How To Write Meta Descriptions for Maxim

How To Write Meta Descriptions for Maximum Clicks:

They’re easy to ignore and time consuming to write.

But well-written meta descriptions — a.k.a. snippets — can strongly influence the amount of traffic that your website receives from a specific search result.

It’s important to know what details they should contain, in what format, so that machines can read them easily and display the correct information. But it’s just as important to know how to craft them to persuade humans to click.

Get the data right, and the machines will love you.

Get the words right, and the humans will love you.

Here’s how.

Anatomy of an organic result

Although we’re going to focus on meta descriptions in this article, it’s good to know what makes up an entire organic Google SERP result.

Basic elements

Every organic result you see in the Google SERPs has three minimum components:

Title: Google often uses the page title specified in your HTML. Other times, it generates a different one, presumably better matched to a searcher’s intent.
URL: Google experiments with the position and appearance of URLs. Again, this is an attempt to provide more useful information for searchers. For example, it may use a site’s navigational structure to provide breadcrumbs instead of or next to a specific URL to let searchers know what section they’re headed to after they click. That’s demonstrated here:
Description: Google calls this the snippet. Most SEOs refer to this as the meta description or description. Google’s machines most often choose the description you write and use in your page’s HTML meta tag — if it contains the best possible information to display for a given search. Otherwise, Google’s algorithm will excerpt information from the actual page’s content or use data from the Open Directory Project.
Additional elements

You don’t have complete control over what additional information Google chooses to display for your page’s snippet. That said, you can strongly influence things by adding machine-readable information about your content in the page code.

Date: Sometimes, especially for articles, Google automatically displays a date before your excerpt:
Authorship: If you’ve properly implemented Google Authorship, you’re likely to see a result that include your byline and headshot, like this:
Microdata: Heard of “Rich Snippets“? That’s what Google calls results with more detailed information. It gets that information from schema or other microdata code that you add to your page. This Rich Snippet includes recipe and review information, and Google supports many more types:
Sitelinks: You can’t create them, but you can edit them in your Google Webmaster Tools account once Google creates them. They are the indented links below the main snippet, often used for brands or businesses, just like this:
Proper use of microdata could help your results appear in Google’s Knowledge Graph and In-Depth Articles features.

You might find Raven’s Schema Creator online tool or WordPress plugin extremely handy for creating accurate microdata code. You can also use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.

Dos and don’ts for machine-optimized meta descriptions

Let’s turn our attention specifically to the meta description, or snippet, as Google refers to them. Here’s what you need to know to communicate information correctly with the machines that read your content.


Google (for the reckless): 156 characters, including spaces. After 156 characters, Google uses an elipses (…) and/or generates its own snippet. Some people believe that, like the page title displayed, the meta description displayed is determined by width in pixels. In that case, you might want to keep your meta description around 150 characters.
Google (for the cautious): 139 characters, including spaces. If Google chooses to display a date, the characters in that date count against your limit. For the…


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