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I feel sorry for meta descriptions.
Google has long held that meta descriptions do not impact search engine rankings. From a 2007 post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog:
[I]t’s worth noting that while accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, they won’t affect your ranking within search results.
Google reiterated this point yet again in 2009 in a post stating that the meta keywords tag was not used as a ranking signal:
Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don’t use the description meta tag in our ranking.
Thus, people have long neglected meta descriptions, pushing them to the back burner or delegating their creation to the lowly intern. Once written, meta descriptions are scarcely given a second glance or further consideration.
Meta descriptions get short shrift because well-written descriptions won’t help your site rank.
Or will they?

Optimized Meta Descriptions ARE Important For SEO

I can make the case that meta descriptions are important for SEO. I’m taking some time to explain this, because my goal in this article is to help you write killer meta descriptions. Once you realize that meta descriptions do have an impact on search ranking, it may inspire you to write better meta descriptions.
The relationship between the meta description and search engine rankings can be described in four points:
  1. The content in a meta description does not factor into the search ranking algorithm.
  2. User behavior is factored into the search algorithm.
  3. Specifically, click-through rate (CTR) is part of the algorithmic ranking process.
  4. The meta description is the most important feature for improving click-through rate from search results pages.
1. The content in a meta description does not influence the search algorithm.
As far as we know – and we’re trusting Google on this one – their search engine ranking algorithm does not consider meta descriptions as a factor. Thus, from a strict algorithmic perspective, it’s not necessary to put your most important keywords in the meta description.
2. User behavior is factored in the search algorithm.
There are hundreds of algorithmic factors involved in ranking a site. It’s easy to forget that Google analyzes user behavior on a site as part of their ongoing ranking process.
But it does. As reflected in Google Analytics, Google is actively measuring user behavior – even demographic information – and factoring that into search results.
Think about this on the broadest level: location-based search. Search results based on location is a user-dependent metric. A user in South Carolina who types “weather” in Google is going to get this result, even if she’s not logged in to her Google account:
A user in Anchorage Alaska will see a very different result:
That much is obvious (and pretty basic).

But the algorithm is way more advanced than that. Not only does it factor user information/location, but it measures user behavior in the subsequent rank of a particular website.
3. Specifically, click-through rate (CTR) is part of the algorithmic ranking process.
Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz wrote an article back in 2012 that is still very relevant. His point in the article was that Google uses two user metrics in search ranking.
Those two metrics are: (1) search engine results page (SERP) click-through rate and (2) dwell time. Here’s how he explained it:
The first metric I think Google makes broad use of is direct Click-Through Rate (CTR) from the SERPs themselves. Whether or not a result gets clicked on is one of Google’s and Bing’s first clues about whether any given result is a good match to a query. We know Google and Bing both have this data, because they directly report it to us.
Indeed, both Google and Bing seem to make use of this metric, since both data points are available in their reporting platforms:
Meyers summed it up perfectly: “Relevant results drive more clicks.”
This is a key point, and it goes to prove my final point:
4. The meta description is the most important feature for improving click-through rate from search results pages
Google considers user behavior, specifically the click-through rate. So, how can we improve CTRs on our SERP entries?
By writing killer meta descriptions.
And the more people who click through those SERP entries, the better our site will rank in Google.
Take a look at an average SERP. Apart from Knowledge Graph information and rich snippets, there are three main features in a SERP entry: the page title, the page URL, and the page description.
All three of these factor into a user’s decision to click through. Of these three, the meta description takes up the most space — a full two lines. It has the most amount of information, and thus gets viewed longer and read more.
It follows that a great meta description actually does improve click-through, and thus site ranking. Sure enough, that makes the meta description an SEO factor after all!
But it’s one of those “fuzzy” SEO factors due to its indirect impact. Furthermore, improving meta descriptions doesn’t require SEO finesse as much as it does writing skill, which brings me to the main point of this article: how do you write a meta descriptions that get click-throughs?

Advanced Tips For Writing Killer Meta Descriptions

So, how do you unleash a click-through-compelling meta description?
Be Descriptive. The language in your meta description should introduce the user to what the page is about. In general terms, sketch out the page’s content. If the user is going to the trouble of clicking on it, he or she wants to make sure that the page really is about what they are interested in.
Be Persuasive. Great meta descriptions involve a touch of the persuasive. To get clicks, go ahead and tug a little bit. Some SEOs advocate using a call-to-action in the description. I’m not convinced that this is necessary; I do, however, recommend that you create a meta description that invites a response, even if it doesn’t directly call for it.
Inspire Curiosity. One of the most persuasive things you can do with your meta is to spark curiosity. This is particularly true for informational queries (as opposed to transactional queries). By the time a user finishes reading your description, they should be curious about what the page will say about the topic. You need to provide just enough information to explain what the page is about but not so much that it ruins the curiosity factor.
Use The Right Words. The keywords may not matter for search engines, but they domatter for users. In order to be compelled to click, the user needs to see relevant words. These words should be associated with his or her query. The right words in the right places make the difference between a SERP entry that gets overlooked, and a SERP entry that gets a click.
Make Them The Correct Length. If you write a meta description that is too long, Google will truncate it. The standard accepted length is 156 characters long. Unlike page titles, meta description cut-offs do not seem to be pixel-based in the same way that page titles are.
Do Not Use Quotation Marks. Google will cut them off.

Conclusion

In the end, meta descriptions are still a worthy thing to focus on in your overall SEO efforts. At the very least, you shouldn’t neglect them – your meta description is the only thing standing between a search result and a visitor.
What do you do to create great meta descriptions?

1 comments:

  1. I have always been a strong advocate for creating solid meta descriptions that invoke a response. Unfortunately, Google seems to be ignoring 90% of the meta descriptions we create and, instead, picking seemingly random bits of text from a page to use. That, along with their warnings in WMT about meta description duplication have caused most people to give up, figuring it's a waste of their time to create them when only 10% (if that) seem to be showing up in the SERPs. It's far easier to leave them blank and not have to worry about duplicates, they reason.

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Mithilesh Joshi