What Is a Meta Description? Definition, Best Practices, and Examples

Meta descriptions improve search result rankings and attract web traffic. But what is a meta description, and how does it impact your website’s performance on search engines and user experience?

Learn how to write a meta description, the benefits of adding them to every web page, and see examples to inspire your own.

Key Takeaways

  • A meta description is an HTML element or tag that briefly summarizes the content of a web page and is displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • A good meta description accurately reflects the web page’s content, targets user search intent, includes relevant keywords, and has a compelling call to action. Keeping meta descriptions between 120–160 characters is recommended to avoid truncation in the SERP.
  • Common mistakes to avoid when creating a meta description include duplication, making them too long or short, and writing irrelevant or misleading descriptions.
  • Use an SEO plugin like SEO Yoast or Rank Math to easily add a meta description to any page, manage and update descriptions, and get optimization tips to ensure you follow meta tag best practices.
what is a meta description

What Are Meta Descriptions?

A meta description is an HTML element or tag that briefly summarizes the content of a web page.

The search engine results page (SERP) displays this snippet of information below the page title and URL, and it serves as a preview of what users can expect when they click on a particular link.

Think of it as your website’s virtual elevator pitch to entice users to visit your page.

To write a great meta description tag, follow these tips:

  • Use active language and strong verbs to make your description more compelling.
  • Include a call-to-action to encourage users to click on your link.
  • Use keywords strategically to help with SEO.
  • Keep meta description length between 120–160 characters to ensure it displays correctly on search engine results pages.
  • Ensure your meta description accurately describes the content of the page.

Meta Description Examples

An effective meta description should accurately describe the page’s content while being compelling enough to entice users to click on the link.

Here are some examples of effective meta descriptions and what makes them great:

Example 1

This meta description example accurately describes the page while showcasing the brand’s voice and enticing users to visit the website. Keyword targeted: “best pizza in Austin, Texas.”

Ready for the best pizza in Austin, Texas? Come to Joe’s, where we use only the freshest ingredients to create mouth-watering pizzas and more.

Example 2

This meta description accurately describes the content of the page while also positioning the brand as an expert in the field. Keyword targeted: “how to make a latte.”

Learn how to make a latte with our step-by-step guide. Our expert baristas will teach you how to choose the right beans and make latte art too.

Example 3

This meta description example accurately describes the content of the page while also appealing to users’ desire to travel and explore. Keyword targeted: “top Italy destinations.”

Planning a trip to Italy? Our guide to the top destinations will help you plan the trip of a lifetime. From the stunning Amalfi Coast to the historic city of Rome, we’ve got you covered.

Example 4

This meta description example showcases a fashion store’s unique selling points — the latest trends, affordability, and free shipping — while also including a call to action (CTA). Keyword targeted: “teen fashion trends.”

Shop the latest trends in teen fashion at XYZ Clothing, with affordable prices and free shipping on orders over $50. Find your perfect style today!

How to Add a Meta Description Tag

Adding a page’s meta description tag is relatively easy. If you’re using a content management system like WordPress, there are plugins available — like SEO Yoast and Rank Math — that can help you easily create and manage your meta descriptions.

If you prefer to add them manually, simply include the “description” tag in the HTML of each page, followed by your meta description text.

Meta Descriptions vs. Meta Titles

what are meta descriptions

Meta descriptions and meta titles share close similarities.

However, they have different functions and provide different information to the user.

  • Meta titles, also known as title tags, are the titles of each page (not to be confused with the H1). They appear at the top of your browser’s tab. Its primary purpose is to provide a concise but impactful insight into the website’s content. The optimal length for a meta title is around 50-60 characters.
  • Meta descriptions are snippets of text that appear below the page title on the SERP. These provide users with a brief overview of the page’s content. Engaging and relevant meta descriptions encourage users to click on your page. When writing meta descriptions, keep the length to 120–160 characters.

Benefits of Meta Descriptions

Why are meta descriptions important? While a meta description is not a direct ranking factor for Google and other search engines, it plays an essential role in search engine optimization (SEO).

Attracts Web Traffic

Google provides users with the most relevant and informative search results, and users are more likely to click on a web page with a compelling meta description.

This is why it’s essential to create an accurate and engaging meta description that entices users to click on your website’s link.

Boosts Rankings in Search Results

The right meta description can enhance your search rankings and boost your website’s visibility. Since meta descriptions help search engines understand what your web page is about, having a focused and on-point meta description can lead to better search rankings.

Avoid overstuffing your meta description with keywords, as it can lead to Google penalizing your website for keyword stuffing.

Increases Click-Through Rates and Time on Site

A meta description can also help users understand your web page’s content before clicking. Provide a clear and concise summary of your web page’s content to users, allowing them to judge whether your web page is relevant to their search query.

This, in turn, can lead to more engaged and satisfied users who are likely to spend more time on your website.

How to Write an Effective Meta Description

To motivate users to explore your site, craft your own meta descriptions that accurately reflect the content of your page. A good meta description grabs the attention of users and entices them to delve into your content.

Target Search Intent

Understanding and targeting user search intent is vital when crafting a compelling meta description. Search intent refers to the reason behind a user’s search query. Are they seeking information, looking to make a purchase, or comparing different products or services?

To create a meta description that matches user intent, ensure it accurately reflects your page’s content and addresses your target audience’s needs. This will help to increase your CTR and improve user satisfaction.

Incorporate Keywords

Using target keywords in your meta description is essential. When search engines index your page’s content, they look for specific words and phrases that indicate the relevance of your content for a particular search query.

Incorporate target keywords naturally into your meta description without sacrificing readability or relevance.

Craft a Compelling CTA

Including a CTA in your meta description is a powerful way to persuade users to engage with your site. A strong CTA, such as “Shop now” or “Learn more,” creates a sense of urgency and encourages users to take a specific action.

When crafting your CTA, use persuasive language and powerful words to grab the user’s attention and entice them to explore your content.

Avoiding Common Meta Description Mistakes

meta description

When creating meta descriptions, watch for common mistakes that may negatively impact your website’s SEO and user engagement. Here are some of the most common pitfalls to avoid:

Duplicate Meta Descriptions

Multiple pages with duplicate meta descriptions may signal to search engines that your content is repetitive and unoriginal.

Additionally, users may be unable to differentiate between your pages on the search results, leading to lower CTR. To avoid these issues, create a unique meta description for each page, ensuring they accurately represent the content and align with user search intent.

Writing Too Long or Too Short Descriptions

Keeping your meta descriptions within the recommended character count (120–160 characters) is a standard limit for optimal user experience and SEO. Meta descriptions that are too short may not provide users with enough relevant information.

At the same time, the search results may truncate those that are too long. To optimize your meta description length, focus on conveying the most critical information about your page within the character limit, ensuring readability and relevance.

Irrelevant or Misleading Meta Descriptions

Accurate and relevant meta descriptions are key to maintaining user trust and improving your website’s performance in search results.

Misleading or irrelevant meta descriptions may result in poor user experience, as visitors may feel deceived if they click on your page and find content that does not match their search query or expectations.

Carefully assess your page’s content, and write descriptions that genuinely reflect your content’s value to users.

Google Rewriting Your Meta Descriptions

Why does Google rewrite meta descriptions? Google dynamically creates meta descriptions based on the search terms that the user enters.

If a user’s query doesn’t match any of the meta descriptions of the page, Google will generate its own description, which could be completely different from the actual description.

Moreover, Google’s algorithm prioritizes relevance over the quality of the meta description. Therefore, if it doesn’t match the user’s intent, Google rewrites meta descriptions, which can negatively impact your website’s CTR.

Here’s how you can avoid this:

  • Use the target keyword: Incorporate the target keyword in your meta description to synchronize it with the search intent.
  • Keep it descriptive: Write a functional and concise description that summarizes what the page is about.
  • Use a call to action: Encourage the users to click through by adding a clear call to action such as ‘Learn More,’ ‘Shop Now,’ or ‘Download.’
  • Use structured data: Structured data markup tells Google about the format of your page and helps it generate a more accurate description.

What Are Programmatically Generated Meta Descriptions?

Programmatically generated meta descriptions are created through automated means. They are generated by algorithms that use a website’s content to create unique meta descriptions for each page.

These algorithms analyze a web page’s content and use specific keywords, phrases, and tags to create a meta description that is both informative and appealing to potential visitors. This approach helps save time when optimizing a website for search engines.

Benefits of Programmatic Meta Description Tags

  • It saves time when creating meta descriptions. With websites having hundreds, if not thousands, of pages, manually creating meta descriptions is a tedious task.
  • It helps ensure every page has a unique meta description optimized for search engines. This approach also helps provide a consistent user experience for website visitors, making it easier to find what they’re looking for.

Who Should Use Programmatic Meta Description Tags?

Anyone looking to improve their website’s search engine ranking and click-through rates. These descriptions are not limited to any particular industry or business type.

However, website owners and online businesses that have a large number of pages or frequently publish new content can benefit the most from this approach. It allows them to quickly optimize their website pages and improve their chances of ranking higher on search engines.

Keep in mind that while programmatically generated meta descriptions can save time, they should not become a replacement for manually creating unique and compelling descriptions.

Writing a meta description tag should not be an afterthought, as they provide a first impression to potential visitors. The best approach is to use a combination of both methods, including manually creating meta descriptions for key pages and using automated algorithms for the rest if you have a large site.

Final Thoughts

Meta descriptions improve visibility, rankings, and click-through rate. Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is a meta description?” you know they are HTML elements that summarize a web page’s content and provide users with relevant information.

Meta descriptions are critical for SEO success and enhancing user experience on SERPs.

By following the tips and best practices discussed in this article, you can write compelling meta descriptions that attract and retain traffic, boosting your website’s performance and ranking.