Blog: SEO

The Meta Description and its Role in SEO

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John Locke is an SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps established businesses rank higher through his web agency. Lockedown Design.

The meta description is the 160 characters of text below the title tag and URL in search engine results.

The meta description is there to tell the story of the page, and should be written to convert searchers into people to click on your results.

The most interesting search results are the ones that get clicked. So make sure your meta description has a compelling call to action.

Here is what a meta description looks like in HTML.


<meta name="description" content="Your page description, usually one or two sentences in length. No more than 160 characters."/>

Below are some additional best practices for your meta description.

Best Practices for the Meta Description

It’s a good idea to include your target search phrase in your meta description.

Although Google has not used the meta description tag as part of their ranking algorithm since 2009, there’s a good reason to include the main search phrase in the description. This lets searchers know they are in the right place, and your page will answer their question.

Google’s algorithm also understands synonyms, so feel free to include other words that relate to main keyword phrase.

How Long Should Your Meta Description Be?

The ideal length for your meta description is between 135 and 160 characters.

Google, Bing, and Yahoo can cut off snippets that are longer than 160 characters. In some cases (on mobile), Google may show a snippet that is longer than 160 characters.

In years past, some people have published some extremely long meta descriptions. These ultra-long descriptions are usually keyword-stuffed, and probably wouldn’t get clicked anyway.

Your search results snippets are important because they might be the first interaction someone has of your brand. If they don’t click your search result, they may not learn more about your company.

Click Through Rate

The one area where the meta description influences your rankings is when it comes to click through rate.

The higher a search result is, the higher the click-through rate generally is. Google knows what the average click-through rate is for each position. If your search result and beats the average click through rate for that position, it is a better chance of moving up the rankings because more people are clicking on it.

The most relevant results are usually at the top of the page. But if you have a more compelling page that’s further down the rankings, the challenge is to get more people to click on your results.

Using the 160 characters in the meta description is a way to tell your story, and compel people to click on a result. Think of your description snippet as an advertisement for that page. Be creative.

For product pages, such as on an e-commerce site, you may choose to include product specifications. Give people the information they want so they can decide whether to click through to the page.

Things You Should Avoid with the Meta Description

Avoid duplicate meta descriptions. If you are in Google Search Console, under Search Appearance > HTML Improvements, it will show you duplicate meta descriptions and title tags. You should always have unique descriptions and title tags for each page on your website.

Search Console: Duplicate Meta Descriptions

Some examples of poor meta descriptions would be simply copying the title tag, or not including a description at all.

If there is no meta description included on a page, search engines will usually grab the first words on the page and use those instead.

No Meta Description

Other Places a Meta Description Shows Up

Meta descriptions also show up when you share an article on social media.

Social Media Meta Description

If you’re editing your with WordPress, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin to write your description exactly as you’d like it to appear.

Yoast SEO Meta Description

Quirky and Uncommon Behavior in the Meta Description

Google can re-write your description snippet if it feels there’s page content relevant to the search phrase someone typed in.

Google Rewrites Meta Description

If the meta description is too short, Google may also choose to rewrite it.

Anytime quotes are used in a description, Google will cut the description short.

To prevent your description from being cut off, remove all alphanumeric characters from the description. Double quotation marks seem to trigger this behavior.


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Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is an SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps established businesses rank higher through his web agency. Lockedown Design.

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