This post originally appeared in the February 27, 2020 with the email subject line "How should a meta description be?" and a review of SEO software SEMRush.

Your SEO pro or agency recently said this to you or to themselves or to someone: “Ok, so we should update the titles and metas.” We’re always updating titles and metas. It’s the first step and one of the easiest.

Titles are a direct ranking factor, but meta descriptions aren’t. Meta descriptions haven’t been ranking factors for a decade. Technically.

But meta descriptions significantly impact user behavior. They encourage users to read your website. Yes, you should take them seriously and spend some time crafting them.

Your meta description (the third and fourth lines below) tells the user exactly what they will find on your page. The meta description shouldn’t be an ad, nor should it be the very first sentence from your content. As Google says, meta descriptions are “a short, relevant summary of what your page is about.”

Google snippet for The Content Technologist website.

A great meta description has the following characteristics:

  • It’s easily scannable. Short sentences. Or even (ugh) fragments if needed.
  • Accurately describes what’s on the page with specific nouns and verbs that encourage people to click through.
  • Uses periods. It’s not a text message; no one will get offended if you don’t use an exclamation point.
  • Reflects your brand’s tone and personality
  • Is written to appeal to your audience
  • Under 150 characters. Less if you can say it all in fewer characters.

Has a short CTA that’s not “read more” or “learn more” if needed. But it’s not always needed (see above).

Gif from Office Space that reads, "What would you say you do here?"

A bad meta description:

  • Describes temporary situations, like offers or sales or promises you can’t keep.
  • Is written quickly or is formulaic, unless that formula involves short, engaging sentences.
  • Is written by not-a-writer.
  • Talks about your brand’s history or value proposition. Meta descriptions appear in search results, and no one cares that your brand has been around since 1934 in search results.
  • Doesn’t describe about what’s on the page at all — that will be ignored by Google and won’t help anyone out.

I try to update relevant meta descriptions on my clients’ websites annually, mostly for experiment’s sake. If the pages have a relatively high CTR, though, I typically leave them alone.

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