Meta descriptions. If you've got a website or a blog, chances are you've heard of them - but what exactly are they, and do they really matter?
What is a meta description and do I need one?
Meta descriptions are concise descriptions of what appears on a web page. They provide a more complete snippet of the page when it appears on search engine ranking pages (SERPSs). You know when you search for something in Google, a page of results comes up with a link and then text description below? That text is the meta description.
Although they don't directly increase your search engine ranking, they help increase click-throughs from SERPs, so you should always try to write a good one.
What happens if I don't write one?
If you don't write a meta description, the search engine pulls a piece from the page, which may or may not be a good indication of what's actually on the site. Think about what you do when you're looking at a page of results on Google - you probably quickly scan the results for keywords related to your query. A result without a meta description might deter someone from clicking through to your site - so it's worth you taking the time to fill it out.
Crafting a good meta description
Meta descriptions themselves don't factor in page rankings, but click-throughs do, so you need to make your meta descriptions compelling to increase your click-through rate. Use interesting, specific information that will make people want to see more. You should use active language, or what marketers term a "call-to-action." This is a direct command or request of your audience to do what you want them to, whether that's seeking more information, buying your product, or whatever will get them closer to your business.
As a general rule, search engines cut off meta descriptions after 150-160 characters (including spaces), so keep yours within that range. Try to maximize that allotment without going over, otherwise your meta description may get cut off. Cut-off descriptions don't look professional and important information may be lost. Search engines' allotments can vary though, so if you're worried, check it yourself to see how much of your meta description appears on various SERPs.
Avoid using the same meta description for every page; if one search brings up multiple pages from your website, you don't want them to all say the same thing. Make each description specific to that page so people know what they're getting into when they click. Another thing to avoid is double quotes--they get cut off on Google, the most popular search engine. Only use single quotes if you really need quotation marks in your meta descriptions. And, of course, always comply with basic SEO practices, like using keywords without stuffing them and writing authentic, quality content.