Search engine optimisation is quite a complex area, and one that’s beset with many misconceptions.
People automatically assume that the sole function of SEO is to increase ranking on the results pages of search engines, and therefore believe that every optimisation strategy used is geared purely to achieve that goal. Well, that isn’t necessarily true. Ranking may be important, but it is none the less just one element of the optimisation process. There are other elements that need to be considered too. Take Meta tag descriptions as an example: most people would say these don’t have any relevance on search engine ranking, so they should therefore be ignored. While it’s true that Meta descriptions may not directly affect search engine ranking algorithms, they are still very important.
Meta descriptions, like title tags, often show up in the search engine results pages.
Generally speaking, what most users see on the SERPs is a clickable link, followed by a brief description of the page the link refers to. So why is this brief snippet of information important? Well, it’s because this description can play a crucial role in enticing users to visit your link: if your text tag fails to properly describe what is on your link or in some way misleads or misrepresents the message you’re trying to impart, then the chances are potential users will go elsewhere.
The reason why many people don’t pay attention to Meta descriptions is again due mainly to a misconception. For some unknown reason, users believe they are clicking on the rankings, not on the search results themselves. Yes it’s true that people tend to click more on results that have a higher ranking, but that only applies if these pages have compelling titles and descriptions. There can’t be many users out there who don’t vet the search results before clicking blindly on a link: if there are then they’re probably likely to be disappointed with what they find. Discerning users know what they’re looking for, and will take a little time to read both the title tag and description before clicking on a link. It saves them time in the long run as they only access those sites that will provide the answers they desire.
Think of a title tag as a broad search description, and a Meta description as specific information that puts flesh on the bones of the title tag.
Anyone can stuff keywords into titles in the hope that they’ll attract attention, but these won’t always deliver the information users require. Long tail phrases give businesses the chance to refine the keywords used in the title and 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.
So what’s the best way to make your Meta descriptions as effective as possible? The answer is probably to keep them simple, whilst informative, and make sure they are unique to the page they describe. Meta descriptions only need to be brief, say between 20 and 40 words, and should summarise the information for the specific page using primary and secondary keywords in a way that is compelling and attractive to potential searchers. There’s no hard and fast rules about when and where they should be used, but generally if you’re targeting broader keywords, then it’s worthwhile using Meta descriptions: if you’re concentrating mainly on targeting long-tail keywords, then it’s probably better not to. The reason for this is simple when you think about it: if you’re blogging or producing articles that focus on long-tail phrases, then there are an infinite number of variations with these phrases which can’t really be condensed into a 40 word description. Besides, if these long-tail phrases are 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.