Writing a good meta description is an art form, and one that’s often overlooked.
A meta description is the description of, or excerpt from, a webpage that appears when that page is listed in search results. It’s usually a couple of sentences long, and tells the searcher what they need to know about what the page contains and how relevant it might be to their query.
In other words, it’s a big part of the reason why a user might decide to click – or not click – on your page in search, and it’s also the first touchpoint that they have with your brand.
Needless to say, it’s worth making it count.
So how do you go about writing a good meta description for your webpage that will entice a user to click through – and what are some best practice examples? In this article, we’ll explain what makes a good meta description and why you should have one, and then look at a number of stand-out examples of well-written meta descriptions from around the web.
How to write a great meta description
The key thing to bear in mind about meta descriptions is that you’ve only got a certain amount of space to work with. How much space is arguably up for debate; most people put the upper limit of meta descriptions on Google at 156 characters, but it’s not exact, and the length of meta description displayed also depends on the device, with meta descriptions naturally being shorter on mobile.
So, if you only bear desktop in mind when writing meta descriptions, you’re likely to be losing out on mobile, which is responsible for more search queries than desktop in many regions around the world.
However, that doesn’t mean the answer is to write a very short meta description, because then you’ll be giving the searcher very little to go on as to why your page satisfies their search query. Search engines like Google may also decide that your meta description isn’t suitable for the user’s search query and will generate their own, instead (more on that later) and so you’ll lose out on the chance to sell your brand in this space.
The generally recommended lower length limit for meta descriptions is 50 characters, so you should be aiming for a length of between 50 and 156 characters.
There are some key elements to ensure you feature:
- Search Terms. Keywords in your meta description that match the user’s query will be highlighted in bold, which for searchers who can see the results page (which is not all of them, because some internet users will be using a screenreader) will draw the eye and make your search result stand out.
- Brand message/strapline. This is an important differentiator in a crowded marketplace. In a nutshell, why should a searcher click on your webpage (or website) and not one of your competitors’? Be honest about what sells you.
- Compelling marketing message. If your brand message/strapline answers the question of “Why us?”, this answers the question of “Why now?” What need of the searcher’s can your webpage fulfil, and how?
- Unique selling points (USPs)/value adds/discounts/offers. This might be something like “Sign up today and get 50% off!” or “Try it now for 7 days!” Alternatively, you can substitute a more general call-to-action, like “Join the largest community of fishing enthusiasts online!”
- Brand tone. This one can depend on what kind of established tone your brand has and how well you can convey it in less than 160 characters, but like all copywriting, a good meta description can give a sense of your brand’s personality.
- Make it unique. Meta descriptions must be unique to each webpage, so make sure you aren’t using the same description for other pages on your site.
Any improvements to your meta descriptions can be measured (if measured in isolation) as increased click-through rate. Note there won’t be a change in your search ranking – Google confirmed in 2009 that meta descriptions are not an SEO ranking factor, but they do affect whether searchers will click through to your page – which is the other half of the battle.
What happens if I don’t write a meta description? Why is it important?
If there’s no meta description set for a page, search engines such as Google or Bing will typically generate one from the page content. This can sometimes happen anyway, so be aware that your meta description is not always what displays beneath the search result if Google, Bing, or whoever has decided that some content on the page would be a better fit. This is not something that you can control (so you can’t force Google or Bing to display your meta description as opposed to their own).
However, the better your meta description and the more suited it is to the types of queries that might lead a searcher to that page, the more likely it is that your own text will display. And if you don’t have a meta description set, sometimes totally inappropriate text can get pulled in – like a cookie consent pop-up (I’ve seen it happen). Which means it’s far better to have one than to not.
So, that’s the theory on how to write a good meta description – but what does it look like in practice? Here are 33 examples of well-written meta descriptions from a variety of brands and companies, with some analysis as to why they’re effective.
1. Lonely Planet (Search term: “travel inspiration”)
This result from Lonely Planet, which ranks for the search term “travel inspiration”, does a great job of both satisfying the search query and selling the brand. In the first two words, it appeals to travel lovers who might be searching for inspiration, before going on to outline concisely what the brand has to offer them. The sitelinks that appear beneath it also entice searchers to click on a more specific page.
2. TK Maxx (Search term: “Men’s formalwear”)
This meta description from TK Maxx manages to hit all the right notes in exactly 160 characters. It has some fun turns of phrase that give the description character – “Look sharp” and “for a steal”, while also conveying the brand’s differentiator: it offers smart clothing from big name brands at affordable prices.
The description then goes on to list some of the products on offer that searchers will be looking for – suits, ties, cufflinks – before delivering a closing call to action, encouraging the searcher to shop now. At the same time, it incorporates a value add, informing the searcher that they can save up to 60%.
3. Next (Search term: “Men’s formalwear”)
Compared to the previous meta description from TK Maxx, this search result from Next for “Men’s formalwear” is a little more bland, but it still manages to get the key points in within the meta description length limits: formalwear essentials, including suits, shoes and shirts, and with next day delivery and free returns.
4. Gousto (Search term: “recipe box subscription”)
This meta description from Gousto, which ranks for the term “recipe box subscription”, sets out the brand’s USP up front (answering the “Why us?”) before going on to expand on what the brand offers with its subscription boxes, finally ending with a call-to-action. All of this in just 147 characters.
5. Hello Fresh (Search term: “recipe box subscription”)
This result from Hello Fresh, which ranks for the same search term (“recipe box subscription”), takes a different approach with short, punchy phrases broken up by check box emoji, making it visually impactful. It manages to pack in more information this way, covering not only the brand’s high-quality ingredients and range of recipes, but also details about free delivery and flexible subscription – and still ends with a call-to-action at the end.