Meta Descriptions: What They Are, Why You Need Them

Meta Descriptions: What They Are, Why You Need Them

Proper site Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is more than using the right title tags, image captions and keywords. In fact, there’s an essential element in your site that aids click-through: meta descriptions.

What are meta descriptions? A meta description is a HTML element less than 160 characters long used to sum up a web page’s content to search engines. Search engines use this feature to let consumers preview what is on a page before they click on it.

Say you were to search for Yellowstone National Park. The meta description that appears in the search engine result page includes a line about the park’s legacy and its natural wonders. This lets the viewer know exactly what they’re getting into before they click.

There are many ways search engines use meta descriptions. Google gives preference to sites with meta descriptions, since they provide a better user experience (UX). Let’s use our Yellowstone example to illustrate: if a meta description contains a specific geyser such as Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, people searching that geyser on Google are more likely to find the page useful.

Meta descriptions also aid SEO because they act as organic ad text. When your meta description ranks for a keyword, Google or other search engines will show it as part of a summary results page, likely resulting in higher click through traffic to your page.

While meta descriptions help with short-tail search terms, they also cater to long-tail search terms. A short-tail search includes one or two keywords. A long tail search is a more specific query of 3 words or more or an open ended question. Google responds to long-tail searches with rich snippets and detailed answers using meta descriptions and meta tags.

Using our Yellowstone example, a tourist might ask, “What is the best hiking trail in Yellowstone?” By using meta descriptions and meta tags on pages containing the words “Hiking” “Trails” and “Yellowstone”, the tourist gets results that contain a rich snippet, as shown below. Rich snippets contain a bit more information than regular meta descriptions and draw on meta tags (tags used in HTML to stand out in Google), such as reviews, to encourage a viewer to click and read more.

Meta descriptions can also include bolded keywords to help your viewer narrow down precisely what they’re looking for. Google bolds these keywords because they’re included in the search term. Using our example of Yellowstone National Park, search “Yellowstone National Park Geysers” and see what happens.

In the search result example above, the term geysers is highlighted in bold, helping the user quickly see the term they searched for.

Meta descriptions also make it easier to create useful sharing on social media. Most social sharing will highlight the entire meta description and include it in the shared post. If your site does not have a meta description, the first fiew lines of the page’s copy will be displayed instead, cutting off vital information as seen below.

A well-written meta description informs the viewer what the page is about and invites them to explore what your page has to offer. It also encourages vital customer interaction. Give them a chance – you’ll be glad you did.

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