How to Write Effective Meta Descriptions

There was a time when meta data optimization was considered a magic SEO bullet. As recently as 2009, a bit of meta data went a long way, at least in Yahoo Search. But oh, how times have changed. Now meta descriptions are but a small component of any search engine’s ranking algorithm.

You might be surprised to learn that meta descriptions are still just as important as they once were. Although including specific keywords in your meta copy isn’t going to catapult your keywords to the top of search engines, they still provide an excellent opportunity for branding and are essential to getting clicks in search results.

Since meta descriptions appear in search engine results pages (SERPs), they offer brands an opportunity to engage consumers with compelling copy. If copy is compelling, it can help generate site traffic. An accurate description of page content can also help reduce your bounce rate. In this way, effective meta descriptions, like effective SEM ad copy, can help you generate revenue.

You Can Never Make a Second First Impression

When consumers are engaged in online research, your meta description will often be their first impression of your brand. Think of your meta description as your brand’s front porch. You want it to look inviting so that consumers will want to enter (click through) and hopefully spend time and money on your site.

What is a meta description?

A meta description is a description tag that appears in the head element of an HTML or an XHTML document with your other meta data. Meta description tags look like this:

HTML: <meta name=”description” content=”This is a sample meta description value.”>

XHTML: <meta name=”description” content=”This is a sample meta description value.” />

If properly optimized, your meta description will appear in SERPs when people search for your brand.

are meta descriptions still important?

A Sales Pitch

Your meta description is essentially a sales pitch. It’s an opportunity to enforce your brand’s message with engaging copy. According to a Get Satisfaction survey, 97.09% of people say that an online experience has influenced a buying decision. Consumers’ online experience has to be considered at every touch point.

Avoid Unbranding

Some brands squander the opportunity to target consumers with their meta descriptions. They instead fill their meta descriptions with copy that gives generic information about their products, or lets you know that their site is “official”, but does little to reinforce their brand’s message. Since many businesses “unbrand” themselves with their meta descriptions, it provides an opportunity for smaller brands to capture consumer’s attention.

Case in point:

Nike Meta Description


Nike is the largest shoe manufacturer in the world. Yet their meta description tells you nothing that differentiates them from any other shoe manufacturer. Since Nike is already a household name, they clearly feel that their brand name speaks for itself. However, by unbranding themselves, they’ve left an opening for smaller brands to to hit consumers with more targeted messaging.

toms meta description

As a smaller, forward-thinking shoe company, Toms takes full advantage of their meta description. They hit you with their sales pitch right away and explain their key differentiating factor as a brand. They also include their slogan: “One for One.”

While Toms can’t compete with Nike on a global level, their message of corporate responsibility is in stark contrast to Nike’s public sweat shop scandal in the 90s. By pitching their commitment to charity in their meta description, Toms hopes to convince a niche of socially-conscious shoppers that they should investigate Toms as a footwear option.

Best Practices

In order to ensure that Google accurately displays your meta description in the SERPs make sure that:

  • It is only one or two sentences long
  • It contains a minimum of 100 characters
  • It does not exceed a maximum of 150 characters

Your meta description should be appealing, but make sure that it accurately describes the landing page. Don’t increase your click through rate with unqualified customers who will instantly bounce from your site with a dissatisfied scowl. Instead, do your best to reach out to your target audience and let them know, in as engaging a way as possible, what’s in store for them if they visit your site.

You should include a keyword or two in your meta description, but don’t over-stuff it with keywords at the expense of having engaging copy. Remember, above all, that the goal of your meta description is to drive qualified traffic to your site. You can also include branded keywords in your meta descriptions to raise consumer awareness of brand-specific terms.

By writing effective meta descriptions you have the opportunity to increase search traffic and generate revenue. Therefore, meta descriptions are still relevant and should be included as part of your content efforts.



About Jesse Davis

Jesse Davis is a content marketing copywriter at DemandResults. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in history. In his free time, he blogs, writes fiction, plays guitar and spends far too much time on social media sites.

3 Responses to “How to Write Effective Meta Descriptions”

  1. A new way to think about writing effective meta-descriptions #li

  2. John Mast-Finn (@jmfinn) January 18, 2012 8:55 am #

    How to Write Effective Meta Descriptions:

  3. Lever Interactive SEO January 18, 2012 8:57 am #

    smart article, but one thing I’d like to point out. Google now tends to show snippets of text from the ranking URL under the page title in the SERPs. I wouldn’t say meta description is any less important because it’s still a way for you to accurately describe your site and it is a useful bit of information, but the SERPs are mixed with meta descriptions and text snippets. Bottom line – write compelling text everywhere.

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