What are meta descriptions?

The meta description is a 150-160 character HTML tag that is displayed by search engines in results pages.  It gives searchers a brief synopsis of what a page is about before they click on it.  Meta descriptions are often shown by search engines if they contain a keyword phrase that a user typed into the search engine.  Optimizing these snippets is a best practice for onsite SEO.

What does a meta description do?

The meta description is the one chance you have to ‘sell’ your site in a search results page.  Among dozens of other search results, ads, and other distractions on a page, your meta description is a sales pitch for your content.

In the same vein, your meta description should also be descriptive of the page it is on.  When people search for things online, they constantly scan from left to right on SERPs looking for what they were searching for.  The meta description is one thing that gets looked at before a user decides to click.

Another important role of a meta description is relevance for search engines.  Even though Google can (and does) re-write meta descriptions, they do scan these snippets of content to determine if a result is relevant to a searcher’s query.

Google is careful to clarify that good meta descriptions can have a direct impact on a website’s click through rate.  Note that having a keyword in the meta description alone does not cause a site to rank better in search.  Below is an example of how meta descriptions are used in a search results page.

A meta description for rankings.io

Meta Description Best Practices

Well-written and thoughtful meta descriptions can have a positive impact on search results.  Compelling meta descriptions can increase click through rates on search snippets.  The following best practices should be followed for meta descriptions:

Meta Description Length

A page description should be about 135 to 160 characters in length.  Search engines truncate meta descriptions that are any longer than 160 characters.  In fact, if you can be compelling and actionable in the first 155 characters, all the better.

Here is a meta description that has been truncated:

a truncated meta description

Meta Descriptions Should Be Actionable

Remember that when a user performs a search and Google shows your snippet, you have one chance to get someone to click on your result.  The meta description plays a big role here so it needs to ‘sell’ the page.  Write actionable, compelling language related to the page.  It should compel people to want to click on the result.

Here is an effective meta description with actionable language:

actionable meta description

There Should Be A Call To Action

Getting people to click on your description means stating that they should do so.  Calls to action are common place in advertisements which is exactly what a meta description is.  Strong CTAs can improve click through rates.

Check out Macy’s call to action in their Tag Huer snippet:

meta description with call to action

 

 

Meta Descriptions Should Be Relevant To The Page

This might seem like a no-brainer but you would be surprised.  People try to mislead users by writing false or misleading information in a meta description.  Rest assured that Google pays attention to these things so be honest.  Make sure the content in the description actually describes what your page is about.

They Should Include The Target Keyword For The Page

Keywords in the meta description help search engines understand the page as relevant to the searcher.  It also helps searchers see that the page is about the content they are searching for.

Under Armour has it right:

meta description with keyword in it

Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm meaning they aren’t factored in when Google decides which search result is most relevant to a query.  The true importance of meta descriptions comes into play when users are reading them in search results pages.

People scan search pages looking for the query they used.  They are scanning page titles and meta descriptions until they see the phrase.  They tend to read descriptions breifely until they find a page that looks relevant to what they are looking for.

Searcher Intent and Meta Descriptions

When writing meta descriptions3, attorneys should avoid doing it for search engines.  Keep real users in mind when crafting these snippets of text.  Think of the target audience and what they would be looking for as it relates to a particular practice area.

For instance if someone is searching for “dog bite lawyer” and are looking for a personal injury lawyer that can handle dog bite cases.  The meta description should reflect that a lawyer is active in that particular practice area and that they are competent and can provide legal services for those types of cases.

Avoid generalities that apply to the firm as a whole.  The meta description should reflect whatever the page is meant to rank for and should give someone looking for that information a reason to click.

Implementation

Crafting meta descriptions in WordPress is super easy.  By default WordPress does not have functionality for adding page titles or meta descriptions but there are lots of great plugins that can do it.  Here are two of the leading plugins for WordPress:

Once installed, meta descriptions can be written during the post/page editing or creation process.  The plugins give lawyers a text box below the post to insert their title and meta description.  There are also character counters that show you how close you are to exceeding the recommended limit for meta descriptions.

all-in-one-meta

 

References
http://rankingsio.wpengine.com//3-ways-attorneys-can-get-an-over-optimization-penalty/1
https://www.weidert.com/whole_brain_marketing_blog/bid/114450/SEO-6-Ways-to-Craft-Better-Meta-Descriptions-That-Rock-The-SERPs2
http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/how-to-write-meta-description-ht#sm.01govpme1203e59111w2g3j9biha53
https://wordpress.org/plugins/all-in-one-seo-pack/4
https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/5

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