How To Write Meta Descriptions

With The 7 Traits of (Almost) All Great Meta Descriptions, I’ll reveal how to write meta descriptions that get clicks.
SIA Team
October 22, 2021

While meta descriptions are not a direct ranking factor, having one that accurately describes your page and gets the interest of a user can help you get that click to your page and can indirectly affect rank. You may not be number one but if you are in the top 3 and you have a better meta description than those one top, you will definitely get that click. That is what makes great meta descriptions important and in this article, I’ll reveal how to write meta descriptions that get clicks. I will be providing 7 traits that all meta descriptions should have, some examples to help you along, and my 7 step process in writing great meta descriptions that would get you those clicks!

But before that, let’s start at the beginning. What is a meta description?

The word meta is actually a prefix, and in this context, it means unseen.

Unseen? 

Yes. Technically, the meta description of a web page is actually part of something called metadata. Generally speaking, metadata (at least for web pages) aren’t usually seen by the casual end-user. 

“But,” you ask, “if they’re not seen, why even put effort into them?”

Because your meta description is read by the search engines and can be used to help search engines get a better understanding of what your web page is about. 

In fact, even though meta descriptions aren’t usually seen by the typical end-user, they can be (and most often are) displayed on the search engine results page.

In fact, a lot of the time, when you look at a Google search results page, you’re seeing a number of listings. With each listing, some of the text you see is from the meta description of the associated web page, pulled from the page’s code. That’s not always the case, but it is a good portion of the time.

I’m not sure if it is a ranking factor, but some SEO experts believe that clickthrough and bounce rates are. 

So, even if meta descriptions aren’t direct ranking factors, if they’re clicked on more often in search queries and their associated pages have fewer bouncebacks, then good meta descriptions can have a positive correlation to higher rankings. 

A good meta description is accurate, speaks to your target audience where they are along the buyer’s journey, and get clicks (and fewer bounces than the other listings on the search results page). 

This is why writing accurate, helpful, and brief meta descriptions (of roughly 120 characters, max) is so important. 

I can, and will, show you how to write great meta descriptions. The end results of these writing techniques are great for your users, their user experience, your SEO, and all other factors where your meta descriptions need to perform. 

What I’ve prepared for you is probably one of the best investments of your time. 

Here’s why…

I’m a former direct-response copywriter who has been writing for the Web for years. In that time, I’ve had to learn how to write enticing meta descriptions that intrigue visitors while also keeping to the character limit of roughly 120 characters.

I continue to spend a lot of time honing the craft of writing meta descriptions that work for our visitors (humans) and search engines (computers, basically). 

And that’s one of the balancing points when doing almost any form of Web writing: you have to be mindful that both people and search indexers will read/scan your content.

The 7 Traits of (Almost) All Great Meta Descriptions

meta description and page content

While planning this article, I sat down and thought, Okay, I have to give my reader a list of things they can look for (and use as guidance) when assessing and writing great meta descriptions.

I sat down and thought of everything that a good meta description has to be, and have. 

My aim for these is to help give you an understanding of user behavior, help you to rank for your target keyword, and–among other things–help you to get more traffic via organic search.

I came up with these 7 traits: 

1) Great Meta Descriptions Are Part of a Bigger Picture: They’re Part of a Page That Can Rank High for a Specific Search Term

Of course, this topic is about a larger subject: search engine optimisation or SEO. Part of that involves creating web pages that are, ideally, each full of great content. This content should be so good that it competes with the top-ranking pages for its target keyword.

A high-ranking page is–at least partially–the result of good content creation, which you can read about in my article, Content Creation: A Simple, 11-Step Process That Just Works

2) Great Meta Descriptions Are Seen As The Best (or At Least One of the Best) Options on the Search Engine Results Page

That’s what everything boils down to: a person does a Google search, sees the results, and picks one of the best ones. Hopefully, it’s yours. 

But, even if they don’t pick yours first, they probably keep a mental note of which ones seemed appealing to them. (If you apply what you’ll learn here, yours should most definitely be one of them.)

That means that yours will definitely be one of the most well-considered ones. 

A great SEO meta description is prime real estate!

3) Great Meta Descriptions Are Usually Written With an Understanding of The Searcher’s Intent

Meta description should show that you understand or that you can help

When writing your meta description, it’s good to think of your page’s primary keyword, as well as any long-tail keywords, and try to weave them in. Don’t forget, however, that your searcher has an intent, and intent may be deeper than the simple query that they entered.

That’s why it’s important to go beyond basic keyword research and actually do research on the state-of-mind of the person we think wants to come to our page. (This is going a bit beyond the scope of this article, but I’m talking about demographics, psychographics, past behavior, level of subject knowledge, etc.)

I’ve written about search intent in this news item, titled, Google Goes Beyond Keywords…Talks About Searcher Intent

In my (hopefully unbiased) opinion, it’s a worthy read, because it introduces you to a concept that’s spoken of by Google employees and some more advanced marketers. It links to a Lazarina Stoy article that I feel does a great job of establishing this concept.

4) Great Meta Descriptions Are Well-Written and Give a Great First Impression

Great Meta Descriptions Are Well-Written and Give a Great First Impression

This one requires little explanation. Something that’s well-written is easier to understand and follow. Try not to use big words or cause the reader to stumble. 

5) Great Meta Descriptions Have Some Element of Curiosity and/or Self-Interest.

This is probably one of the more important aspects of an amazing, quality description. 

In fact, I think this point is so important that it’s foundational: every good meta description conjures some form of curiosity or self-interest–otherwise, the searcher won’t click on it. 

Good descriptions are written with an understanding of the search intent of the visitor, and they’re worded in a way that piques self-interest and curiosity. 

Curiosity and self-interest go well beyond this topic–they’re each a major factor pertaining to why we do a lot of the things we do.

That said, try not to be so abstract that your potential visitor doesn’t know what to think. Confused users don’t click, so yes, an amazing meta description piques curiosity, yet balances that curiosity with specificity.

curiosity user intent

6) Great Meta Descriptions Start or Introduce Something Compelling

This is similar to the trait of curiosity and self-interest, but I think it’s important enough that it deserves its own sub-head. A great SEO meta description starts something (begins a thought or idea), and gets the searcher to want to continue…onto your page.

Great Meta Descriptions Start or Introduce Something Compelling

7. Ultimately, Great Meta Descriptions Get the Reader to Click

That’s the goal, right? Someone enters a search query into a search engine, they may see some search results snippets, and decide to visit your blog post (or web page), which would result in organic traffic to your page.

Here’s a tip: try to be mindful of active voice (as opposed to passive voice). Basically, active voice is where the subject does the action, and passive voice is where something is done to the subject. You can find examples of action language online.

14 Meta Description Examples You Can Use as Templates

how to get clicks

What better way to learn something than by reading some examples and practicing them?

Originally, I was going to place this section after the next one (the step-by-step process below). 

But then, I felt that if I described the process without first giving you some examples, it may be harder to understand what the process asks you to do. And also, I have a feeling that if you see these examples first, you won’t feel empty-handed as I walk you through the process. 

Below, I offer you a number of meta descriptions that I’ve written, which I feel are good examples to follow. (I hope I’m unbiased in that opinion, but you be the judge.)

As a side note, many of my titles are well beyond the 60-character limit that’s recommended for titles. (Don’t confuse that with the recommended 120-character limit for meta descriptions.)

My titles exceeded the 60-character limit because most of the examples below are news items, and I really had to have headlines that adequately described the news I was relaying. 

Also, I know that I ask you to put your targeted keyword phrase in your meta description. 

There are, however, some exceptions. 

Keep in mind that the meta description is meant to work hand-in-hand with the title, so if a meta description doesn’t have the targeted keyword in it, the meta title very likely does. 

(And the meta description may have a variation of the target keyword, which can offer some diversity and target more keywords.)

Each template has a 4-part structure:

  • A title, or sub-head, that describes the template.
  • An example meta description that illustrates that template, with the actual meta description underlined.
  • The title of the news item or article where the meta description was taken from.
  • A brief explanation of why I think that meta description works. 

That said, I’ve listed 14, but there are potentially an endless number of variations and combinations you may eventually find or create. 

These 14 are not, in any way, an exhaustive list. I could’ve gone on and on…and possibly listed a few dozen examples, but I hope these 14 will be a good start. 

I also hope they can spark your own creativity.

A Meta Description That Asks Questions

Meta description: Do you use a multi-step sales process? Do prospects have to think about investing with you? How often do they return?

From the news item titled, User Retention: A Key Metric for Almost Any Site or Shopping App

Asking questions can be a great way to get people to think about something that’s on their minds, or even remember something they’ve been questioning. 

Introducing a Slightly New Term to Get Readers to Ask, “What’s A ___?”

Meta description: Understanding this one ‘meta metric’ can help you gain a better understanding of how people use your site.

From the news item titled, Semrush Posts About Sessions ‘Meta Metric’ in Google Analytics

While the source of this news doesn’t use the term meta metric, it did talk about a search metric that could encompass other metrics, which, in a way, gives it a bit of a higher standing than some of the other metrics. 

Knowing that I wanted to stimulate the searcher’s curiosity, I thought of the new-ish term, ‘meta metric.’

FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

Meta description: Do you use Google Ads? You may want to know about this. 

From the news item titled, Better Google Ads Performance With Data-Driven Improvements That Respect User Privacy.

The phrase, You may want to know about this, seems to imply that there’s something important that the reader either does or doesn’t know about, but which they, at least, have to ensure they’re aware of. 

If you look at the title of the news item, you’ll see that it talks about something new: improvements. That implies that there’s something newsworthy, and that these new improvements may have been something the searcher is not yet aware of.

That, combined with the importance of user privacy, makes the you-may-want-to-know-about-this phrase more enticing. 

Here’s another example of a meta description that conveys FOMO: If you use Google Analytics, this may be the most important 30-second feature you’re missing out on.

From the news item, Google Retweets Reminder About An Often-Overlooked GA Feature.

That one, in addition to it having a FOMO element, goes a bit further: it blatantly says that it’s a feature the reader is actually missing out on. And…it only takes 30 seconds. 

Who wouldn’t want to know about that?

Just Tell Them

Meta description: Yes, with URLs, upper and lower case can make a difference. Google’s John Mueller discusses a few examples of this.

From the news item, “Are URLs Case Sensitive?” Here’s Google’s Response.

The title of the news item contains a yes-no question, and in the meta description, I answered that question plainly, by beginning with, “Yes.”

An If-Then Statement

Meta description: If you’ve wondered how many keywords your content should cover, [then] this may be of interest.

From the news item, “One Article for Several Keywords, or Several Articles, Each for One Keyword?” Google Responds.

(The [then] isn’t in the actual meta description on the news page, but I added it there to show how this meta description follows the if-then format.)

Problem-Solution Statement

Meta description: Does the weather forecast an impending natural disaster? Here’s how to start protecting your business.

From the news item, Google Gathers Resources to Help Businesses During a Natural Disaster.

This one’s easy to explain. Problem: impending natural disaster. Solution: here’s how to start protecting your business. 

Question Something People Assume Is True (or Are Debating)

Meta description: From an SEO perspective, is there any value to removing old news or old content? 

From the news item, “We Have a 10+ Year-Old Site With Lots of Old News. Is It Worth Removing Old Pages?” Google’s John Mueller Responds.

Just so that you know the assumption that’s questioned here, in SEO, there’s a concept known as Quality Score, which is an overall measurement of the quality of all of the pages of a site. 

So, generally speaking, the more quality pages you have, the better your quality score.

With that comes the idea that if you remove old news, your Quality Score will increase. 

But is this an accurate assumption?

That’s the assumption that’s questioned in the meta description, and for the ideal reader (who is serious about their site’s Quality Score), they’ll want to know the answer to this, and will click to find out more. 

Specify a Number

Meta description: Want to gather data while respecting privacy? Here are 5 things to keep in mind.

From the news item, Google Tweets 5-Pillar Approach to Holistic Marketing Measurement.

Sometimes, people like specifics, such as numbers and precise statements. In fact, list-based content are some of the most popular types of content formats. 

That’s why the ‘5 things’ statement would be appropriate.

Summarize What The Article Is About

Meta description: Lily and Mando of Lily and BAE shared a short clip where they talk about their 2-year YouTube success.

From the news item titled, YouTube Tweets to Aspiring Video Content Creators.

It’s not always easy to summarize things into a 2-sentence, sub-120-character statement, but if you can do it, it’s another option for you.

 Ask, “Can This Be Affecting You?”

Meta description: Can your affiliates be hurting your site’s SEO? Overall, Google’s John Mueller wouldn’t worry too much. 

From the news item titled, Google Responds: “Our Affiliates Don’t Use nofollow When They Link to Us. What Should We Do?”

A lot of affiliate managers (or vendors) would probably never consider that their affiliates can be hurting their SEO. If the searcher is an affiliate manager who cares about their SEO, then this is something they should be concerned about.

Details of an Upcoming (Or Past) Event

Meta description: On October 20, 2021, from 12 PM to 1 PM EDT, Google will host a webinar to help you get online with Google Ads.

From the news item titled, Google Announces Workshop to Help Businesses Showcase Products Online.

This one’s pretty straightforward. 

That said, for a past event, or to begin a story, you can say something like, Learning how to write a good meta descriptions was hard, until I read this…

 A Quote

Meta description: Google: “If it’s slow, it’s slow; if it’s fast, it’s fast. It’s not an attribute of the kind of hosting that you have.”

From the news item, “Does the Type of Host I Use Affect Crawl Efficiency?” Google Responds. 

Using a quote from a recognized authority (and mentioning that authority) can really help to lend credibility to your content. Bonus points if the quote you use has your targeted keyword (or some variation) in it. 

 A Bit of Intrigue…and a Promise

Meta description: Chances are, some of your pages are better than others. Do you know which ones? Find out in less than 4 minutes.

From the news item titled, Google Tweets About Short Tutorial on Discovering Which Landing Pages Are Most Engaging.

For people who have a number of landing pages, it’s reasonable to think that some of their pages are more engaging than others. They probably know that. 

But…do they know which ones? 

Asking them that question is intriguing, because I’d imagine they’re wondering, Yeah…which ones are better? I should probably find out so that I can focus more of my ad dollars on those ones

And then, the promise comes when I tell them that finding out only takes 4 minutes. (Actually, it’s not just a promise: it’s a promise that’s also convenient, because of the small time requirement.)

That can make for a very compelling description.

 If This Problem Is Affecting You, This May Be The Reason

Meta description: If you’ve seen such unexplainable changes in Search Console, the AMP Report, or Core Web Vitals, this may be the reason.

From the news item, “We’ve Seen a 40% Drop In The # of Mobile Usability Pages in Search Console. Why?” Googler Responds. 

This is actually a more specific variation of the if-then statement. It works well for content that offers suggestions as to why someone might be having a particular problem.

So, that ends (or maybe begins) the 14 examples I have for you. Equipped with those, let’s dive deeper.

How to Write Great Meta Descriptions: A 7-Step Process

stand out of the competition

Alright, here’s what you’ve been waiting for!

Step 1: Have You Done Your Research?

Because I want this to be a seamless process, I decided that we should begin where a previous process ends: research. Notice that I didn’t say keyword research. Yes, keyword research plays a role, and you should definitely do it, but as far as overall research is concerned, keyword research is only a part of a larger preliminary research process. 

It’s beyond the scope of this article to tell you what kind of preliminary research you should do, but some examples are:

  • Prospect/customer profiles
  • Demographics
  • Psychographics
  • Keyword competition research
  • Searcher intent (the “Why” that explains why they entered a certain search query)

That last one–searcher intent–is, to me, quite important, and is worthy of consideration. I’ll even describe it in a way I haven’t done before: the keyword behind the keyword. I already described intent, so I won’t go into it too much here. 

That said, it’s fitting that I mention a related concept: the buyer’s journey, which you can read about here: Consider the Buyer’s Journey

Acknowledgement of The Buyer’s Journey (where your prospect is on the purchase decision continuum) and intent (as discussed in Google Goes Beyond Keywords…Talks About Searcher Intent) are critical steps in your research. 

When you have a firm grasp on those two, you’ll be prepared for the next step. 

Step 2: For This Content, Which Stage Is Your Ideal Visitor At? (And, What’s The Intent Behind Their Search Query?)

This is a 2-part step, but the 2 parts go hand in hand. 

For this particular content–this blog post, video, whatever it is you’re writing your meta description for–which stage of the Buyer’s Journey is your ideal visitor? 

Are they at an early stage of the journey, where they’re aware of a problem, desire, or need?

Or, are they further along the journey, at a later stage where they may be considering doing business with you, and are doing their final bit of research?

Where they are will determine what you write. 

Likewise, what’s the intent behind their search query? 

Is their intent informational, navigational, commercial, or transactional?

Step 3: Know the Keyword(s)–Or Maybe Better, The Intent–That You’ll Target With This Page

This is where you’ll have to make some strategic decisions. Will you use one page to target one ‘intent,’ or use one page to target multiple ‘intents’? 

Google’s John Mueller said that either way can work, but that if you try to target multiple ‘intents’ within the same page, Google may think it’s one ‘intent’ and not the other.

Did that confuse you?

Sorry. Maybe the first 6 minutes of this video will give you some context:https://www.youtube.com/embed/iXRhfPhEv2Y?feature=oembed

Step 4: Ask Yourself: “What Should I Say to Capture The Interest of This Searcher?”

We know that great meta descriptions entice some sort of curiosity and self-interest. 

At this point, you know about your prospect/visitor and what they’re looking for (the search intent). 

So, what do you have to say to get their attention? 

And here’s what’s probably an even better question: How can you stand out among other sites?

If you’ve looked at the search engine results pages of your target keyword, you’ve probably seen that the meta descriptions you’ll be competing with are quite well-written.

So, how do you stand out among those?

Well, you state something that’s hopefully different than what most of the other meta descriptions are saying. 

For example, the meta description of this page is:

With The 7 Traits of (Almost) All Great Meta Descriptions, I’ll reveal how to write meta descriptions that get clicks.

If you came to this page via a search result, is that the meta description you saw? 

If you clicked on it, then it compelled you to do so

Why? 

Probably because of the phrase The 7 Traits of (Almost) All Great Meta Descriptions. I hope that stood out. I also hope that you were curious about what the 7 traits are, and that your curiosity caused you to click. 

Likewise, you can do something similar. Say something that stands out and piques interest. 

Use the 14 templates I provided above (and heck, go beyond those). Something will come to you as a great example you can modify for your own use. 

Step 5: Make Sure You Back Up What You Claim

I know you probably do this already, and I don’t mean to question your integrity. What I am saying is that if you decide to be bold in order to get attention, be sure to live up to it.

For example, I know that there are many, many pages online that talk about meta descriptions. I had to write one that stood out. I knew that, in order to stand out, I had to write something that piqued your curiosity and interest. 

I knew (or rather, hoped) that a catchy phrase like ‘The 7 Traits’ would stand out, so I outlined this article around that, and made sure I did my best to fulfill them. 

Not only does this article fulfill upon the promise of 7 traits, but I hope you’ll agree that I’ve delivered more than that, and that you’re having a good user experience.

Step 6: Using What You Know, Write Something That’s Up to 120 Characters Long.

When I say, “using what you know,” I mean, use everything you know: your research, your targeted search intent, and other things you’ve identified. 

For years, 120 characters has been said to be the limit for meta descriptions, but with today’s smaller devices, it might not hurt to have fewer characters, such as 100 or even 90.

That is…as long as you can still pique curiosity, say something meaningful, and use some variation of your target keyword.

You may be wondering if it’s bad to go beyond 120 characters. 

No, it’s not bad, technically. However, if your meta description exceeds the space allotment on a search results page, it may not fully display.

And in some cases, that’s fine, but I prefer a solid 2 sentences that clearly make some sort of promise.

Step 7 (Optional): Make Sure Your Meta Description Actually Appears in Your Content

I think that when most other people write their meta descriptions, they may write an accurate summary of what’s on the page, and that’s good. 

But, what if the Googlebot doesn’t think that a meta description is an accurate portrayal of what’s on the page? 

That’s why I just feel that the meta description should be something that’s actually on the page. 

Personally, when I create content, I almost always make sure that the first sentences of my content can be used as the meta description. I just feel that this ‘proves’ to Google that what it reads in your meta description code is something that’s actually on the page. 

That’s It…For Now

If you follow everything I’ve said so far and all my meta description tips, chances are that you have a very high chance of writing a meta description that’s based on a solid understanding of your visitors’ needs. 

In short, that’s really all it comes down to: knowing their needs, capturing their attention with a promise to meet their needs, holding their attention, and delivering on your promise

If you create quality content, combined with solid on-page SEO, a good title tag and a great meta description, you’ve probably got a winner on your hands. 

SEO Meta Description FAQs

Can a good quality description help with click-through rates?

Definitely, especially if your description is one of the better ones on the search results page.

If I take content from the page, and use that as the meta description, would that be viewed as duplicate content?

No, it wouldn’t, because the meta description is, ideally, like a snippet of what’s in the actual content of the page. This is something I actually recommend you do. Something to take note of though is to write unique meta descriptions for each page of your site and to avoid having duplicate meta descriptions.

Does each page have to have its own unique meta description?

Ideally, yes. 

In fact, when it comes to SEO and search engine rankings, remember this: yes, the search engines index sites, but it’s more accurate to say that they index numerous individual pages from single websites. 

Each page has a chance to rank, and in this case, each unique page should, ideally,  have its own individual meta description. 

What about search keywords?

You mean, optimizing a page for at least one keyword phrase? Yes, it’s good to have that keyword phrase (or a variation of it) in your meta description tag. Definitely try to have it in your title.

In addition, as I’ve said before, it’s good to have that meta description be the same as the opening of your body content or article introduction.

Also, when typing your meta description, keep in mind that if your page is shared on social sharing sites, it’s usually the meta description that will be displayed on the social media platforms. That means that your meta description might not just be seen on search engine results, but also on social sharing sites.

Can you say ‘Click here,’ in your meta description? 

I suppose you can. My brief research hasn’t found anything that says you shouldn’t. 

That said, you might not need to, because if the visitor is on a search engine results page, then the reader knows to click on their preferred result, so to ask them to click here might be a bit redundant.

DK Fynn
SIA STAFF SEO WRITER