page that contain between 155-160 characters of description that summarizes the contents of the page to Search Engines. They are, however, also seen by humans as they are displayed in the search results as the short summary for the page.
Meta Descriptions have been around since the early days of the web as they are a better way for the user to orientate themselves and see whether the page in the search results that they are looking at is actually relevant and features what they expect to see. To this day, they are still used in that very way. However, a major difference in how they work has been the fact that they are no longer directly responsible for high rankings by adding your target keywords in them. This video explains them in a really beginner-friendly way.
Because they are such a standard part of the web, most Search Engines do not actually need you to state a Meta Description in your HTML code. Instead, Search Engines like Google can assemble a Meta Description for you that they find relevant based on the content present on the page that appears in search.
The interesting part about that is that Google can actually make your Meta Descriptions more dynamic – for example, if a user searches for a slightly different variation of your keyword, Google can adjust the description and select a more relevant part of the text that fits with their query.
However, in most cases – especially those where you’re looking at your important pages that generate revenue for you – you’re better off writing an enticing Meta Description yourself. Why is that the case? Let’s look at an example.
Why Is It Important To Optimize Meta Descriptions
Together with Title Tags they are the face of your business in Google’s Search Result Page. Think of them as a banner that the user would actually see and choose to click on. In that banner, your goal is to make the message enticing enough for the user to have a reason to click and explore more.
The more relevant the message is, the more users will click on your results and explore your products – which is a great signal to Google (and an actual ranking factor) that your results satisfy the demand for this search query.
So how do you optimize your Meta Descriptions? Now that you fully understand how exactly they play their part in your search rankings and why exactly they are so important, let’s break down some of the best ways to actually improve your Meta Descriptions.
Optimizing Your Meta Descriptions For SEO
The only way to optimize your Meta Description purely from an SEO point of view is to feature your keyword in it. That is how it can directly impact the relevance of your search result. However, keywords in the Meta Descriptions used to be a much stronger factor in the past than they are now. Simply featuring a keyword in it does not guarantee you success in any way. It doesn’t necessarily make your result more relevant either. Especially not if you’re stuffing keywords in your Meta Descriptions.
But Meta Descriptions aren’t useless either and they impact your rankings indirectly too. That is, Meta Descriptions are one of the reasons people click (or don’t) on your results. This metric is called Click Through Rate (CTR). And a high CTR (combined with low bounce rate and long dwell time) is an SEO factor.
Now, you can’t control your bounce rate and dwell time purely off of your Meta Descriptions – but you can directly control your CTR. So let’s explore how you can improve that – and hopefully rank higher in search.
Optimizing Your Meta Description For CTR
As we established, your Meta Descriptions are part of the banner that needs to both grab the attention of your potential customers – and also be exciting enough for them to click on the search result.
The best way to increase your Meta Description relevance and therefore CTR is to feature great Unique Selling Points (USPs) and Unique Value Propositions (UVPs). This way, you’re showing the customer exactly what they are looking for. If you’re not sure exactly those are, the best way to learn them is by talking to your customers. An even easier step for those of you who have a sales team in the organization is to actually talk to the sales people – since they have spoken with tons of customers who have communicated exactly what’s important to them.
Additionally, your sales team has also spoken to many potential customers who have also expressed what they are not happy about in both your and your competitors’ products and services. From this information, you can learn to avoid certain USPs/UVPs to not cause more friction – or play on your strengths where your competitors are struggling – and even name features your competitors don’t have but your customers care about.
Sometimes it’s really hard to know what copy would actually work in your Meta Descriptions. You could have complex products with many USPs and UVPs. So how would you know what works best in your industry? If you’re a young company especially, sometimes you just don’t have enough customer data for what messaging they like and what features they care about.
Getting Ideas For Your Meta Descriptions
If you’re struggling generating good Meta Descriptions that help you rank higher, one of the easiest solutions is to look at both current and past Google Ads for your target keywords. Often, you will encounter competition in Search Engine Marketing which can give you great insights to what copy and features others have tested in the industry. Simply take a tool that allows you to see historical Google ads data for your target keywords and explore what your competitors have written.
Now, seeing either the current and past ads only doesn’t paint the right picture. The key thing you’re looking for here is how long that ad was actually alive for. That’s critical because with it you can easily determine whether that ad was successful or just a failed test.
If an ad has been up for a very long time and has consistently been shown high in the search results, it works like a guarantee, like a “stamp of approval” that this ad has been profitable for the advertizer (in this case, your competitor). However, if that ad was taken after a short period then you can safely conclude that it was not successful and you should likely stay away from that messaging.
What Is Considered A Short Period And An Unsuccessful Ad?
This really depends on the search demand – and how many times that ad was shown – but a safe margin is one month. If ads are getting changed out after just one month, that is a good indicator that the advertizer hasn’t struck gold yet and they are just trying things out.
Similarly, you can do the same in SEO. Again, here it’s important to see the historical results of different rankings and their Title Tags and Meta Descriptions to determine whether their SEO process was successful and whether that page was at the top for a long time – or whether there wasn’t anything better at the time and Google decided to test it high up in search.
To do that, just like how you’d do it with Google Ads, you’ll need a tool. To see the overview, the SEO tool of your choice needs to show you the historical development of the Search Engine Result Page for your target keywords.
Testing Your Meta Descriptions And CTR
The easiest way to test your Meta Descriptions is to actually run them in Google Ads for a short while. If you’re getting enough impressions and clicks, you can quickly learn that you’re on the right track. This case, however, is mostly useful for very competitive industries and can be quite expensive for small companies to do so.
Alternatively, the option that doesn’t involve running Google Ads but takes longer to do is actually monitoring your CTR in Google Search Console and Traffic Reports in Google Analytics. Simply compare the current period vs previous period before you did said changes and the CTR your pages have received during those times. When doing that however, make sure that you note down changes to be absolutely certain that you’re seeing the real unbiased effects of your changes.
You can manage that either by keeping a manual spreadsheet with the dates and changes – or opt in for Google Analytics’ notes which appear dynamically on every timeline in the tool. The only trouble you might have with that is that after a while your Google Analytics notes might simply become too many to have an easy overview – especially quickly if you’re running a large website.
Because of that, we opt in for a combination of both methods – that is, if we have any larger changes undergoing we’ll mark those in Google Analytics’ graph. But meanwhile all smaller changes we keep in a spreadsheet or a document where we can easily navigate to the things we’re looking for – as it also comes with the advantage of being able to search directly in the document itself.