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Making the Most of Your Meta Descriptions for SEO

If you’ve ever tried to sell a house, you know how critical curb appeal is to that effort. First impressions count for a lot. That’s just as true for the house’s interior.

What does this have to do with SEO? Well, keywords are a whole lot like curb appeal; they’re a key component in attracting your target audience. What happens after you’ve gotten your page ranked relies on your page’s meta descriptions. They’re kind of like the aroma of freshly baked bread in that house you’re about to sell.

In more concrete terms, meta descriptions are critical to how well your page performs once it shows up on a search results page. (While keywords, page titles, and headlines are more directly linked to whether the page ranks well.)

What is a Meta Description?

The meta description is usually what searchers will see as the summary of your page on the search results page. As you’d expect, the better job a meta description does in summarizing what your page is about, the more likely search visitors will be likely to click through to your page or keep on scrolling.

What Should My Meta Descriptions Include?

The most critical factor to include is the entire keyword phrase you’re trying to rank for. For example, if you want to rank for “improve SEO performance,” your meta description might be, “10 ways to improve SEO performance with great meta descriptions.”

In this regards, meta descriptions are very much not like headlines. For headlines, you can make an argument that catchy headlines are a valid approach even if they don’t include your keyword phrase, depending on your audience and other factors. That will rarely if ever be the case for meta descriptions: including your keyword phrase is critical. (Though if you can manage to be clever and still include your keyword phrase, by all means, do.)

This is one of the big reasons it’s critical to define your meta descriptions. If you don’t the search engines will do so for you and they’ll frequently take the beginning content on the page. If that content is a breezy introduction meant to ease folks into your article, your article’s intent may be lost.

You can still have a little fun with your meta descriptions if you’re creative. One great way is to pose the question your target audience is asking and hint at the answer. That might be something like, “Questions or answers? What’s better for meta descriptions and SEO?”

How Long Should Meta Descriptions Be?

As you’d expect, the search engines don’t give you an unlimited amount of precious space on their results pages. You’re typically going to be limited to 160 characters or so. Though this isn’t officially a hard-and-fast number — you’ll see 155 characters cited, as well — you don’t want to go too long. The extra characters are likely to get cut off. If that changes the intent of your description, you could lose the searcher’s interest. (Be sure to count spaces as characters.)

Anything Else?

Two more points worth making: In addition to all this meta description goodness in the web world, your meta descriptions will also impact your social media traffic. Keep that in mind as you integrate social media into your digital marketing.

Finally, meta descriptions should not be the driving force behind your page. Truly engaging content should be. If you write content that engages your audience, answers their questions, and encourages them to dig deeper, you’ll have an easier time attracting them. And an easier time crafting great meta descriptions.

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Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms find a more strategic and productive mix of tools that genuinely support online brand goals over time. With a passion for true collaboration and meaningful consensus, his work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components. He views is primary goal as encouraging engagement. Getting an audience involved in your story requires solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either. Andrew has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events, on content marketing and web-development topics. His technology writing appears on the Andigo blog, in a monthly column on Biznology.com, and for print and online publications like The New York Enterprise Report, Social Media Today, and GSG Worldwide’s publications LinkedIn & Business, Facebook & Business, and Tweeting & Business. Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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