Using Content to Drive Traffic

[Intermediate – 110] How to Write an Effective Meta Description

Clarifying How to Write a Meta Description Tag

Anyone who has written a brief, concise article summary to follow the title of an article has basically written a description. The only aspect that is different between that and a meta description tag, is the specific set of rules that limit the length and force the efficient use of words.

The importance of writing outstanding meta descriptions should not be overlooked. Besides the title, this is the only part of an article the Google searcher sees, as this is most often the short paragraph that shows up with the title. Therefore they’re critical to a searcher’s decision of whether or not to click the attached result. If your page does not contain a meta description tag, Google will display some random half-sentences from the page which contain the searched keywords. With hundreds of choices, only articles with relevant titles and descriptions will make the cut and be selected by a searcher for review.

Screenshot of Google search result listing. The text under the title is usually the meta description.

Learning how to write good meta tags involves following a few basic tips. The tips usually either deal with content or technical procedure.

Tips for a good meta description

Since the goal of the meta description is to attract searchers to a specific piece of content, it should stand out from the others. It’s critical to inform the searcher about how the content will answer their search query in a more beneficial way than the other search results. Though the description must show the article to be relevant in terms of the keywords used in the search, keywords must not be overused. In the last few years, Google stopped using the meta tags in the ranking of search results. In this case, they’re only necessary in order to satisfy the query of the searcher and so only the main part of the keyword need be mentioned.

It’s effective to use calls to action, such as “Watch the demonstration”, or “Enter now” in the description. For those with a well-known brand name, it’s effective to include it, as people tend to like familiarity. Content can also include marketing gimmicks such as discounts, coupons, and freebies.

When competing for attention, creativity in choosing words that convey that useful information will follow a searcher’s click increases the chance of selection. Another way to stand out is to fit the meta tag into a few short words, as most will take advantage of using the whole 165 characters. Describe the content relevantly, succinctly and with compelling calls to action and receive the most clicks.

Writing a description within the technical limitations

The biggest challenge with meta tags results from the 155-character limitation, spaces included, as only this much will be shown on the search result list. Short and snappy with crisp choices of words takes brevity to a new level. As with most new challenges, it will become easier with practice. The thesaurus is a great tool, especially in the beginning.

To check the number of characters in a Word document, highlight the section to be counted, then check at the bottom of the screen for the word count. Clicking on the word count – either the word or the number – opens up a box which displays the number of characters. The relevant stat is the one which includes the spaces.

Another technical need is to avoid quotation marks, which cause the description to be trimmed. The solution is to use the HTML entity " for quote marks, as in this example:

“Select each word in a meta tag as if it costs $100."
To the reader, the example above with appear as: “Select each word in a meta tag as if it costs $100.”

Lastly, think UNIQUE. Each meta description on every page should be unique, never repeated on more than one page. Instead, each description should be fresh, relevant to that page only.

Keywords are “meta descriptions”.

Meta descriptions can have a surprisingly large impact on your search marketing campaigns;  find out how…

At 106 characters, this example is short but through good choice of words, “surprisingly large impact”, it grabs the interest. Followed by a call for action, the searcher is drawn to make the click.

Not so good:
The meta description tag allows you to provide a summary of the content on the page in one paragraph. The tag can be used

This fails to clearly communicate how the page will show that meta tags differ from a normal summary. It also doesn’t include a call to action.

Keywords are “how to run a marathon”


The #1 way to finish a marathon is committing to the idea that you will finish it whether that is by running, jogging, shuffling, walking, crawling, …

In 152 characters, this one interests the searcher because it lets you know what will be covered; the theme will be commitment, which is different from the other descriptions reviewed. It stands out.

Not so good:

How to run a marathon is not something that be taught in a few paragraphs in a magazine. We can point out some main ideas that you will need to adapt to your own schedule but we can’t be with you while you train.

This one is over 200 characters and too long, so Google will clip it and the final example will not say what was intended. This also does not clearly show what will be discussed on the page, nor does it have a call to action.

By studying such examples and rating them according to the above criteria, writing meta tags effectively becomes more clear. Testing the first efforts by the number of views made will help determine what succeeds. Such tests are a necessity given the constant adjustments Google makes to its algorithms to keep everyone on their toes.

Need Further Help?

Speak to an Outbrain expert

Contact Us