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SEO Basics: How to Write Great Meta Descriptions

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I know — we’ve talked about meta descriptions before. But while I’ve walked you through how to write good title tags, I’ve never shown you how to make your meta descriptions shine.

Today, I want to teach you how to write meta descriptions that grab attention and boost clickthrough in SERPs.

If you need a refresher before we get started, read this meta description overview to find out what they are and why they’re so important.

Jump to:

What makes a great meta description?

A great meta description grabs a reader’s attention, succinctly sums up the destination link, and encourages clickthrough.

While meta descriptions seem like a tiny part of SEO, they’re vital to increasing organic traffic. In no more than 160 characters, you have to convince a searcher that your link is the one they should click.

Poorly written meta descriptions are not just a wasted content marketing opportunity, but potentially harmful as well, since they impact clickthrough, and, in turn, SERP position.

A great meta description is:

  • Actionable and engaging
  • Keyword optimized but not keyword-stuffed
  • 50-160 characters
  • Clear and concise
  • Able to effectively describe the destination page
  • A mix of SEO content and sales copy
  • Written with the purpose of the destination page in mind (traffic, conversion, etc.)

Even though meta descriptions are a tiny part of your page, they require a lot of time and consideration. At least, if you want them to work to your benefit.

READ MORE: Do I need individual meta descriptions for every page?

What makes a bad meta description?

Now you know what a good meta description should have, what elements make one really terrible? Basically, the opposite.

For example, an ineffective meta description:

  • Is passive and doesn’t tell the reader how they’ll benefit
  • Is stuffed full of keywords to the point of unreadability
  • Is too short or too long
  • Has no clear message
  • Poorly describes the destination page
  • Doesn’t use SEO or sales copy techniques
  • Isn’t related to the destination page at all

You may be thinking that it could be a lot worse than that. And you’re right. A truly bad meta description might include bad language, spelling errors, and deceptive messaging.

But, Google usually does a pretty good job of filtering those out, so they rarely (if ever) make it into SERPs.

Bad meta description examples

Because bad meta descriptions are really just unoptimized meta descriptions, what makes one bad isn’t always obvious.

Let me reiterate: a good meta description is short, snappy, and increases clickthrough, all while aptly describing the content it’s tied to. A bad meta description doesn’t.

That being said, some pages aren’t designed to convert, or they don’t need an actionable meta description. For example, about pages or contact us pages.

Product landing pages or blogs and articles, however, should always have optimized MDs.

Bad meta descriptions are sneaky. They’re not always easy to spot and, on the surface, they often look just fine. But dark things lurk beneath their passive language and bland copy.

Bad meta description example #1:

Let’s pretend you wrote a post about how to increase organic traffic through link building. Now you need a meta description, so you just threw something together and called it a day.

In this post we talk about link building and organic traffic. Read more here.

Would you want to click through on that? Probably not.

Why is it bad?

  • It’s boring
  • It doesn’t tell the reader what they’ll get in exchange for clicking through
  • It doesn’t explain what the content is made up of
  • It’s short
  • The keywords are broad (link building, organic traffic)

Here’s a better version:

Increase your organic traffic and boost conversions by using these expert-sourced link building strategies.

Would you rather click that one? Yes.

Why is it better?

  • It tells readers what they stand to gain (more traffic and sales)
  • It clarifies what the post is about (link building tips from experts)
  • The keyword is more targeted (link building strategies)
  • It’s a decent length
  • It sounds trustworthy and knowledgable

Bad meta description example #2:

OK, let’s try another. This time, let’s pretend that you’re writing a meta description for a product. And that product is a freelance contract. Remember, since this is a product, you want to encourage conversion.

A freelance contract is a document that independent contractors can use to outline the terms of a professional relationship with a client. It covers payment details like rate and due dates, each party’s responsibilities, and a place for a signature.

It’s not bad for body content, but it’s terrible for a product landing page’s MD. Here’s why:

  • It’s so long
  • It doesn’t tell the user what they’re clicking through to
  • It’s only referencing general freelance contracts, not the one on offer
  • It’s not conversion-focused
  • It’s not written as copy
  • The keyword is more general (freelance contract)
  • It’s not actionable

Here’s an optimized version:

Give your freelance business a professional edge and impress clients by creating a free Freelance Contract in less than 15 minutes.

Why is this one better?

  • It’s written like copy
  • The keyword is slightly more targeted (free freelance contract)
  • It clearly lists the benefits to users (professionalism, no cost, little time commitment)
  • It’s short and snappy
  • It’s actionable

Of course, that’s not the only “good” version that you could write. It’s a quick example that I wrote on the spot. Chances are, you (or your writer) could do even better.

Still, it’s a decent example of what separates good meta descriptions from poorly written ones.

Tips for writing good meta descriptions

When writing (or optimizing) meta descriptions, here are some tips you can use to make sure they’re the best they can be.

1. Have a target keyword in mind

Meta descriptions are part of SEO. When writing them, make sure to conduct keyword research beforehand and choose a single target keyword to focus on.

2. Update meta descriptions when you update content

Every time you update your SEO content, take a look at your meta description and give it a nice polish.

3. Include meta descriptions in writing briefs

If you use freelance writers for your site content, ask them to write the meta description for the piece. Tweak it if need be to reflect the purpose of the page and your preferences.

4. Avoid black hat SEO practices

Like any organic content, meta descriptions are subject to black hat SEO practices. For example, keyword stuffing and keyword cannibalization are commonly found in meta descriptions. If you write sketchy meta descriptions, Google will ignore yours and choose their own. Or, flag your page and remove it from SERPs.

5. Edit your meta descriptions

Meta descriptions are often the first content a user will see from you. If yours have typos, spelling errors, or are otherwise poorly written, you’ll make a bad first impression. Before you publish them, edit your meta descriptions for correctness.

6. Consider the type of content it’s for

As mentioned, different pages require different types of meta descriptions. Some are more salesy while others are more informational. Customize your meta descriptions for each page and pay attention to who the target audience is and what the purpose of the content is.

7. Use verbs

Actionable meta descriptions are ideal because they tell the user what they’ll get from reading your content. Verbs are the perfect way to communicate about the benefits a user seeks to gain by clicking through. If you get stuck, try making two separate lists: one of the verbs associated with your website and another of the benefits associated with the page you’re writing a meta description for.

Then, play around with pairing them together. Pick the best ones and go from there.

Is optimizing meta descriptions worth it?

Yes. If you want a well-rounded SEO strategy for your entire website, optimizing each of your meta descriptions is worth it. They’re part of the bigger SEO picture and can make a huge difference in your metrics if done well.