In this week’s article, we’re covering 5 things:
1. What is a meta description?
2. A meta description’s effect on SEO
3. How to write meta descriptions
4. Max. length of meta descriptions and title tags (POST December 2017 Google update)
5. Whether or not you should update your meta descriptions after Google’s December 2017 update
What is a Meta Description?
Before we get into how to write a meta description, let’s talk about what it actually is (and what it isn’t).
A meta description informs soon-to-be-users what a web page is about. It’s essentially free ad space for individual pages on your website. When it’s written correctly, it shows up in Google search results like this:
When a meta description is either too long or hasn’t been written at all, Google provides what it thinks to be relevant to your search – usually the first few sentences on the webpage:
Meta descriptions can also be written specifically for Facebook and Twitter. When someone shares a link on Facebook, the meta description appears on the preview:
Does a Meta Description Affect SEO?
Does a meta description affect your site’s SEO? Yes and no. (I know, I hate those kind of answers too).
In a recent interview with John Mueller from Google, this theory on meta descriptions was confirmed. The interview transcript is very hard to follow and understand, but this basically sums it up:
“[The meta] description is something that explains what your service is… maybe the unique proposition that you have on your page.. That kind of encourage (sic) people to click through to your page.”
So, It does have a very important and practical purpose for giving someone more reason to visit your site. In addition, words that are used in both the search query and the meta description are bolded and that catches attention.
However, Google does not crawl for keywords in a meta description. Google itself does not care about your meta description.
“So with that in mind, It’s not a ranking factor.”
How to Write Meta Descriptions for SEO
I’ll cover both parts of how to write a meta description: the science first, and then the art.
The “science” will explain how to tell Google that you have a meta description. The “art” will talk about what to actually write for it.
If you have a WordPress site (you should!), download the free Yoast plugin. After it’s downloaded, activate the plugin. Start editing the page that you want to write a meta description for. You must edit the page in the WordPress editor and not in your theme’s editor. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see the Yoast plugin. Click on “edit snippet” and write your meta description in the large text box. Yoast makes it easy!
If you’re not a professional web copywriter, you should seriously consider hiring one. The basic idea is to describe your page in enough detail to give the reader confidence that they want to click on your page. Half of this battle is done through choosing the right keywords in the first place.
- Using special characters like &, $, %, and quotation marks help your meta description catch the eye of a user. Don’t write in all caps though. Google doesn’t like that.
- Avoid over-explaining things. Each sentence should present brand new information. The last sentence should gently reel in the reader.
- Try using this rule: 75% of the meta description should simply describe the webpage. 25% of the meta description should sell the page.
- Go ahead and put one of your title tag’s keywords in the meta description. It won’t directly affect SEO since Google doesn’t crawl meta descriptions for keywords, but it’ll appear in bold.
New meta description length (post 2017 update):
In December 2017, Google lengthened the max length that a meta description would fully display for.
The max length went from 165 characters to 270 characters. That’s the simple answer.
“But I’ve seen meta descriptions fully display 300 characters!” That’s because the real scoop on max meta description length is based in pixel length. 512 pixels for title tags and 920sq. pixels for a meta description. But to play it safe, limit your title tags to 65 characters and your meta descriptions to 270 characters.
Should I change my current metas since the character limit increased?
So, what if you already had 165 character meta descriptions on all of your webpages before 2017’s length update? Should you rewrite or add more content to all of your metas? My answer to that is “I doubt it.” With some finesse, most webpages can be described pretty well with the old 165 character limit.
If you were dying to say more in your metas in the past, go ahead and update them! Again, a meta description is only of practical use to a reader – not a crawl-able SEO factor.
Need Help Writing for the Web?
So, here’s my plug: I’m Jacob Smedley with Pecan Street Media. I’m an SEO copywriter. I write blog posts, landing pages, company bios, product descriptions, and all other kinds of webpage content. I have experience in consumer products, natural medicine, medical, fitness, law, music, technology, and more.
There’s an art to writing stuff online. You want people to take certain actions on your site, but you don’t want to sound like a used car salesman.
I provide test assignments at a discounted rate. Let’s talk about how I can help you.
Contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org – I’ll respond within two business days