SEO is not limited to just keywords, especially in recent years as Google’s algorithm continues to update to provide only the best recommendations for searches. For example, with the BERT update, the quality of content has proven to affect search performance more so than another factor, like word count. Another element of optimizing content for search is the use of meta tags.
What are meta tags?
Meta tags, or metadata, live on every page and offer information on the content. Typically, these are not elements that you can see on the page as they are hidden in the head of the code; that being said, they exist for the use of search engine spiders crawling the web. Metadata might include the author of the content, keywords, the last time the content was modified, and a description of the contents. This description is very important and very often overlooked.
The description is so very important because this is the one piece of metadata that’s actually valuable to the user (and not just those internet spiders). People can see the description on the search engine results page. This is a short piece of copy that’s about 160 characters long.
If not uniquely written for each page, Google and other search engines will just pull a clump of copy from your page and present it as the description in search results. Google is very smart, as we know, and will try and pull the most relevant text to display at the description. Often, this makeshift description does not read well and might not be the best representation on the page. Because the search results page only shows about 160 characters, the description Google creates is often very choppy and will not complete the intended message.
Did you know?
Meta descriptions have the largest influence on clickthrough on the search engine results page.
Ignite Visibility conducted an SEO and intent study to discover how over 500 people are searching. Through this study, they found that meta descriptions have the largest influence on click-throughs when compared to title and brand name: “when asked which factor had the most significant impact on their decision to click a result, 62.9% responded it was the description, followed by 24.2% who said the brand name, and 13% who said title.”
We like to describe the meta description as your first impression to searchers because if they don’t like what they see at first glance, they aren’t going to click! If your SEO is great and you show up on the search results page, but your description doesn’t really sell it into the searcher, you’re missing that engagement. You received the visibility, or that brand impression, but not the actual organic traffic to your website.
What makes a good meta description?
We recommend custom meta descriptions on every page, rather than let Google or other search engines do it for you, so it can include all of the important elements of a successful description:
Keywords: When the spiders are crawling the web for the best pages to present on the search result page, they are looking at the words in the original search query. If someone is looking for “what’s an effective, kid-safe bug spray?” and the description doesn’t include “kid-safe bug spray” or even “bug spray” for that matter, it’s not as likely to show up. It definitely still can if the page has high authority and the right content is there, but including those keywords is that extra boost.
Natural language: This is something search engines need to work on when pulling a description dynamically from the page. Google isn’t human (as much as it tries to be!) and the technology isn’t quite there yet to fully grasp natural language. Luckily, we are human and know how other humans speak and search, so writing meta descriptions that reflect how people want to read content is a lot easier for us. Natural language is becoming more important as voice search is becoming the predominant way of finding information on the web.
Call-To-Action: Every marketer knows the importance of a good call-to-action (CTA), and meta descriptions are really no different than a search ad description. You wouldn’t dare write an ad without a CTA, so why skip it in a meta description? This factor will only appear in your description if you write it; and without it, you’re missing out on that last chance to push someone to click on your page.
Here’s an example of a meta description that we wrote for our homepage. The description fits within the search results pages’ character constraints so the message is not cut off, we use relevant keywords that are a good representation of the content of the page, and we offer a valuable call-to-action at the end of the message.
Writing unique metas isn’t quick or easy, it takes a lot of time to do it properly. Doing it correctly means conducting all of the proper keyword research, audience research, and of course, all of the copywriting must be on-brand and optimized for search. This is why a lot of websites are skipping out on this process, but when 62.9% of searchers are choosing the meta description as the most important element of a search result – it really shouldn’t be skipped.
We specialize in search engine optimization and have created search strategies (including meta copywriting and implementation) for brand new companies and for websites that have been around for decades. It’s never too late to start optimizing for search. Let us know if you need any help getting started!