The Definitive Guide to Meta Descriptions

In the past, meta description fields were a great way to improve site rankings. It was standard practice to repeat your keywords in this field to increase your rank.

However, this tactic is outdated and no longer works! In fact, you are more likely to drop in your rankings by attempting to take advantage of this field.

meta description

Your objective in this chapter is to understand the definition and purpose of a meta description and how to optimize it for best results.

Let’s dive in!

What is a Meta Description?

A meta description is a field that does not actually show on a web site. Rather, it is in the code and is created for search engines. Meta descriptions are designed to briefly explain the content of a page or site to the search engine, and, more importantly, searchers.

Here is a screenshot from a Google search for the term “lawyers.” The meta description is in the red box:

screenshot of a meta description

What is the Purpose of a Meta Description?

A few years ago, meta descriptions were used to achieve higher rankings. Now, the only purpose is to entice searchers to visit your website.

Consider this. A person goes to a search engine for a definition. They are presented with 10 different choices (plus the ads, of course). Some people will click on the first link. However, people who are more savvy will scroll down to see some of the options that are available. The meta description provides them the opportunity to learn more about the website and decide for themselves which site will most likely offer them an answer.

This is your chance to provide the searcher a reason to visit your site, or “sell the click.”

Why is my Meta Description Different?

Great question.

Sometimes, people search for something that is not specifically described in your meta description, but the search engine considers you to be the authority on the topic. Many times when this occurs, Google will find the topic that was searched for within the text on your page and show that as your description in the search engines.

As a searcher scans through their options, they see your site discusses exactly what they were searching for and they land on your site. Therefore, this practice encourages a stronger click-through ratio.

How Can I Optimize a Meta Description for Best Results?

Keep this in mind: the goal is not to improve your rankings, but instead get a searcher to click on your website. The best action you can take is to get into the mind of your searcher and try to discover what they are really searching for online.

Consider the meta description to be the “elevator pitch” for your website. Show the visitor that all of their questions will be answered by reading your post. Provide them with a compelling reason why they should choose your site instead of the 9 other options that they see.

The real goal is to earn a click. Adding keywords is not a bad idea. However, repeating keywords extensively is a bad idea. If you feel the need to reuse a keyword, find a synonym.

Consider the length of the description. Google shows around 156 characters in the search results page, so writing more than that often causes the description to be truncated.

How Do I Create a Meta Description?

Creating a meta description depends on what you use to build your site.

We’ll show you how to do it on WordPress (it’s the most popular CMS on the web). The first thing you want to do is install an SEO plugin. We recommend “WordPress SEO by Yoast” or “All-In-One SEO.”

Once you have the plugin installed and activated, you simply need to navigate to the page or post where you want to update the meta description and below the visual/text editor you should see a box where you can edit the description.

yoast example

You’ve met your objective of understanding the definition and purpose of a meta description and how to optimize it for best results.

Time to get writing!

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