Meta Descriptions may present a few challenges to new website builders. First, they may wonder what they are. Second, they may wonder why they are needed. And third, they may struggle with HOW to use them.
Starting off with WordPress presents new users with a learning curve of new terms and concepts that may initially be a bit overwhelming. But as you’ll soon see, meta descriptions are quite simple and easy to use once you understand what they are and their purpose for existing.
In this guide, we’ll answer the question of what is a meta description? Then we’ll show you how you can use the power of meta descriptions to bring more qualified traffic to your WordPress site.
Let’s take a look.
What Is a Meta Description?
To put it simply, a meta description describes a webpage in a few short sentences and is shown to users in search engine results. Meta descriptions play a huge role in search engine marketing and can be used to improve your site traffic if you know how to properly put them to use.
Meta descriptions are part of what’s known as the meta tags family. They are elements of HTML that get defined in the <head> section of a webpage. Their purpose is to instruct search engines and web browsers how they should behave, as it relates to your webpage.
And most importantly for you, meta descriptions determine how your content appears in search engine results pages.
Properties of an Effective Meta Description
To best use meta descriptions to your advantage, there are a few universal rules to follow.
When it comes to the meta descriptions you write for your WordPress site pages and posts, length matters. Meta descriptions can’t be too long because you’re restricted to how many characters you’re able to use. At the same time, you don’t want to write a meta description that’s so short it doesn’t effectively describe the webpage it drives users to visit.
As such, your target meta description lengths should be:
Maximum length: 155 characters (920 pixels)
Minimum length: 70 characters (430 pixels)
For the most part, these lengths will translate well on almost all devices for Yahoo, Bing, Google, and DuckDuckGo. However, these meta description lengths won’t guarantee that the search engines will display them. Ultimately, that decision is up to each search engine. More on that in a bit.
But by writing meta descriptions within these length guidelines, you’ll vastly improve the chances that they’ll be displayed in search results for users looking for your type of content.
The length of your meta description only matters if the content is good, however. The key to writing a great meta description is learning how to pack the most impactful words into such few available characters.
When writing a meta description, focus on:
ReadabilityUsing relevant keywordsDelivering a punchy messageUniqueness and appealing to your niche
The more time you take perfecting your meta descriptions, the more qualified traffic you’ll begin attracting from Google and other search engines.
What is an Example
Meta descriptions, which are sometimes referred to as SEO descriptions, are displayed when an Internet user runs a search engine query and gets the initial results page.
For example, the iThemes.com homepage displays the following meta description when you look up the word iThemes on Google:
iThemes is your one-stop-shop for premium WordPress plugins and themes to help you build & protect your WordPress site, since 2008.
The information that feeds the meta description results on Google is located in the <Head> section of each webpage. Within your site’s code, it looks like this:
<meta name=”description” content=”iThemes is your one-stop-shop for premium WordPress plugins and themes to help you build & protect your WordPress site, since 2008.” />
Of course, WordPress makes it easy to add meta descriptions to your pages. By using a WordPress SEO plugin, you’ll never need to dig into your site’s code to include meta descriptions.
How to Add Descriptions In WordPress
The best way to add custom descriptions to your WordPress site is to install a plugin for SEO. If you head to the WordPress plugin repository and search SEO plugin, you’ll see many different options to choose from.
Nearly all of the top SEO plugins make it simple to write meta description snippets for all of your posts and pages.
Of course, you could add them manually without using a plugin. But this would mean directly editing your site files. And on some WordPress configurations, doing this could be impossible without accessing the site files via FTP. This would only further complicate an otherwise simple process.
Beyond that, there isn’t an easy way to include meta descriptions for each post and page without using a plugin. When you edit site files manually, you’ll likely only be able to set a default meta description for your entire site.
Because of these reasons, it’s best to install a WordPress SEO plugin that will help you publish your site’s meta descriptions.
Consider using a plugin that focuses only on meta descriptions, such as WP Meta SEO. You can also use a full-featured SEO suite such as The SEO Framework or Yoast SEO, which is the most popular SEO plugin used by WordPress site owners.
How to Write a Meta Description That Performs
When building your website, it may not be easy to write a meta description that gets the results you’re looking for. As with other skills, writing effective meta descriptions takes practice, experimentation, and testing.
But as you’ll learn, the ones that perform the best all have a few characteristics in common:
As with your title tags, your meta descriptions should always be crafted with the end-user at the forefront of your mind. For users, your meta description is often the final deciding factor on whether they click on your link or move to the next.
Some important things to avoid are:
Descriptions that are written in all caps or only in lowercase letters. It’s OK to mix in a few uppercase letters when you want to emphasize certain keywords within your description. But never write a description in all caps or with a capital letter beginning every wordSpecial characters such as copyright symbols, stars, trademark symbols, or the registered trademark icon, etc. Search engines don’t seem to like when they’re included in meta descriptions, and will often disregard publishing descriptions if these characters are usedExcessive punctuation use, such as commas, dashes, dots, or pipes.
2. Use Relevant Keywords
Every one of your web pages needs to have a meta description that accurately describes what users will find if they click on the page. In fact, search engines will often ignore meta descriptions that aren’t relevant to your content and publish their own meta description on search result pages.
To keep this from happening, you need to know what the most important keywords are on each of your pages. Then, you’ll want to query those specific keywords and see if the meta descriptions you’ve written are being used by search engines or not.
If they’re not being used, you’ll want to re-write your descriptions using relevant keywords.
Remember, search engines will display a user’s search query words in bold within the URL, title, and description of the search results they display. This makes it incredibly important that you use the most relevant keywords possible when you write your meta descriptions.
Doing this will not necessarily directly influence how your site ranks in search results, but it does still have a powerful impact. When a user sees the words they searched for in bold on their results page, they’re much more likely to click on that particular link. And when they do, your CTR (click-through rate) will increase, thus improving the overall ranking of your page.
This is because search engines view high click-through rates as a strong indicator that a page is relevant for a particular search query.
3. Deliver a Punchy Message
Site visitors almost always need you to encourage them if you hope to convert them. Often, converting a user is as easy as asking that they take action.
On a website, this is typically done with buttons or micro-copy that stand out from the rest of the site. These will contain messages that ask the user to purchase a product, provide their email address, or request additional information.
In the world of meta descriptions, you also want to ask readers to take action. Incorporating a call to action is one great way to do this. For example, in your meta description you might say:
“Buy online or visit us in-store today.”
But direct CTAs are only one way to get a user to take action. It’s also important that you tell someone why they should take action.
For example, a meta description for a site that sells products for purifying home tap water might say:
“Get the best tasting, healthiest water on the block. Buy online or visit us in-store today.”
This description gives users a great reason to take action, then provides a CTA that tells them how.
4. Right Length
As with title tags, there isn’t a perfect length for meta descriptions. This is because there are many different search engines, operating systems, and devices all accessing and displaying meta descriptions.
And if your descriptions are too short or long, there’s no guarantee that search engines will display them.
But there are some specific ways you can improve the odds that search engines will display your meta descriptions in their results pages.
For each of the different search engines, there is limited space for meta descriptions to be displayed. DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, and Bing all advise that site owners use a maximum number of characters in their descriptions. However, Google advises on a maximum number of pixels.
Different Browsers Require Different Considerations
Google’s search engine results pages have a maximum width of 600 pixels for meta descriptions. Each description uses four lines per listing, which means that you would have a total of up to 2,400 pixels of space to work with.
However, with considerations such as keyword bolding and the fact that Google doesn’t often let site owners use all 2,400 available pixels, it’s best to keep your descriptions to a maximum of 920 pixels. This roughly translates into a maximum of 155 total characters.
It’s also important to make sure your descriptions aren’t too short. If they are, Google will often use their own meta descriptions rather than yours. To prevent this, make sure you use at least 70 characters or 430 pixels.
Bing advises website owners to use description lengths of no more than 160 characters. In fact, descriptions longer than 160 characters will most often be cut off. Because of this, it’s best to keep your descriptions to about 155 characters on Bing.
The minimum length on Bing should also be 70 characters.
You won’t find a lot of help in Yahoo’s help section about description lengths. However, with a little research, you’ll see that the maximum width for a description in a Yahoo search engine result is 553 pixels.
Each Yahoo meta description consists of two lines, which translates to about 160 total characters. However, in practice, a significant amount of meta description content seems to be truncated beyond 150 characters. This means it’s best to keep your meta descriptions to 150 characters for Yahoo.
For a minimum Yahoo length, stick to 70 characters.
DuckDuckGo doesn’t give a lot of advice on how website owners should optimize their pages for this search engine. Because of this, it’s best to stick to a maximum of 155 characters and a minimum of 70 characters and you should be safe.
Using Meta Descriptions On Every Webpage
For the search engines and their users to properly distinguish between different pages, it’s important that every page of your site that is indexed has its own unique meta description.
Both users and search engines might believe that your pages are duplicates if they all have identical meta descriptions. When it comes to search engines, duplicate meta descriptions appearing to link to duplicate pages will often cause none of the pages to appear in search results.
Take time to write relevant meta descriptions for every page and post on your website. Search engines will reward you for it.
Why Should You Use Meta Descriptions?
Meta descriptions are basically your sales pitch to get people to visit your site. They need to be well-written and let people know exactly what they’re about to click on. In fact, these descriptions play a major deciding factor on if a user clicks on your link or doesn’t.
While there’s no direct correlation between a great meta description and higher search engine rankings, they still play a key role in SEO. All search engines track how many people click on your links in search engine results pages. When more users click through to your site, your rankings will improve in time.
The fact is good or bad descriptions heavily influence CTRs (click-through rates). Better CTRs mean that you’ll have more site traffic and will be more relevant to search engines.
And we haven’t even touched on the importance of meta descriptions for social media.
To better drive traffic from your social media posts, you’ll want to make full use of social media markup, like Twitter’s Twitter Cards or Facebook’s Open Graph. The markup is the preview users see when you post a link from your site. It pulls from your site’s title, meta description, and images to display a summary below your post of what the link drives the user.
In some cases, when you post a link the full markup may be missing from your post. In these cases, only your meta description for the page link will be displayed for users. This makes a great meta description a powerful way to get social media users clicking on the links people post from your site.
Don’t Ignore Meta Descriptions
If you’ve been ignoring meta descriptions on your WordPress site, you’ve been missing out on a great (and free) way to drive more qualified traffic into your funnel.
To get started, we recommend downloading the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin. Then start with your homepage and begin crafting meta descriptions for every post and page throughout your site.
This isn’t a process you want to rush. Take the time to fit the right descriptive words into the allotted space for each search engine. When done as described in this guide, you’ll soon begin to see a new influx in qualified site traffic.
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