The secrets of meta descriptions and SEO

The Drum 08 Apr 2019 12:55
By Nick Maynard-08 April 2019 13:55pm

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Pic by Fancycrave on Unsplash.

Meta descriptions are a much misunderstood weapon in the search arsenal that can have a serious impact on page performance. The meta description field is your first opportunity to set out your stall and tell searchers what’s in store if they click on your link in the results. It’s a prime piece of online advertising space and one that shouldn’t be ignored.

What are meta descriptions?

The meta description field allows publishers to describe the contents of a page to help searchers understand what to expect if they click on a link. Google often uses meta descriptions as the descriptive ‘snippet’ in the results, so it’s your chance to convince searchers to click on your result rather than a competitor’s.

YES - there’s little doubt in the digital marketing community that meta descriptions help performance. However, if you rephrase the question and ask whether meta descriptions are used as a ranking signal, you’ll get a resounding “NO”. What initially sounds like a contradictory set of statements soon makes sense once unpacked.

There’s plenty of evidence to show that carefully written meta descriptions can greatly increase Click Through Rate (CTR) and as every SEO knows CTR is an important ranking factor. On one level it’s obvious why meta descriptions that mirror search queries increase CTR (the page is likely to contain what the searcher is looking for) but another subtler reason also comes into play.

While meta descriptions don’t directly affect search rankings, they do affect CTR which feeds Google’s algorithm, so there are no excuses, they need attention.

  • A meta description should be a concise and clickable description of the page content.
  • Meta descriptions should be kept short as search engines rarely display more than 160 characters (920 pixels) which means you have less than 20 words to play with.
  • Every webpage deserves its own unique meta description so don’t cut corners or leave it up to your CMS to decide.
  • Include primary keywords but don’t go overboard and focus on searchers not spiders.
  • Don’t use speech marks (double quotes) as they will truncate the meta description.

Nick Maynard is an SEO performance specialist at Ridgeway

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