CT No.32: How should a meta description be?

A guide to writing that ever-present search engine blurb

I’m on vacation this week, so here’s an answer to an SEO question I’m frequently asked.

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How do you write a good meta description?

Your SEO pro or agency recently said this to you or to themselves or to someone: “Ok, so we should update the titles and metas.” We’re always updating titles and metas. It’s the first step and one of the easiest.

Titles are a direct ranking factor, but meta descriptions aren’t. Meta descriptions haven’t been ranking factors for a decade. Technically.

But meta descriptions significantly impact user behavior. They encourage users to read your website. Yes, you should take them seriously and spend some time crafting them.

Your meta description (the third and fourth lines below) tells the user exactly what they will find on your page. The meta description shouldn’t be an ad, nor should it be the very first sentence from your content. As Google says, meta descriptions are “a short, relevant summary of what your page is about.”

A great meta description has the following characteristics:

A bad meta description:

  • Describes temporary situations, like offers or sales or promises you can’t keep.

  • Is written quickly or is formulaic, unless that formula involves short, engaging sentences.

  • Is written by not-a-writer.

  • Talks about your brand’s history or value proposition. Meta descriptions appear in search results, and no one cares that your brand has been around since 1934 in search results.

  • Doesn’t describe about what’s on the page at all — that will be ignored by Google and won’t help anyone out.

I try to update relevant meta descriptions on my clients’ websites annually, mostly for experiment’s sake. If the pages have a relatively high CTR, though, I typically leave them alone.


My preferred SEO suite, which I recommend with caveats: SEMRush

Did you know that a lot of SEO ranking and behavior data is collected, knowingly or otherwise, from browser extensions? It’s also collected from credit card companies, programmatic display networks, analytics trackers, etc. Google provides some of the data directly, but otherwise… it’s gathered. From assorted places.

Anywho, I wish SEMRush was more transparent with where it gets its data, but almost no one in digital marketing is transparent about where they get their data! As an industry, we should ask more hard questions about this situation.

That said.

That said, SEMRush data represents trends and comparisons, which means it does its job. It’s mostly accurate, or accurate-ish enough to be used by people like me who understand the data, sort of. SEMRush data is also sold to other, larger enterprise tools with nicer UIs who charge more for the same data.

SEMRush has 80 gazillion features! I use site audit, competitive analysis and benchmarking, keyword magic, and some of the rank tracking. I could leave the rest. I wish I could pick and choose my features and pay less per month but alas… I can’t.

SEMRush at a glance

The Keyword Magic tool is To Die For. It identifies semantically related keywords very similarly to a ClearScope or a MarketMuse, but it doesn’t organize or sort the data for you. I have reviewed many, many SEO tools and it’s the best keyword and content research tool at its price point and scale, as long as you know what to do with the data you have.

There’s the key: I wouldn’t understand SEMRush if I hadn’t trained on another, more expensive enterprise tool. SEMRush now offers personalized training, but I don’t use it (as I am a well-trained monkey). If you don’t know what data to enter, SEMRush’s keyword tracking can be a garbage-in, garbage-out situation, and it won’t help you hone in on value or strategic thinking on your own.

But if you know what you’re looking for, it works just fine.

It puts more focus on content and less on backlinks than other tools, which aligns with my SEO approach. Because I mostly work on redesigns and content structure, I don’t obsessively track rankings (that’s a wasted effort for almost all small websites) or need local SEO capabilities. So.

Anyway: SEMRush! It’s a great content research tool and SEO launchpad.


That’s all for this week! Why yes, I am enjoying my vacation, thanks for asking.


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