Is There Any Value in Using Meta Description?

Friday is “Question of the Week” day here at Duct Tape Marketing. Each Friday I’ll tackle a specific question I received via readers or in places where I’m speaking. Submit your question here and if we use it we’ll highlight you and send you a signed copy of Duct Tape Marketing.

This week a workshop participant wanted to know if there we any value in actually adding the description attribute to his web content.

Meta data, or tags as they are often called, are bits of information about a web page that search engines use to start to understand what the page is all about. These attributes are mostly under the hood but send important signals to search engines.

Due to that fact there’s always lots of misinformation from people trying to game the system from every angle possible. Search engines, most notably Google, don’t use the Description information to rank a page, but it’s still a vitally important element and should be included on every blog post and page.

Here’s why the META Description field is so important.

While search engines may not pay attention to the content for the purpose of showing a page based on search inquiries they all show some sort of description in the search results. The question is what description do that use?

Since they are going to show something as a matter of fact, why not help inform what they show. If you leave the description attribute blank they will pick up something based on the search term used. If, however, you get in the habit of crafting well-written descriptions, there’s a very good chance they will use your description.

meta description
In this case Google used the hand-written summary description I added word for word

Think of the description as an ad for the click

If your page shows up in a search result a well-written description will increase your chances of someone clicking through to read the rest.  Think about it, you read those descriptions when you search, and so do your prospects.

Some tips on writing useful descriptions

  • Write for readers not search engines. Use important keyword phrases but don’t stuff them. When someone searches and uses a keyword in your description the term will be bold, so get some in there, but don’t be silly about it.
  • You only have 150 characters and if you go over the rest will cut off abruptly.
  • The best way to handle adding and optimizing descriptions for WordPress blogs is to use the WordPress SEO plugin from Yoast. You’ll have title, keyword and description fields added to your post page and a counter to tell you when you’ve gone on too long.

 

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Absolutely – it’s the “why you should click the link” in SERPs. Also, it’s the automatically generated description text in a lot of social media channels.

    • Great addition there Andrew – the social aspect is increasingly important

  • Helpful tips. A lot of people don’t understand the basics of how search engines work, and this post helps clarify what’s up with the description meta. Thanks!

  • Nice Post. I would also add, for the Meta Description write it with benefits, put an offer if you have one for the reader, and/or your unique selling value/proposition, and finally put calls to action (CTAs) in your Meta Description too, Click here, Read More, Buy Now, tell ’em what you want them to do next. The Meta Description is like an ad that is appearing in a Google search result page, so write it similar to how you would write an effective headline — grab their attention. And the actual length can vary quite a bit before it’s truncated, I would recommend somewhere between 139 – 156 characters.

    • Not sure I would go this far with every description – you’re still trying to gain trust and this approach can come off a bit pushy at first

  • pamellaneely

    Great post! Optimizing Meta description tags is actually one the easiest ways to increase search traffic – without doing any other SEO.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could split-test meta descriptions?

    • Ooh – I like that split testing idea – wonder how that could work?

      • pamellaneely

        I tried it awhile back. It was a clumsy test – basically I just ran one version of meta description for one week, and then a second version the next week and compared the two. I got about a 20% lift. But there were several issues, including

        1) Having enough traffic for statistically valid results. If you don’t have enough traffic (3000+ impressions a week), you can run each version for 2 or even 4 weeks.

        2) Keep checking the serps – the new meta description won’t show up for a few days. You have to measure from when the new description shows up, not from when you change it in the page.

        I would love to be able to do a cleaner test for it. If somebody could figure out how to do it right (and then build a tool), early adopters could get fabulous results… until Google shuts it down.

        Geez – that may be the next thing to go – our Google webmaster keyword data.

  • Nice piece. There’s nothing wrong with all of the ingredients of your post as long as it can imply good traffic into the table. Simply focus on your content, basically on the title and the backbone because good content has a possibility of success in the searching world.

  • I still carefully craft (and sometimes not so carefully craft) my meta description, but if you haven’t started using more structured meta data like Open Graph or Twitter Card, you really should.

    http://blog.muschamp.ca/2013/09/25/structured-meta-data-is-sexy/

  • Yes. Great to-the-point answer! As algos get smarter, more meaningful content written for the audience is a must. Good descriptions are part of that.

  • I couldn’t agree more, John. We’ve got a couple articles regarding the meta description that your audience will find relevant:

    What is a meta description? http://www.boostsuite.com/2012/03/22/what-is-a-meta-description/

    and

    Support doc from BoostSuite: https://boostsuite.desk.com/customer/portal/articles/517656

    Every page without a relevant, keyword-rich meta description represents lost SERP click-through opportunity!

  • SMG Designs

    Agreed. Do you find that meta keywords are completely irrelevant or shall we continue to add them?

  • Brynn Curry

    It’s horrible when a website like this doesn’t date their articles.

    Please go find updated information about this topic if you are here.

    Meta descriptions are not exclusively used for the description of your link in search engines anymore.