What does the term search engine optimisation mean to you?
The answer for many people is simple: it’s a process where you can tweak and optimise a website so that it will rank higher on search engines like Google. Technically this is correct, as this is the ultimate goal of SEO. However, there’s a lot more to it than that. There are many different strategies involved in the optimisation process which aren’t all necessarily geared towards affecting search engine ranking algorithms. Take Meta descriptions as one example. Now it might be true that they will not have any direct relevance or effect on search engine ranking, but they are crucial none the less. If you’re unconvinced of this, then read on.
Meta descriptions, in a similar way to title tags, often crop up in the search engine results pages.
Generally speaking, what most users see when they trawl through the search engine results pages are a series of clickable links, followed by a brief description, or snapshot of the page the link relates to. Now you might wonder why this brief piece of information is important. Well, the answer is because this description can often play a crucial role in persuading users to click on the link. Imagine if a text tag fails to adequately describe what the link relates to, or in some way misleads or misrepresents the message it’s trying to impart, what do you imagine readers will do? The answer is that they’ll click on another link that gives them what they want. That’s why it’s vitally important to hone the Meta description.
If they are so important, then why are Meta descriptions often ignored by website owners and SEO analysts? The reason is mainly due to a misconception. Many users believe they are clicking on the rankings, not on the search results themselves. Whilst it might be trues that people predominantly click on the results that have the highest rankings, it’s important to remember that these high-ranking results only get to the top of the page by having compelling titles and descriptions.
Most users won’t click on any old link blindly because they know they’ll more than likely be disappointed by what they find. Seasoned searchers know what they’re looking for, and will definitely take time to read the title tag and description before clicking on a link. It makes sense because it saves them time in the long run as they then only access the sites that will provide the answers or products they’re looking for.
If you think of a title tag as a broad search description, then a Meta description can best be described as the specific information that fleshes out what’s in the title tag. It has nothing to do with keywords. Anyone can stuff keywords into titles in the hope that they’ll attract attention, but that type of approach won’t necessarily deliver the information users require. Long-tail phrases are better: these give businesses the chance to refine the keywords used in the title and also control what’s displayed on the SERPs. Accurately worded Meta descriptions can also include a call to action and generally give users more of an incentive to click on a specific link.
What’s the best way to make Meta descriptions as effective as possible?
The answer is to keep them simple but informative, and make sure they are unique to the page they describe. Meta descriptions only need to be brief, so businesses needn’t fret. The descriptions should be somewhere between 20 and 40 words, and should summarise the information for the specific page. They should incorporate primary and secondary keywords in a way that will make them compelling and attractive to potential searchers. There aren’t any specific rules about when and where they should be used, but generally if you’re targeting broader keywords, then it’s worthwhile using Meta descriptions.
However, if you’re concentrating mainly on targeting long-tail keywords, then it’s probably better not to use them. Now you may wonder why that is, but it’s actually quite simple really: if you’re blogging or producing articles that focus on long-tail phrases, then there are an infinite number of variations with these phrases that are impossible to condense into a 40 word description. Moreover, if the long-tail phrases are already in the copy, there’s a reasonable chance that the search engine will import snippets of the blog and incorporate them into the results any way.