Meta descriptions provide a short explanation of a page’s content. Search engines don’t use meta descriptions themselves as a ranking factor, but they do use them in combination with the title tag and URL of a page create its search snippet. Search snippets are the title and description displayed in search engine results. Search engines will scrape page content it thinks is relevant to a search for pages that have missing or inaccurate descriptions.
Here’s the search snippet in action for Google, Bing and Yahoo!, respectively:
A properly implemented meta description in the HTML
<head> looks like this:
<meta name="description” content=”A short description of what your page is about. Be as descriptive as possible while staying concise.”>
If you’re using a content management for your website, you should be able to customize your meta description, along with other meta tags like title tags and the meta robots tag.
But if search engines don’t meta descriptions them to rank pages in search results, how do they impact your SEO? Think of your search snippet as a digital billboard for your site. They entice users to click through to your site and, depending on whether or not user experience matches expectations set in the descriptions, helps keep them there. Even though search engines don’t the use descriptions themselves as ranking factors, they do still play role in your SEO because they impact your click-through rate, bounce rate and time on site. All three of these metrics are used as ranking signals.
Here’s how you should optimize your meta descriptions to have the biggest positive impact on SEO:
Use keywords: Keywords used in the search will appear as bold text in the search snippet. This will help to draw the user’s attention to the fact that your page is relevant to their search query.
Be descriptive: Meta descriptions are not a ranking signal, but they do impact CTR, which is a direct ranking factor. Think of it as writing copy for an organic search text ad. Use engaging, descriptive copy to entice users to click through to your site. This will help show Google that your page is relevant to a certain keyword used in a search, helping it rank higher for that keyword.
Note: If you’re optimizing pages for conversions, or otherwise targeting in-market users, consider using words like "deals", “cheap” or “free shipping” to encourage clicks. It may look spammy to you but it will actually help. Just make sure you actually offer the deals you’re advertising.
Be accurate: Along with CTR, meta descriptions can directly influence two other ranking signals: bounce rate and time on site (also known as dwell time). Inaccurate or misleading descriptions will cause many users to leave your site quickly, without interacting with other pages. Search engines will interpret this as your page either being irrelevant to a keyword, providing a bad user experience or both. Any of those options could reduce your site’s rank.
There’s one more reason you should put effort into your meta descriptions: social media. Most social media platforms use the title tag and meta descriptions when displaying pages shared by users.
This won’t really impact your ranking, but good meta descriptions can drive user engagement and visits to your website, just like in search results. So, as you can see, writing a good meta description for your pages will help improve traffic across multiple marketing channels and improve your on page user behaviors.