What are meta description tags & how to write great meta descriptions
Have you found this post by searching online? You have? Well, let’s get talking then about meta description tags (sometimes called meta tags, or meta descriptions). What are they, why are they essential and most importantly – how do you write a great one that sends more traffic to your website?
But why do I care about meta description tags? Won’t people find my content anyway?
Yes and no. Think of an old-fashioned library from 1950, before the digital age. You are doing an assignment on Greek mythology. You find the index cards of two potentially suitable books. One card simply says: This is a book about Zeus. The other card says: Zeus: Language and Etymology in Classical History & Representations of Masculinity.
Following the title is a brief description of what you might find in the book, and its authors. The index card also contains the helpful category “Greek mythology” so if you happened to not know who Zeus was, you’d have a further clue as to what’s in the book.
Which book would you choose?
Sure, both books might be excellent for your essay. In fact, the index card is really no indication at all as to what’s in the book, or really, the quality of the writing – but you still feel slightly more confident about the authors’ knowledge and commitment to the subject by the fact that it has a well thought out, clear and descriptive heading.
Meta description tags work much the same way.
Someone I was arguing with on Facebook disagreed with me. He said, “I think that people wouldn’t base their decision to click on a blog based on the number of characters in their title. Also, if we’re limiting our character use on a particular social media platform, why not abbreviate everything?”
Sigh. That may have been true two decades ago, but certainly not now.
Help Google find your content and your audience to get excited about it
For SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) the more information you can give in your title, the better for click-throughs so it’s better to have a well thought out title and meta description to convey as much info as possible to your audience.
While technically Google says that meta descriptions do not affect your rankings for SEO, there is more to the story. “These short paragraphs are a webmaster’s opportunity to advertise content to searchers and to let them know exactly whether the given page contains the information they’re looking for.”
So, meta descriptions and meta tags assist with Google rankings by helping people land on your content – as well as assisting with click throughs. A well optimised heading will see you outrank an article with a poorly optimised heading.
Meta descriptions work alongside headings to give Google (and other search engines) more information about what’s in your article (or other content) but most importantly – they provide a snapshot to your audience as to why they should click on YOUR link, and not the next one down.
But not everyone gets this. Here’s what my Facebook pal had to say (old school writer with digital scepticism, I am guessing), “Bless those entrepreneurs who use their sharp wit and shrewd minds to come up with “well thought out titles and meta tags”. I just think that it’s a worrying trend and everyone’s doing it without fully appreciating its far-reaching effects on language and communication.”
It’s not a worrying trend at all. Think of meta descriptions like a library book index card (if you’re a bit old school). Use them to help your audience find the information they are looking for. Here’s how.
What is a meta description tag?
If you’re into SEO (and hey, you should be if you’re a writer or content strategist) then you should be following the MOZ Blog. They are awesome, so I will give you their definition as to what a meta description is:
“Meta description tags are HTML attributes that provide concise explanations of the contents of web pages. Meta descriptions are commonly used on search engine result pages (SERPs) to display preview snippets for a given page.”
What is the length of a meta description tag?
There are a few options out there for “best practice” but aim for 155 as a rule. Remember, character lengths also take into account spaces between letters, punctuation and characters, so you will need to factor that in.
Should I use keywords in my meta description tags?
Personally, yes, I always do, but avoid over kill if you’ve used lengthy keywords in your heading too as it may sound spammy. Use keywords in a smart way – write a description that makes your audience want to click. Try to be individual and unique and say something different to your competitors.
How do I add a meta description to a post?
You should be doing this in the backend of your CMS (Content Management System). For example, if you are using WordPress, there should be a field in your backend that allows you to add a meta description or a meta tag.
If you can’t find it – Google your query.
Another option is to install a plugin like Yoast. I am a big fan of Yoast but it does have its limitations. Yoast allows you to add meta descriptions, tags, SEO descriptions, and to optimise for certain keywords. Install Yoast as a free plugin. Honestly, the paid version is not worth the cash if you ask me. If you can’t install Yoast there are similar programs, just do a search.