A meta description is a 160-character snippet, a meta tag in HTML, that summarizes a page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched for phrase is contained in the description.

<meta name="description" content="A page's description, one or two sentences."/>

Optimizing the meta description is a very important aspect of on-page SEO. Here’s the meta description for this page from a Google search result.

It’s under 160 characters so you don’t get that dreaded, unprofessional looking cutoff ellipses (“…”). It entices searchers to click to find more information by telling them the value they will receive when they click. And it reinforces the targeted, long-tail keyword in the page title tag, “write the perfect meta description for SEO.”

What Does the Meta Description Do?

The main purpose of a page’s meta description is to get the visitors from search engines and social media to click the link to your page. In that sense, you can write and think of it as a “mini-ad” for your page.

The meta description, if written well, helps improve click through rate to your site from search engine results pages (SERPs). Google advises webmasters that there is no direct ranking benefit from the meta description, but there is an indirect benefit, as a well-written meta description will increase click-thru, and Google does use CTR to determine your page’s ranking in search results.

Best Practices When Writing Meta Descriptions

  1. Length should be up to 160 characters and no more!
  2. Use action-oriented language. It gets clicks!
  3. Make it specific and relevant. Put that keyword in!
  4. Don't deceive searchers. They will hate you for that!
  5. Provide a solution or benefit. Create value!

How to Write a Meta Description

A good meta description prioritizes the user experience and has the following 3 features:

  1. Answers these user questions – “What is the page about?” and, “Why is the page the best choice for my search query?”
  2. Includes the primary keyword the page aims to rank for.
  3. Uses benefits-focused content.

To write a good meta description and increase your organic search click-through rate:

  • Make your meta description conversational. Write for people, not search engines. Natural language communicates better.
  • Put the most important information first.  Every meta description needs to quickly communicate the subject matter - and benefit - of your page. If the web page is for a specific product, brand or topic, put those terms and keywords at the beginning.
  • Position all content in terms of the benefits for the user.
  • Edit it two or three times. With a second and even third pass through, you'll see better ways to fit more benefits, details and value into the less than 160 characters.

Write like this and meta descriptions become more than simply another important ranking factor for your page. It makes clicking your blog post, product or web page the only practical action.

What To Avoid When Writing HTML Meta Descriptions

  1. Don't stuff keywords. Repeating your keyword 9 times will get you penalized.
  2. Don’t copy and paste a large block of content from the page or post as the meta description. Take the time to write a little mini-ad.
  3. Don’t use the same description on more than one page or post. That confuses the search engine and dilutes the effect.

Examples of Good Meta Descriptions

In the preparation for this post, I've researched some good examples of meta descriptions.

MailChimp: “MailChimp provides marketing automation for e-commerce businesses. Send beautiful emails, connect your e-commerce store, advertise, and build your brand.”

YouTube: “Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world on YouTube.”

AirBNB: “Unforgettable trips start with Airbnb. Find adventures nearby or in faraway places and access unique homes, experiences, and places around the world.”

Lego: “The official home of the toy building brick with links to products, games, videos, the LEGO® Shop, LEGO history, fan creations and our help center.”

Uber: “We're finding better ways for cities to move, work, and thrive. Download the app and get a ride in minutes. Or become a driver and earn money on your schedule.”

The Million Dollar Home Page: “The website of Alex Tew, a 21-year-old entrepreneur, who hopes to pay his way through university by selling 1 million pixels of internet ad space for $1 each.”

Square: “Square helps millions of sellers run their business- from secure credit card processing to point of sale solutions. Get paid faster with Square and sign up today!”

Instagram: “Create an account or log in to Instagram - A simple, fun & creative way to capture, edit & share photos, videos & messages with friends & family.”

Your meta description is your chance to win over your competitors. Too many businesses leave this out and in turn, miss out a critical opportunity to improve CTR. Be sure to create an engaging meta description for your website that persuades end users to choose you over your competitors.