Everything You Need to Know About Meta Descriptions

Avatar for Amanda Stephens

Amanda Stephens
VP of Operations

Graphic on the standard seoplus+ blue triangle background showing an example of a Meta Description
Graphic on the standard seoplus+ blue triangle background showing an example of a Meta Description

What if there was a way to improve click-through rate, drive more traffic to your website, and better delight users, all in 160 characters or less? It’s all possible when you take the time to add well-crafted meta descriptions to your website.

In this quick guide, we’ll walk you through everything there is to know about meta descriptions: what they are, why they matter, and how they can help elevate your website’s search performance in measurable ways.

What is a meta description?

A meta description is the short block of text that appears below the title on the search engine results page (SERP).

It also pulls on social media when you share a page or post.

If you do not manually enter a meta description, the search engine will display copy from the page instead. This is usually the first one or two sentences on the page. In some cases, it will pull an excerpt from the middle of the text if this passage contains the keyword being searched.

How long is a meta description?

There is no character minimum or maximum for a meta description, but longer descriptions will be cut off. The cutoff point depends on the screen size – a wide-screen desktop display will generally show a longer meta description than a mobile phone display. As a general rule, if you limit your descriptions to 160 characters or 512 pixels wide, they will display fully on most devices.

Why do meta descriptions matter?

If you don’t have well-crafted meta descriptions, you’re missing out on a few major opportunities.

  1. Show what’s on the Page

Your meta description should give a clear, succinct summary of what you can expect to find on the page. If your meta description talks about laptops and a user clicks and ends up on a page about tablets, they’re going to be disappointed and pogo-stick back to the search results page. This will ultimately cause that page’s rankings to plummet for laptop-related keywords, because it clearly doesn’t delight users. Use the meta description to set expectations for searchers.

  1. Entice readers

Showing what’s on the page is only the first step. If I write a meta description like “This page is about shoes, sneakers, an footwear,” nobody is going to be excited to click, even if they know exactly what to expect on the page. A meta description like, “Find comfortable running shoes for sale from top brands in footwear like Nike, Adidas, and New Balance. Shop now!” makes it clear what the page is about, but also draws the reader in by explaining your value.  Which page would you be more likely to click?

  1. Qualify for featured snippets

Featured snippets are excerpts that appear on the search results page.

They also pull the answers to those questions you sometimes see on the search results page:

In the past, Google has pulled this data from three different sources:

  1. Content on page
  2. Meta Description
  3. DMOZ project

With the closure of the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) in March 2017, Google has announced that it will now lean even more heavily on the first two sources. If you want the chance for your site to get the spotlight as a featured snippet, having well-crafted meta descriptions, in addition to rich, deep web content, is an absolute must.

How do I write a good meta description?

If you have a smaller website, you can write all meta descriptions in a couple hours or less. The workload becomes higher for sites with tons of pages or products, but it’s a project worth tackling.

  1. Fill it out. If you leave it empty, the search engine will auto-populate the content. While it will pull directly from the page, you don’t have any control over what gets pulled or how it appears. Take control and fill out the description.
  2. Write original meta descriptions for each page. Do not repeat meta descriptions across multiple pages on your site, as this can cause confusion to searchers or force multiple pages to unnecessarily compete with each other.
  3. Stay on topic. Identify the main topic on the page and weave this into the meta description. Generic or broad meta descriptions won’t do you any favours.
  4. Be descriptive and concise. You have approximately 160 characters to work with – make each and every one count. You can elaborate with your on-page content once you draw in the click.
  5. Write high-quality metas. Grammar matters! Use a spell-check or ask someone to proofread before you make the new descriptions live.
  6. Don’t be spammy. Do not keyword stuff, don’t hype up anything not found on the page, and don’t make promises you can’t deliver.
  7. Audit your work. Each time you add a page to your website, add an appropriate meta description. Periodically, you’ll want to conduct an audit of all meta descriptions on your site to ensure they make sense for the page and align with your messaging, unique value proposition, and targeted keywords.

Once you’ve got the hang of the basics, you can have some fun and experiment. Does positioning your product/service as the solution to a searcher’s problem draw in more clicks, or is promoting free shipping or 24/7 customer support the magic touch? Is it better to be straightforward and informative, or playful with your message? Test out different approaches and measure the results.

Avatar for Amanda Stephens

Amanda Stephens

Amanda Stephens is the Vice President of Operations at seoplus+. She leads the production team across a number of departments including SEO, web design/development, and paid ads. Amanda is responsible for team culture, process, and training to ensure optimal results for world class clients.

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