What is a Meta Description?
A meta description is a meta tag in a page’s HTML that is used to further tell searchers what a page is about.
You can think of it as a “mini advertisement” to convince the user that your page is the right match for their search query.
The meta description that you craft will only be shown if Google finds it to be more valuable and relevant for searchers compared to other content on the page like anchors or other on-page text.
Google will sometimes use the <meta> description tag from a page to generate a search results snippet, if we think it gives users a more accurate description than would be possible purely from the on-page content.
Because of this, Google has said that the same page may show different snippets for different queries, because the meta description is used to best inform users for their specific search.
The meta description must be added to the <head> section of the HTML.
The meta tag for the example above, for example, would look like this in the page’s source code:
<meta name="description" content="Get the latest men’s fashion and style trends, celebrity style photos, news, tips and advice from top experts of GQ."/>
More on this issue: Meta Description Found Outside Head Section
How to Add a Meta Description
Most content management systems like HubSpot or WordPress make it easy to add a meta description directly in the page settings.
How to View the Meta Description
To find a page's meta description, right-click on the page and select "View Page Source."
This shows you all the information about that specific web page. Here's the page source of our example from GQ.
Why Meta Descriptions Are Important
A properly optimized meta description tag can have a significant impact on your search engine optimization efforts.
An appealing meta description can raise your click-through rate (CTR) which is a metric that represents the amount of users who clicked a link to your site compared to the number of users who saw that link.
So, let’s take a look at how to write an effective meta description tag.
Guidelines for Writing Effective Meta Description Tags
A good meta description is written in an easily understandable format, since it prioritizes the user experience. The way you write it should not only inform, but persuade.
It should answer the user question: “Why is this page the best choice for me and my search query?”
Here are guidelines to follow when writing meta descriptions.
1. Give each page on your site a meta description.
Each page needs to have a meta description. As we’ve seen, meta descriptions present the opportunity to further inform users on what your page is about, all in the effort of having them click through to your site.
2. Make meta descriptions unique and relevant to their respective page.
Because each page should have its own unique content (to avoid duplicate content and potential penalties) each meta description needs to be unique, too.
If all the meta tag data was the same, there would be minimal value given to the end user.
The meta description can be site-specific for larger pages like the home page, but they should be page-specific for all of your other webpages.
3. Include tagged facts in your meta description
A meta description can be made up of just sentence-based text, but other descriptive elements can provide value, too.
For example, an author name or publication data can be used to present the user with relevant information that they can use to determine if your listing is most applicable to their search.
Google offers an example of a meta description for a webpage that’s about a specific book that includes information beyond a text-based description:
<meta name="Description" content="Written by A.N. Author, Illustrated by V. Gogh, Price: $17.99, Length: 784 pages">
4. Don't include double quotation marks in the description.
Google will end a meta description on the SERP when double quotation marks are used in the HTML. This can result in your meta description becoming truncated, meaning the search engines will cut off the end of the description and replace it with an ellipses and users won’t be able to read the entire text.
5. Keep the meta description to an appropriate length.
Even though there is no limit on how long a meta description can be (and Google has recently been testing longer snippets), the ideal length is between 155-160 characters.
Anything longer than this will be truncated.
To combat this possibility, be sure to include any important keywords at the front of the description so if it does get truncated, searchers will still see that valuable information.
Remember, your goal is to provide value and drive clicks. It’s not a guarantee that a search engine like Google will present the meta description on the search engine results page.
Common Meta Description Tag Issues
1. Meta description tag <meta name="description"> is empty.
The meta description tag is an SEO opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked. Because of its ability to inform users on a page’s content and drive clicks to the site, each page should have one.
An error can occur if 1) your page is missing the meta description element entirely, or 2) if the content attribute is empty.
More on this issue: Meta Description Tag Empty
More on this issue: Meta Description Tag Missing
2. Avoid duplicate meta description tags.
As with title tags, it's important that meta descriptions are unique and applicable to their respective page.
You can avoid this potential problem by using a dynamic approach that will create unique meta descriptions for automated pages on your site.
Although, there is no substitute for an original meta description that you create yourself for each page.
3. Multiple meta descriptions on one page.
More than one tag on a single page can confuse search engines. So, give each page a single, descriptive description that explicitly details what that singular page is about.
More on this Issue: Meta Description Tag Occurs More Than Once
4. A meta description that is too long or too short.
Although no official limit length for meta descriptions exists, a meta description that is too long won’t appear fully on the SERP.
And do keep in mind that Google says that “search result snippets are truncated as needed, typically to fit the device width.”
A meta description that is too short provides no real value and doesn’t inform on what the page is about.
More on this issue: Meta Description is Too Long
5. Having the meta description be the same as the title.
Although both the page title tag and meta description provide a glimpse into what the page is about in an effort to drive clicks to the site, the two shouldn’t be the same. If the two are identical, it’s most likely due to an error.
More on this issue: Title and Meta Descriptions are the Same
6. Having the meta description be the same as an H1.
Meta descriptions can be longer and more detailed than the <h1>, therefore, having the two be the same is a wasted opportunity to optimize and convey your message.
More on this issue: Meta Description Same as H1
For further reading on meta descriptions, reference the following: