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Meta Descriptions: Converting Glances Into Clicks

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Meta Descriptions: Converting Glances Into Clicks

While meta descriptions may not be a significant factor in your page rank, they do serve an important purpose. They describe what your page is about and, when done well, can serve as a compelling invitation for someone to click through and explore your site.

Keep in mind that good SEO practices are not just about increasing how high your site appears in a list of search engine results. Good SEO is also about creating content that converts cursory glances into clicks.

By devoting some time and thought to composing meta descriptions for your pages, you exercise some control over what people see when they search for you and create an opportunity to introduce yourself in your own voice.

In a nutshell, each meta description should consist of a couple of concise sentences that accurately describe the content of the page. That is straightforward enough, but before you begin to write your description, there are a few technical aspects to keep in mind:

  • Meta descriptions should be comprised of 150-160 characters. You should not exceed 160 characters because most search engines will truncate anything beyond that and replace it with ellipsis.
  • If you use quotes, Google will cut your meta description off. While some people advise using only alphanumeric characters in your meta descriptions, there is no reason for you to avoid using punctuation other than quotation marks. Plus, the ampersand (&) can help you save some valuable characters when you are trying to whittle down a description. Similarly, as much as I am a fan of the Oxford comma, sometimes it is best to leave it out, if it will free up a character or two so you can use a more engaging word in your meta description.
  • Capitalization matters. There are some studies that indicate capitalized words grab our attention more than those that are not. Some people make the leap that therefore ALL CAPS is the way to go, but most of us will see 160 characters or so of that and wonder why someone is shouting at us. Others will confine their ALL CAPS tendencies to one or two words, but even that can look like it is trying too hard. Many SEO professionals use title case in their meta descriptions, which means the first letter of every word is capitalized.Most of us learned in school that when you use title case, articles, conjunctions, and prepositions remain lowercase, but Microsoft Office does not make this distinction and merely capitalizes the first letter of every word. Whether you use title or sentence case for your meta descriptions, do not use lower case for every single word. It looks amateurish at best and lazy or pretentious at worst.
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With those formatting issues in mind, it is time to turn to the actual words you will use in your meta description. Be specific, be accurate, and be interesting. Easier said than done, I know, but it will pay off in the long run. Ask yourself these three questions:

  • What is this page about?
  • What makes it interesting or useful?
  • What makes this page different from every other page about the same topic?

By answering those questions, you should be able to formulate a meta description that tells people what to expect, what they will gain by visiting your page, and why your link is a better choice than any of the other links on the search results page, including the ones that are currently above yours. While you should avoid generic terms and words that frequently serve as filler, you should not forget to include keywords that apply to your page.

Meta keyword tags may have long been excluded from search engine algorithms, but keywords should be included in your meta description as long as it makes sense and you are not indulging in keyword stuffing. Actually, if you do a good job answering those three questions, you should find meta keywords already incorporated into your description in an organic and meaningful way.

Chances are when you first write your meta description, you will need to revise it either for length or content. Really examine each word and your syntax. Sometimes a synonym, a change of phrasing, or using one word in place of three can make all the difference in the world. This may sound like a lot of work to devote to an element some people ignore entirely, but good SEO is not about tricks or easy fixes; it is the difference between doing something half-way or going all in. Meta descriptions and keywords are integral to creating and promoting good content. First, you build the best site you can and create the best content out there, and then, with a carefully composed meta description, you invite people in, using 160 characters or less.

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