Writing Meta-Descriptions: The Complete Guide
Meta-descriptions are critical for two reasons; they are used by Google in the ranking process, and they are ultimately responsible for the Click-through-rate that your page will experience.
A properly written meta-description will stand out and have users clicking on it more often than it simply deserves based on its position in the SERPs; a poorly written one may garner as few as zero clicks. Here we’ll detail best practices for writing your meta-descriptions based on an exhaustive review of various people’s takes on this I’ve found on the web.
1. Make your meta-description 155 characters or less – the closer to 155 the better.
2. Avoid using special characters, quotes, and the like as Google will typically cut off your meta-description at that point.
3. Don’t have any duplicate meta-descriptions across your website.
4. Include the keyword you’re trying to rank for in the Meta-description. Searchers expect to see the term they searched for in the meta-description.
5. Pepper a few related keywords into your meta-description. In our example “containment vessels” might be a good related term.
6. Make sure the meta-description accurately describes the page, or you will have a CTR, but also a high bounce rate (i.e. people will leave quickly when they see the content doesn’t match what the meta-description promises). This can be really bad for your rankings.
7. Move the keyword as far to the left of the sentence as possible, ideally starting the meta-description with the keyword. If not, locate it no more than a few words in.
8. Don’t repeat the keyword a second time exactly, but use stemmed words or plural/singular forms. For instance, if you’re trying to rank for [control nuclear contaminants], use something along the lines of “Control Nuclear Contaminants with our widget. Controlling any individual nuclear contaminant need not be a difficult process if you know how to do it correctly. We’ll show you how.”
9. Have a strong call-to-action. This best practice is identical to how the paid search industry constructs “creatives”. Search on [PPC ad best practices] for more ideas, but a strong call to action typically uses action verbs (“create, fix, control…”) and challenges the searcher to take action.
10. Communicate your unique value proposition for the page – why should someone click on it instead of on the other search results?
11. Evoke human emotions – greed, fear, curiosity, and/or urgency.
12. Be interesting.
13. Stand out !!!
14. Test, test, test. Try different meta-descriptions over time, look at your analytics, and see what works.
15. Get ideas from competitor’s meta-descriptions.
16. Get ideas from competitor’s PPC ads.
17. Capitalize the first letter of each word in the meta-description. Just as with PPC, capitalizing all words can potentially improve your clickthrough rate. Just don’t capitalize short words such as “in”, “for”, and so on. Also, completely capitalizing your “power words” (see below) in some cases can improve your clickthrough rate as well (as in, “JUST ARRIVED” and so on).
18. Use “power words”. According to urban legend on the internet, Yale University did a study in the 1970’s identifying the words in the English language that are most “persuasive”. Apparently this is not true (see reference here), but there have been additions to the list, and based on anecdotal evidence it does seem that these words work pretty well and are worth considering.
Note that if any search engines discourage advertisers from using a term in paid search, it’s probably either topically offensive, or is a highly effective “unfair” term. If it looks like you can get away with using an “unfair” term in organic search, by all means, do so. Note that Google’s Adwords program warns against, for instance, “best”, “#1″, “better than”, and “faster than”; this must mean they work pretty well.
Just make sure you can back up your claims with third party data if you use those sorts of superlatives, or you could get into serious trouble with the Federal Trade Commission for making false claims about your product or service.
I’ve pulled together a list of “power words” below, from numerous sources, and sorted them by emotional association. Happy writing – and if you have any other ideas or suggestions for writing meta descriptions, please comment below!
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