What is a meta description?

The meta description is a piece of HTML code that goes in the head of a webpage. The head of the page is different than the header. While you can see a header, and your site’s navigation, the head of a website isn’t visible to site visitors — it’s behind the scenes. The head of the website influences how you see a website (i.e. it’s where style sheets are loaded that allow your browser to style a page the way it’s supposed to look) and also other information, like the meta description. Clocking in at around 155 characters, a meta description is a short summary of what can be found on a webpage. Each page of your website should have its own meta description that specifically describes what is on that particular page.

The meta description is very helpful for Google because it describes what exactly is on a webpage. It also gives Google the content that goes on its search results page. When you look for something in Google, you see a search engine results page, or SERP. Google uses meta descriptions to construct the results you get on a SERP — you see an overall title link and underneath is the meta description. So, meta descriptions craft the way your website is represented in search engine results.

If your meta description is too long, Google will truncate it. If you do not provide a meta description, Google will scrape your website and construct its own description of the site on its search engine results page. If you’ve had your website for a while and never entered meta descriptions, Google has likely already decided what shows up on the SERP. You can add meta descriptions later and ask Google to recrawl your page, but Google doesn’t always do this. That’s why it’s important to add your meta descriptions before launching your website.

You can use keywords in your meta description, but remember that Google likes usability — meaning you should write the meta description as though you’re talking to a person and not a robot. Make your meta description a full thought, or a complete sentence, with actual structure. You can begin with a few important keywords and construct the meta description based on content already on the page for which you’re writing the description. Since Google reads left to right, we recommend starting with the most important information and ending with a call-to-action such as “Read More,” “Contact Us Today,” “Visit Our Website,” etc. Make sure you stay within the character count!

About Carrie

Carrie Rollwagen is host of the Localist podcast and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she works as Vice President of Strategic Planning at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find the Localist at @thinklocalist on Instagram and follow Carrie at @crollwagen.

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