Now, don’t go running away on me because I used the phrase meta descriptions. If you want people to click on your articles that show up on social media, you want to read this post. You’ll be a pro at meta descriptions when you’re done. Time well invested. Let’s dig in.
There are affiliate links within this post.
What are meta descriptions? A meta description is a short summary of an article or page on your blog (we’re talking 130-160 characters short). The meta description for your blog posts is an essential element for Google, Facebook, and Pinterest.
In code, this is what a meta description looks like:
Most of you will actually never see that code. WordPress, Blogger, and sort of but not so really Squarespace have an easy user platform for adding a meta description. If you want to jump to that portion of the post, you can. I want to blab a little bit more about meta descriptions first.
Using a meta description does not directly affect your ranking in search engines. If Google uses your meta description in the search results it could increase the number of clicks you get. When you get more clicks on your search results, Google likes you more. Therefore, it is good SEO practice to use meta descriptions.
I actually think meta descriptions are more important for social media than they are for search. Your meta description will be the text that shows up in our Facebook preview, our Pinterest rich pins description, and Twitter cards. (It also shows up on Google+ and linked in, do you promote there?) If you don’t write a meta description of your posts, these platforms usually pull the first few lines of your article.
The meta description helps potential readers decide whether or not they want to click on your article. Search Engine Watch says, “the more descriptive, attractive, and relevant the description, the more likely someone will click through”
Think of Meta Descriptions as short ads to every post you write
Your title and the meta description are your opportunity to sell your post to potential readers. Writing a meta description can be hard because you are limited in characters. Pinterest shows 140 characters at most (though usually shows between 130-138 depending on where your word ends off), Google will show 140-170, depending on if they include the post date or not. Facebook is the most giving, I’ve seen them show up to 213. However, one meta description that was 243 was cut off at 163. In short, keep it under 160 with the most important info in the first 130 characters.
Here are a few suggestions on what could and shouldn’t be in those minimal characters:
- Use compelling words in your description. Previously, I was using the meta descriptions for short summaries, but they weren’t very compelling or personable. They were kind of dry. I am working on doing a better job of making my meta descriptions entice people to CLICK on my articles. (Buffer has a great post 189 Powerful Words that Convert and Copy Blogger has an in-depth discussion on the Top 5 Most Persuasive Words that you can check out when you’re done because there’s still more good stuff to come in this post)
- Include calls to action inside the description: “come see” “download” “find out”.
- Answer the question “why should I click on that article”.
- Remember that you are writing for a human, not a search engine. Make it warm and welcoming.
- Don’t just copy the title. That’s a waste of characters.
- Make sure your descriptions match the content. Don’t over exaggerate. The Weidert Group reminds us that “the best meta descriptions are backed by high-quality content”.
- Do include search keywords in your description. Google is more likely to show your meta description if it has the keywords users are searching. Plus, keywords show up in bold. Don’t just keyword drop.
Here’s a simple formula you can use to help write meta descriptions: natural use of keywords + why they should click (includes CTAs) = best meta description.
Example of meta descriptions showing up on the web
I’m a visual person, like most people are these days, so here are few examples to help you out.
Both of these are from Pinterest. The document title is above the image (not shown in this clip). The first image is a pin from Marianne of Design Your Own Blog. The meta description is 136 characters long and does a great job at enticing readers to click: “download a free cheat sheet and learn how to”. There are also great keywords that people may be using that relate to the content: “customize the look of your blog” “learn how to edit CSS”.
The second image is from Restored316. Again, great CTA’s “follow this tutorial” and “see how to”. The full meta description is 169 characters, but Pinterest cut it off at 140 characters. It also has great keywords: “monetize your blog” and “how to place an affiliate ad”.
This is an example of what meta descriptions look like on Facebook. Fran’s article at Freeborbleta.com has a meta description of 124 characters. It draws readers in with “learn how to… with this”. It also has great keyword phrases: “how to install or upload a WordPress theme” and “tutorial for WordPress beginners”.
This is what a meta description looks like on a Twitter card. A Prettier Web’s article on opt-in incentives has meta description of 144 characters, (Pinterest cut the same article off at 139). I love the wording “I’ll show you” used in the description.
Now that we’ve talked about why meta descriptions are important, what you can include in them, and some examples, let’s talk about how to get them.
How to add meta descriptions on WordPress and Blogger
If you’re using a Genesis Framework theme, you don’t need to do anything or add any plugins to easily add meta descriptions to your blog posts. It’s one of the ways Genesis makes SEO easier.
If you’re not using a Genesis Framework theme, or maybe you are and you want a few other SEO features you can use an SEO Plugin. Yoast is the most recommended. Once you install Yoast a Yoast SEO box will show up below your posts. You will need to click edit snippet to change the meta description of your post.
From your blogger dashboard navigate to Settings > Search Preferences. Under Meta tags, there is a section titled Description. If it is disabled then click edit (if it’s enabled, you already have your meta descriptions set up).
Once inside the edit section, you can add a meta description to your blog’s homepage and click Enable. Now when you go to your blog posts you will have a Search Description box in the right column while editing. This is your meta description.
Squarespace doesn’t have a way to include a meta description on each blog post. In my opinion, it is one of the biggest downfalls of Squarespace. You can add a search description (aka meta description) for your home page by going to your Home Menu > settings > and then either basic or marketing > SEO, depending on your plan.
You can also add meta descriptions on pages, just not blog posts.
Updating your meta descriptions on old posts.
If you haven’t been in the habit of adding meta descriptions to your posts, or you think they could be improved you can still go back and update them. It may take platforms a while to notice the change, but the updates will show up.
Start by updating your most popular posts. Next, head to your Google Analytics and see what posts are showing up in Google search, but not being clicked on. To do that navigate to acquisition > search console > landing pages. By default, it sorts the articles by the number impressions those posts are getting in search. Try changing up your meta descriptions (or adding them) to these posts as you work on updating old posts.
Yoast’s Bulk Editor
If you want to sit down and update a bunch of your posts, the Yoast SEO plugin makes it super easy. Navigate to SEO > Tools > and click bulk editor
This will bring you to a page with all of your posts and pages. You can toggle between Titles and Descriptions. This is a great way to sit down and crank out some awesome meta descriptions for your blog!
I hope your meta descriptions help you get more clicks to your blog. Let me know if you have any questions about meta descriptions in the comments below.