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Despite the current trend to segment your audience as much as possible it's still easy to overlook the art of meta description writing.

After all Google search still reaches all of your target market and beyond.

Here's a reminder of the important considerations for meta description writing with some examples. 

Ah meta descriptions… the last bastion of traditional marketing! The only cross-over point between marketing and search engine optimisation! The knife edge between beautiful branding and an online suicide note!

It’s been a long time since Google read the meta description tag and ranked your site accordingly. It is true that Yahoo & Bing do still pay some reference to it.

However, the real and most-misunderstood value in this important 156 characters of real estate is that it represents the first touchpoint with your brand to the world. 

Indeed in this world of split testing and persona development one thing is still for sure: everyone uses search. Whilst you may have the right RGB to attract the C suite executive through your site, presenting yourself ineffectively in the SERPs can still spell a disaster. 

What is it?

The meta description is the snippet that appears below the blue link in Google search. Words that matched the user query get pulled out in bold.

Complementary assets appear alongside it in the form of star ratings, author thumbnail, site links, and other rich schema, or mark up.

The art of writing the meta description

The art to writing the meta description is a simple one, and one which the present day author may see akin to composing a tweet, with its strict character limit (156). 

There are some key elements to ensure you feature:

  1. Search Terms. Don’t forget that keywords matching the users query will be matched in bold and therefore draw the eye’s attention to your result and increase your chances of click through.
  2. Brand message/strap line. An important differentiator in a crowded marketplace. Really, what sells you? Be honest now.
  3. Compelling marketing message. AHA! The last bastion of traditional marketing! Write something that markets the contents of this page.
  4. USPs/value adds/discounts/offers. 
  5. Make it unique. If you don’t, Google Webmaster Tools will tell you off! It must be unique to the contents of the page.

So here’s how you can put it together in 156 characters:

Search term relevant to page – why us – why now? Our name – why we’re the best 

Improvements here can obviously be measured (if measured in isolation) as increased click through rate.

What happens if you don’t write a meta description?

In the best case scenario Google’s automated system will pick up a useful string of text from the page which reads well and features search terms and helps encourage the click through.

In the worst case scenario Google will publish a suicide note. Or possibly even no meta description at all. What’s better: commercial suicide or a derelict store?!

Here are 33 examples of great meta descriptions (based on Google Zeitgeist 2012).

33 examples of great meta descriptions

A couple of extra tips:

  1. Use the =len() function in Excel to word count your meta description in spreadsheet format.
  2. Use SEO Mofo’s Snippet Optimizer for an online character count tool.

Our Festival of Marketing event in November is a two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more. 

Tim Aldiss

Published 17 April, 2013 by Tim Aldiss

Tim Aldiss is the Consultant/Director of ThinkSearch and a contributor to Econsultancy.

4 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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Greg Power

If you don't overcook it, using symbols can make your listing stand out. E.g. Read ★★★★★ product reviews from customers like you!

Tip: don't begin your meta description with the symbols, Google won't display it.

about 3 years ago

Luella Ben Aziza

Luella Ben Aziza, Director of Content & Research at emarsys

Nice work. If only we had the stats...

about 3 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

I always tells clients to treat the Meta description like ad space. What are you going to say to convince someone to click on your listing out of all the others?

about 3 years ago

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Mark Morton

It's also what comes up on Facebook when someone shares your URL. So important to try and attract that person's Facebook friends to get them to click on the link.

about 3 years ago

Tim Aldiss

Tim Aldiss, Consultant/Director at ThinkSearch

Absolutely Mark, but I deliberately didn't want to go into the social side of meta descriptions as it's a new field and there are different criteria. Alex Moss gave a great talk at BrightonSEO about this which you can read more about here: http://www.stateofsearch.com/social-structured-data/

about 3 years ago

Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin, Head of SEO and Analytics at Personal

Great article Tim.

Nice to see some real examples too - rather than just some instructions.

It's got me charged to review the meta on the sites i manage.

Andrew

about 3 years ago

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Jurrien Schouten

It's notable that allmost all of the given examples contain one or more complete sentences as meta description. In my opinion it might be more valuable to use your USP's as bullet points seperated by a | or (as mentioned) a symbol.

And don't forget that the meta description and title are not measured in characters but in pixels! (http://www.seomofo.com/experiments/serp/google-snippet-07.html)

about 3 years ago

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Nandkishor

Awesome examples of meta description. One element you have missed to point our here is "call to action" in meta description. The page itself has it's own goal. e.g. requesting to submit quote, sign ups, downloads, placing an order for a product, subscribing to a blog, etc. Highlighting these in meta description will be helpful for user to confirm you are also offering the same.

about 3 years ago

Lenka Istvanova

Lenka Istvanova, Marketing Project Manager at Freestak

Great Examples!!! Thanks for sharing them Tim!.
Having an effective and compelling Meta descriptions won't secure you the top position in SERPs but it's the first information your customers will see when searching for something.
I've noticed that the power of unique meta description is often forgotten and we can see tons of auto-generated Meta descriptions.

about 3 years ago

Keith Horwood

Keith Horwood, Head of Performance Marketing at CoinDesk Ltd

Quotes from your article can also work well, giving an extra bit of validation to your search result. Also whilst you are at it, think about changing your social snippet which is shared on different networks, adjusting to suit your audience, and testing which connects. Maybe a question work's best?

If you do have great PPC ad stats - review and use part of these, but don't include prices, as they usually do not update quick enough. PPC ads have stricter restrictions than meta descriptions so you have a lot more freedom to go a bit nuts on the call to action.

about 3 years ago

Laura Phillips

Laura Phillips, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Great post, thank you! Meta descriptions seem to be often overlooked or ignored, being considered less important than other factors, but this is so not the case! Great to see someone highlighting their value, with examples to boot.

about 3 years ago

Tim Aldiss

Tim Aldiss, Consultant/Director at ThinkSearch

Top tips Keith, nice one.

about 3 years ago

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Anu Priya, Marketing Executive at Web Designing Course

This is awesome! Meta Description that has a compelling message attracting the audience can get clicks for sure!!

almost 2 years ago

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Izzate Achu, Service Provider at Ashwini Infotech

Interesting! These days I have found people using Schema markup reviews to enhance their web presence in the search engine and I guess this would be compelling for visitors to enter the site by checking the reviews.
http://ashwiniusedlaptop.com/

about 1 year ago

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