The meta description tag is an element found in the <head> of a page's HTML source, and is used to provide a brief description of the page's content.
A typical meta description tag:
Most search engines do not use the meta description as a ranking factor. However, there are other purposes for the meta description tag.
- Search engines will typically (but not always) use the meta description for the snippet on the SERP. This means that since it's displayed just below the page title on the SERP, users will use the description to evaluate the quality and relevance of the site to their search query. Therefore, meta descriptions have a very large influence on click-through rate.
- Meta descriptions are also commonly used on social media sites when a user shares a link to the page. Here as well, meta description will also be a large determining factor for click-through rates of social shares.
Guidelines for Writing Meta Descriptions
- Think of your meta description as a short advertisement for this page - write enticing text that will make users want to click on your site's listing.
- Meta descriptions should be natural-sounding, human-readable, and in sentence form.
- Make the content relevant to the specific page, not the entire site.
- Try to anticipate what the user is hoping to find on the page, and include this in the meta description.
- Be sure to include targeted keywords in the meta description, since the user's query usually appears in bold on the SERP snippet.
- Do not stuff the meta description with an excessive amount of keywords.
- Each meta description on your site should be unique.
- Keep the total length to 160 characters or less to avoid truncation.
- Avoid using double quotes or other non-alphanumeric characters in the text, as these can sometimes cause search engines to truncate content after these characters.
- If there is a large number of duplicates, it may be a good option to consider writing the meta description programmatically.1
1. While not quite as good as human-written unique content, it can be a good solution for very large sites with a large amount of duplicate content to automatically generate the meta description based on page content or keywords. This is typically done by setting up templates for groups of similar page types. Each template will contain 1-3 sentences with blanks, which will be filled in programmatically by keywords assigned to the page. All of this is typically done using server-side scripts or a CMS.