What Are Meta Descriptions? Why Are They Critical to Organic Search Engine Strategies?

Meta Description
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Sometimes marketers can’t see the forest for the trees. As search engine optimization has gained so much attention the past few years, I’ve noticed that many marketers focus so much on rank and subsequent traffic, they forget the step that actually occurs in between.

The first event that happens when a user searches for a keyword is that they are met with a search engine results page (SERP). That search engine results page lists the search results, utilizing a page title and a description. Most descriptions are taken directly from a page’s meta description tag. If the meta tag doesn’t exist, the search engine will utilize an excerpt of the page’s content.

What is a Meta Description?

Search engines allow site owners to write descriptions about the page that’s crawled and submitted to search engines. The first 135 to 160 characters or so are even utilized typically within the search engine result page under the title of the page. Meta descriptions aren’t visible to someone reading your page, just to underlying crawlers. The meta description is in the <head> section of the HTML and is formatted as follows:

<meta name="description" content="The Martech industry's leading publication for researching, discovering, and learning how to utilize sales and marketing platforms and technology to grow your business."/>

If you’re utilizing a content management system or ecommerce platform that doesn’t allow customization of meta description, it’s time to find a new one!

Why is the Meta Description Critical to Organic Search Strategies?

Optimizing the meta description is a very important aspect of on-page SEO:

  1. Duplicate Content – It’s utilized in the determination of whether or not you have duplicate content within your site. If Google believes that you have two pages with similar content, they’ll rank the best page and ignore the rest. Utilizing unique meta descriptions on every page will ensure pages are not crawled and determined to be duplicate content.
  2. Keywords – Keywords utilized in meta descriptions don’t directly impact the ranking of your page, but they are highlighted in search results, drawing additional attention to them.
  3. Driving Conversions – A meta description is critical to converting a search engine user into a visitor of your site. We work with clients to ensure their meta descriptions are highly enticing to the search engine user, with the utilization of keywords as a secondary focus.

Here’s an example search, for best stocks to buy:

It’s fairly obvious which result is the most compelling result to click on, isn’t it?

  • The first result doesn’t just utilize the keywords best, stocks, and buy… they also utilize the term today… with a call to action, Click to find more now!
  • Some of the other listings have dates listed with them. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that Google does a terrible job of snagging this date. If you had a related post with a date down the page from 5 years ago, Google may use that date listed! Try to avoid having dates in your content – they’ll date both the content as well as make your search engine result look like it’s untimely.
  • Notice some of the descriptions are not relevant to the actual search or even the keywords… either the site has a default meta description across all the pages that’s static and unrelated, or no meta description at all and Google is just pulling some other content.

The latest changes in Webmaster’s tools actually make it quite simple to monitor!

Search engine optimization isn’t simply using keywords, re-organizing site components and getting ranking, it’s also ensuring that you are improving the click-through rate (CTR) from your well-placed search engine results to drive relevant and additional traffic to your site. The overall goal of SEO isn’t simply ranking and traffic, it’s revenue and a SEO return on investment.

Tips for optimizing meta descriptions:

  • Google’s meta description length is up to 920 pixels, so do not exceed 158 characters or else Google will cut off your description and they may not use it at all. If you write the meta descriptions in an Excel spreadsheet, you can check the length with the equation =LEN(B2) if you want the cell in A2 to show the length with your description in B2.
  • On mobile devices, the max description length of a Google SERP description is about 680 pixels and 120 characters.
  • Avoid duplicate meta descriptions. Every meta description must be different, or else the search engine may ignore it and use other content on the page.
  • Utilize phrasing that makes the reader curious or that commands their action. The objective here is to drive the person to click through to your page.
  • Avoid linkbait meta descriptions. Frustrating users by getting them to click through and not finding the information you described is a terrible business practice that will hurt your ability to engage and convert search engine visitors.
  • While keywords aren’t going to directly help your ranking, but they will help your click-through rate since keywords are highlighted as the search engine user reads the results. Try to use the keywords closer to the first words in the meta description.

Monitor both your ranking and your click through rates… and adjust your meta descriptions to increase relevant traffic and conversions!


  1. 1

    Great suggestion. One of my favorite tools for WordPress All-in-One SEO lets us create simple page tiltes and descriptions without having to know much about coding. ( By the way, you introduced us to All-in-One ) so thanks on both counts.

  2. 2

    Lorraine, AIOS and Google XML Sitemaps are my two ‘must-haves’ for any WordPress site. I’m surprised that WordPress hasn’t simply incorporated them into the core code at this point. WordPress only gets you about 75% there…. those plugins get your platform fully enabled!

  3. 3
  4. 5

    I would be absolutely amazed to find someone serious about promoting their content on a website not have a meta description. When I work with people I tell them that the meta description is the body of their classified ad on Google. Would you try to sell something in your newspaper without a description of the item? Of course not!

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