Let’s face it – the meta description is a much-travelled element. It also attracts a great deal of controversy in SEO circles. Should you use keywords? Is it solely for increasing clickthrough rate? Let’s look at what you shouldn’t do with your descriptions – and perhaps the best approach to a meta description will be more clear.

Too short

If you don’t have enough to say about a page to cover two lines (in English, about 25-30 words) then it’s probably time to rethink the page entirely. If there’s less than about 10 words, search engines may never show the text, which means next to no-one is going to read it anyway.

Too long

Look at it this way – a description is primarily used when displaying your page in an index of other pages – so it helps people to select the right choice from a lot of other things on the menu. If a description is too long, someone else is going to cut it short for you – a search engine, an aggregator, a web browser. And if no-one reads it, any time you spend writing it would be more productive spent re-arranging the spoons in your cutlery drawer.

Not related to the page

SEO is about convincing an algorithm that your page is more relevant than other ones. If a software program with fancy language processing is unable to work out that the description accurately describes the page, then it’s time to think again. And don’t forget – this text is going to show up on the most viewed type of page on any search engine – don’t make them work. Or demote your page at the indexing stage.

Boring

Don’t forget that a description is going to be read by people before they clickthroughto your site: longwided sentences aren’t going to cut it. Remember that people tend to “scan” the page when choosing the right search result, so make sure the information you provide is easily digestible. The right message needs to appeal to the broad audience who potential find your pages via search – but also provide a compelling reason for them to click your link.

It’s always worth the time to create a description that does your content justice. Go forth, and get traffic :)

7 Responses to “How to write a bad meta description”

  1. Konige, Communications Agency in Montreal Says:

    Do you lose weight or get penalized if your meta-description is too long?

    Thanks for your answer, I will come check here again.

  2. Reaction Engine Says:

    In my experience it is possible to get a page devalued by using inappropriate words within a meta description, and if your description is not considered to be of sufficient quality or is not relevant to words users are searching for, then it doesn’t display anyway. And if users don’t see the description, it would be a waste of time to write one.

  3. stephen Says:

    Thanks for your site, this is always a good topic. Regardless what seo’ers say about using meta data, using it is the proper way to code a website. Cheers!

  4. alex Says:

    Can i run one by you – “How to book Car hire Las Vegas cheaply to have a great holiday on the Strip.” for a Car hire Las Vegas site?

  5. Reaction Engine Says:

    Hi Alex,

    To my eye the keywords are fairly obviously forced into the front of that description. It’s also too short, which means you will only occupy one line instead on the two available on the SERP. Finally, I’m not convinced it would really set you apart from the competition. What does set you apart? Price? Quality? Customer service?

    Think about the major concerns of your audience and address them in as punchy a way as possible.

    It’s hard to write a description without seeing the site in question, but let’s say the main selling point is price, and choice of car – you would want to emphasise those points:

    Car hire in Las Vegas at internet prices! Book online, includes insurance and fuel. 10% discount for new customers with airport pick-up available.

    This is a little crude, but the idea is to list many advantages of your service, to impress as wide a section of the relevant audience as possible.

  6. Mark Says:

    This area is confusing because we are told by many SEO professionals that meta keywords and descriptions are not used by Google. Also WordPress Themes are not natively configured for meta keywords. There are many Plugins to choose from some better than others. I have always considered good meta keywords and description to be important. It should also be noted that long tailed keywords, multiple keywords describing the core focus of the blog are more likely to have a high ranking.

  7. Bailey Says:

    I started my own business back in august 2011 and I just recently started researching SEO options. Is there a difference between meta keywords and a meta description? My description is about three short sentences long with some keywords relevant to my business. However, I probably have about 80 meta keywords listed (all relevant, just variations of my different products). I sell mainly vintage apparel and vintage home decor.

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