Will drafting a meta description for a blog post help it get more clicks?
On September 23, I created a post on this blog entitled “SEO Your Blog with Keywords”. Check the graphic below to see how it appears in search results. Google has arbitrarily decided to show a snippet of text under my “advice” heading, not my first sentence and not what I would have chosen.
But, assuming I have appropriate blog software, I can suggest to Google what I prefer to display as the description in their search results with a “meta description tag”. The question today is what are meta descriptions and how can these help you get more traffic to your blog?
This is another post in my Blog SEO series. I’m summarizing the advice of pros referenced below, teaching myself about all this and sharing it with you, my fellow bloggers.
“Meta Description Tag” Definition
“Meta elements” are small pieces of code that are visible to search engines but not readers. They give search engine information about your post or page. The “meta description” tag is just one of several meta elements.
Wikipedia says that the meta description tag, or attribute, gives ” a concise explanation of a Web page’s content. This allows the Web page authors to give a more meaningful description for listings than might be displayed if the search engine was unable to automatically create its own description based on the page content.”
WordPress.org also reports other places where that copy is visible if I customize meta descriptions for my post: “Depending on the WordPress theme, these custom descriptions … replace the default contents (usually full post text) in RSS feeds, Search results, Tag archives, Category archives, Monthly archives and Author archive.”
Local SEO consultant Miriam Ellis reminds me that technically, the meta description tag is a marketing element, not a SEO element. A good description may earn you click-throughs, she says, but it does not influence your page rank in SEO.
Are Meta Descriptions Important to Customize?
You saw in the example of my own post that Google picked text to display after my post title in search results that I might not have chosen. And that text likely influences the number of people who click on this link. Can a good meta description bring you more traffic, more click-throughs?
Yes, says Wikipedia : “‘Industry commentators have suggested that major search engines also consider keywords located in the
description attribute when ranking pages.” Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz.com states “the meta description is an important place to use the target term/phrase due to the ‘bolding’ that occurs in the visual snippet of the search results. [Keyword] usage has also been shown to help boost click-through rates…”
To this conventional wisdom, Miriam Ellis adds a note of caution:
There are cases in which you might not want to use a meta description tag. If you don’t, you invite Google to create the best match to a user’s query. In some cases, Google may be able to make a better match of your content for a specific user’s intent when they make a query. This could potentially lead to more targeted traffic for a wider number of phrases and long tail terms than you might get by narrowly targeting something in a custom-written meta tag. So, automatically creating meta tags for all pages is not something you should do. You should consider whether you and your users will best be served by a description you custom-write or by one Google puts together from your text or from other references on the web.
In general, she advises a custom meta description when the target keywords are limited.
Does Your Blog Software Allow You To Customize Meta Descriptions?
WordPress.com = no
WordPress.org = Yes, with SEO plugins or customized themes like Thesis, which this blog runs on.
Blogger/Blogspot.com = yes, if you want to get into the code. See this post from Blog Know Who Add Meta Tags to Blogger for Better SEO.
How To Customize Meta Descriptions
Length: Write one or two concise and informative sentences, the pros say. I just checked the length of four descriptions in Google search results, and the copy was at most 158 characters.
Content: Use words that encourage a reader to click. The text might summarize your post or be provocative. “Unique, short and descriptive” recommends SEO consultant Neil Patel.
Keywords: Add your main keyword or keyword phrase to your meta description.
Title Keywords: Be sure that one keyword or keyword phrase in the title is included in the meta description. Words that match the search query are “bolded” in search results and may result in higher click-through rates.
Punctuate Your Description. Make your description a sentence, starting with a capital letter and ending with a period.
How Much Will Adding Meta Descriptions Help?
Miriam Ellis says that meta descriptions won’t hurt and they may help a little: “Will it make a huge difference in your traffic? Probably not. Will it make any difference in your traffic at all? Yes, it could, a little bit. So if you think it will help a little bit, and you have the time, go ahead and write a meta description for each post.”
Peg’s Character Counting Tip
In order to check the character length of my meta description tags, I open Word and paste my tentative description into a blank document. Then I use its “word count” feature to count the characters (including spaces.) In Word version 2007, it’s under the Review tab. In 2003, I seem to recall it was on the main title bar. This way, I make sure my keyword-studded meta descriptions are under 160 characters.
Spiffing up my Meta Descriptions
After drafting this post, I went back to add meta descriptions to ten of my high-traffic blog posts. My working assumption was that I would start with the first sentence of the post. In fact, I was struck by how inappropriate that first sentence often was for the single sentence to display in Google search results. It is obvious that when I created these posts, I did not realize that the first sentence needed keyword phrases and focus.
I scrapped all the first sentences and wrote custom meta descriptions for the ten posts. A couple samples:
post title: Meta-Post on 18 Online Marketing Techniques: My Internet Marketing Series
first 160 characters of post: In July of 2008, I discovered Anita Campbell’s graphic on online marketing ROI, or internet marketing priorities. SCORE Chicago clients were coming to us, over
new meta description: Web 2.0 marketing is the future, but how do you decide what Web 2.0 tools to use? This post provides effective primary and secondary techniques.
post title: 46 Links on Local Online Marketing: Techniques to Promote Your Local Business
first 160 characters of post: My theme today is local online marketing, with the emphasis on local. I’m covering local directories, local review sites, local ads, local social media strateg
new meta description: Learn local online marketing techniques using local directories, local review sites, local ads, local social media strategies, local blogs, and local SEO.
How’d I do? Why not tell me in a comment?
Other Posts in the Blog SEO Series
SEO Your Blog with Keywords: Blog SEO Series
Blog Post Titles for More Search Traffic: Blog SEO Series
Modify Blog Post Title Tags For Increased Search Traffic: Blog SEO Series
Blog Post Titles — Shall I Edit the Permalink? Blog SEO Series