With the closing of open content directory DMOZ and Google recently coming out and saying meta descriptions are more important than ever, we reached out to SEOs to get their best-kept secrets for crafting the perfect meta description.
In other words, aside from forgetting about meta descriptions altogether, using the same ones across multiple pages or utilizing low-quality meta descriptions, here are SEOs’ 15 best tricks to help boost organic CTR simply by convincing consumers to click on your links in the SERPs:
1. Optimize pages ranks for queries with high impressions and low clicks
If overhauling your meta descriptions seems like an overwhelming task, the best place to start is likely with those that aren’t working.
That’s according to Max Schleicher, SEO campaign manager at customer feedback software firm ReviewTrackers.
“Track your CTR rate and anything with low CTR relative to its average position should jump out at you,” he said. “Start with those ones. Users are telling you that these descriptions aren’t working.”
In other words, Vladimir Fefer, SEO manager for retailer Zoro.com, said marketers should look in search analytics in their Google search console accounts, filter out the branded queries and sort by most impressions.
“Look for the queries that have a lot of impressions but low clicks. Find out what page is ranking for that query and then optimize the meta description of that page for that specific query,” Fefer said. “Then if you want to go deeper, filter the search console query report for just that URL and see all the other queries it’s ranking for and make sure that your content is well suited for those high-impression queries. I’ve consistently seen CTR improve using this tactic and then rankings tend to follow a few weeks later.”
In fact, Julie Howell, SEO director for legal marketing agency Postali, advised pulling a list of pages with high impressions and low CTRs every six months and evaluating those meta descriptions to determine why CTR is low, like missing a call to action or a truncated description.
2. Use multiple resources
When thinking about what to include, Chris Williams, digital marketing and communications manager for IT and web consulting agency PlanetMagpie, said to consider multiple sources, like buyer persona descriptions to characterize your audience and inform your content approach, keyword research to find and verify keywords consumers use in search and Analytics and/or Google Search Console to make sure the keywords you select have relevance.
3. Include the right keywords – but don’t go overboard
Per Tom Wright, SEO/SEM specialist at retailer AmericanEagle.com, one of the best ways to increase CTR in organic search is to make sure the main keyword is in the meta description.
“This is because the keywords are in bold in the search results,” he said.
And this means consumers will easily see the targeted terms they are searching for, added Bill Rowland, director of SEO at e-commerce consulting and optimization firm Trinity Insight.
It can also mean Google will display the meta description you want.
“Google doesn’t have to display the meta description in the SERPs. In many cases, it will opt to pick a more relevant section of content from the page and display that instead,” said Jonathan Jenkins, SEO manager at Thrive Internet Marketing. “This relevance is determined by whether or not the search term used matches the query, hence the motivation to include some traffic-driving keywords in your meta description. This will increase the likelihood that your carefully crafted meta description appears in SERPs, instead of some randomly selected piece of content from the page.”
4. Make sure it describes what customers are looking for so they get what they want
Perhaps most importantly, Terence Channon, principal of technology and marketing services firm NewLead, said to make sure the meta description accurately reflects the page title and the content on the page.
“This way, when the user reaches your page on the heels of your search result content, they can again say, ‘Yes, this is what I was looking for!’” he said. “Google also rewards exceptional customer experiences – and that includes the relevance and likelihood for a user to click on your search result due to its relevance to the user’s initial search term and the user taking action on your site once there [versus merely bouncing].”
Sam Warren, manager of marketing and partnerships at SEO firm RankPay, said this means thinking carefully about consumer intent.
“Instead of saying what you want to say about your brand/site/product, focus on what the searcher is hoping to find,” Warren said. “Try putting yourself in the searcher’s shoes and imagine what you’d like to see when you perform the exact search that your page is optimized for. You might just be surprised by what you find while brainstorming.”
As if that wasn’t enough, if the meta description does not satisfy intent, the brand could end up with a high CTR and a high bounce rate, added Rob Marsden, head of SEO at SEO and digital marketing agency Search Laboratory.
James Rice, head of digital marketing at WikiJob, a forum, jobs board and careers advice portal, agreed.
“Answer the ‘So what?’-question,” Rice said. “Where’s the value for the reader? Why should they bother clicking through?”
5. Survey the existing landscape
Dave Hermansen, CEO of e-commerce training course Store Coach, said not to create meta descriptions blindly, but rather to search for the keyword phrase you’re targeting for a page and look at the AdWords ads companies are running for that phrase.
“Those ad headlines and ad copy have likely been split tested hundreds if not thousands of times to determine what the most effective words are for getting clicks,” he said. “We look for words that the ads have in common and use those words in our titles and meta descriptions. Why guess when other people have already done the testing for you?”
Indeed, Warren agreed brands should look at what their competitors are doing on the same SERP – and do it better.
“If they’re all doing the same thing, but doing it poorly, mimic the approach, but do it better,” he said. “If they already have strong meta descriptions, then brainstorm ways to differentiate your own listing from the masses. This could be posing an unusual question to searchers. It could be letting your personality shine through. If it’s appropriate, you could highlight a sale or benefit of choosing your brand.”
Schleicher suggested looking inward, too, and finding which sites are underperforming.
“You can get a lot of great ideas for your meta description by seeing what is working on that page,” Schleicher said. “When you start thinking about meta descriptions as copy, you’ll start to recognize why your competitors are winning and you’re losing for those organic clicks. Two things – short titles [and] compelling numbers in titles or descriptions – can go a long way to improving CTR.”
6. Write like a writer
Dan Sevigny, CEO of digital agency Spooky Digital, said his advice to digital marketers is to study the science of copywriting and learn how to write persuasive copy that sells.
“You have 150 characters in a meta description to tell the user what your site is about and convince them to take the next step and click your link,” Sevigny added.
And that means being precise with language, including emotional, attention-grabbing words, Sevigny said.
David Erickson, vice president of online marketing for public relations agency, Karwoski and Courage, too, noted the meta description has the power to entice consumers to click – but only if it includes the right language.
“This is your chance to directly influence the user’s willingness to click on your site – don’t screw it up,” added Chris Casseday, director of operations at GNGF, a marketing firm that is focused on helping lawyers. “Be provocative and engage the user – you will get the click over your competitor.”
And this can have further implications in terms of overall ranking.
“Think about it. If Google shows your link with keyword-stuffed meta description on the first page for a week and no one clicks it, is it in Google’s interest to leave it there? No,” said Michael Mignogna, CEO of SEO marketing firm Minyona. “Google is in the business of providing the best answers to people’s questions. If everyone ignores one of the ten organic answers, Google will replace it with one that gets more play. In short, write for humans, not robots.”
In other words, James McCarthy, CEO of SEO agency Placement Labs, said to make meta descriptions fun and/or interesting.
“I have noticed that many SEOs and content creators make metas that are very plain and matter-of-fact. I have found much more success when I have taken the time to try to be a little more clever or original when writing them,” he said. “Perhaps try to add a little bit of humor or an interesting factoid – anything that might pique a potential reader’s interest. This will help your new page from an organic traffic standpoint, as you stand to get more clicks than your competitors who have boring metas.”
7. Think like your PPC counterparts
In fact, Mark Churchill, digital marketing manager at investment service Wealth Club, said to approach meta descriptions like you would a PPC ad.
“That means show strong relevance, but, crucially, give the searcher a hook that means they have to click through to find out more,” Churchill said.
Jonathan Alonso, national marketing manager at smartphone repair firm uBreakiFix, agreed to think about meta descriptions like paid ads.
“Many people forget that CTR is a ranking factor,” Alonso said. “When applying behavioral words we use in paid search like Free, Best, Low Cost and others, we can not only see an improvement in CTR, but you will see a lot more in SERPs.”
For his part, Marsden said advertisers running paid search campaigns are likely running multiple ads per ad group and likely already know which headlines and phrases work best and produce the optimal CTR for target keyword categories.
“If you take USPs, phrases and call to actions from your best performing ads and use them in your organic listings, you can be more scientific in your approach and increase your average [CTR],” Marsden added.
8. Include numbers
In addition to rich language, Paul Allen, SEO consultant with SEO company DublinSEO.co, said to use numbers.
“Numbers are extremely eye-catching as we are naturally intrigued by prices, offers and promotions,” Marsden added. “Using numbers whenever possible in meta copy will make your listings more likely to get click-throughs and lead to conversions.”
9. Include details about special offers
Similarly, Howell recommended thinking about your brand’s most powerful differentiating factors and making sure they are included.
“Chances are, the meta descriptions on any SERP are going to be pretty similar,” she said. “If you can highlight something that makes you stand out, you improve your chances of garnering more click-throughs.”
Jenkins said that content can also include special offers.
“For many people, the process of comparison shopping for a product or service starts with the first search in Google or one of the other search engines,” he said. “If your meta description includes ‘Free Shipping & Handling’, or ‘Same day delivery’, that’s very likely to positively impact your click-through rate.”
10. Use schema
Swapnil Bhagwat, senior manager of design and digital media at IT services and business process management company Orchestrate Technologies, said to use schema markups like star ratings, product information and customer ratings to increase the appeal of meta descriptions.
Marsden agreed sites that use structured data like rich snippets can expect a significant increase in CTR and rankings.
“The more you can give search engines about the structure and context of information on your website, the better,” Marsden said. “For instance, if you use schema to mark up the address on your website, search engines will identify your location. This makes your site more likely to appear in localized results for local searches. Google really likes to show rich content within its search results. If your site contains plenty of rich content, it’s going to be more visible than sites that don’t, thereby increasing your click-through rate and site interaction. Recipes, reviews, events and product information should all be marked up within the source code of your website, wherever feasible.”
11. Make sure it doesn’t truncate
A meta description that gets cut off means consumers miss your message.
Marsden pointed to online tools that can be used to ensure Google does not truncate the meta description and cut off important information.
“Keep in mind that the maximum description length allowed will be smaller on mobile than desktop so create the descriptions with a mobile-first mindset,” he added.
12. Test multiple versions
And, of course, you should always test multiple versions to ensure optimal results.
Allen pointed to Google Adwords’ A/B testing feature, which allows advertisers to test and retest what works for increasing CTR.
“The good thing is the results of these tests are free to observe through the resulting ad itself,” he said.
“A/B test several versions of your meta descriptions on different pages and discover which version worked best for your desired target audience,” said Matt Edstrom, head of marketing at health science startup BioClarity. “Once you have found the best performing variation, you can then go back and adjust the other meta descriptions accordingly.”
Sam Kessenich, SEO Specialist with digital marketing firm RyTech, agreed.
“Once you have a ranking on a search engine or a following on social media, test out a few different types of meta descriptions. Try a more broad description that can catch a variety of people’s attention, then a more fact-focused description,” he said. “Through this all, keep in mind the customer you’re trying to focus on and how they think. The tone and verbiage will change depending on the age, gender, location and industry you hope to target.”
Kate Neuens, marketing analyst at online lender OppLoans, said this should include experimenting with length and where you are positioning the keyword, as well as how you phrase the call to action.
Howell even advised asking friends in paid search to share insight on ad copy tests.
“This can give you tremendously useful insight on what type of language works well to drive clicks in your specific industry,” she said.
13. Make updates easy
Cassedy suggested making it easy to update meta descriptions on an ongoing basis.
“If your site is a WordPress site, use a plugin like Yoast that can allow you to make bulk edits quickly,” he said.
Similarly, Williams said brands should not let their descriptions go stale.
“Plan to update your descriptions every time you update your content [or the topic your content covers undergoes a change online],” he said. “At the very least, go through the entire site every six months and update all the meta descriptions.”
And, per Marsden, even though it’s a good idea to regularly update meta copy with offers or promotions, brands must never let them go out of date as this can have a negative impact on the way audiences see your business in search engines.
14. Tap into location authority
For his part, Bobby Holland, owner of SEO and website development company Bipper Media, said one way businesses can leverage meta description tags in a powerful way – and that virtually no one is using – is to tap into location authority.
“For local businesses, or businesses creating city pages to target surrounding markets, including your address – or at least the city/state… – would be a powerful way to influence location authority,” Holland said. “And location authority directly correlates to the presence your business achieves in search – both local/Google Maps and organic.”
15. Consider leaving it blank for blogs
For blogs specifically, Kessenich said leaving a meta description blank can work to your advantage sometimes.
“When longer tail keywords/voice search is being utilized, a meta description can be catered by search engines to include the section of text users are searching for,” he said. “I’ve been click through rates skyrocket and believe they will only continue to go up with the growing popularity of voice search.”
Lisa Lacy is a senior reporter for The Drum, where she covers the digital and search marketing industries. She’s a graduate of Columbia’s Journalism School and has also written for CMO.com, ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal.