Why are meta descriptions important? Meta Descriptions send an important signal to Google, and while not as important as the Page Title and H1, they are on par with h2s and h3s. Metas really matter, and they warrant some attention to create something interesting and descriptive to read. A good Meta Description can increase click through rates.
In short, they matter because the Google algorithm reads Meta descriptions to help determine where we should rank in search.

Off-page SEO

Metas are what’s commonly referred to as off-page SEO, in that the meta description lies in the source code of the page so is not viewable to the website visitor, but it is seen and read by Google.

HTML Meta Description

To add HTML to your source code, it’s what’s between the meta tags that matters. The meta is the text that sites between tags:

HTML code

<meta name=”descriptioncontent=”___________” />

For example

In our screenshot, the site has the following the meta description, which then appears on the search results page:
<meta name=”descriptioncontent=”View 820 homes for sale in Bend, OR at a median listing home price of $679900. See pricing and listing details of Bend real estate for sale.” />

Purpose of the Meta Description

The Meta Description is meant to provide an overview of the content of the page / post, and as such it should speak to the purpose of the content. Metas are particularly important because:
  1. That overview is used by Google to understand the content of the page, and to categorize it correctly, but it’s also used in Search Results as I’ll illustrate below here with an example.
  2. Meta Descriptions are shown beneath the Page Title in Search Results. In other words, that block of 160 characters or less that appears beneath the title of a search result is actually the meta description text.

Meta Description Example

Here’s an example of good meta description:

The Importance of Meta Descriptions.png

For Reference: Search: ‘bend or real estate’ | URL: Link

Elements of the Meta Description

Things to consider when writing your meta descriptions:

Keywords Matter

The keywords you wish to rank for (e.g. if you wish to rank for ‘2021 tax deadlines’ then make sure that exact phrase is included in your meta.) I suggest referring to your Page Title and verifying the same keywords you emphasize there appear in your meta. With the space we have for MEtas there’s ample room to work in several of the keywords that matter.

Length is Limited

Meta Descriptions should be 160 characters or less  (with spaces).

Take Time to Write Them

Meta Descriptions should not be a comma-separated list of things (e.g. we do abc, def, and xyz) as that’s not very engaging for the users who see that in search. Remember this is an introduction to your site for most users so a few extra minutes spent here is time well spent.

Google May Substitute your Meta Description

If your Meta Description is missing, vague, or poorly written Google may opt to select text from the page to use as the Meta.

Add Calls to Action to Metas

Consider ending your Meta Description with a call to action which entices users to click (e.g. Get the Guide, Read the Article, etc).

Make your Metas Unique

It’s important that Meta Descriptions are not copied and pasted between pages/posts. Otherwise, a duplicated Meta will be more harmful to SEO efforts than they will be helpful.

Meta Description Example

Here’s an example of a good Meta Description (thanks to David for this):

Why this Example makes for a good Meta Description

This example is a good illustration of a meta description because it:
  • Pulls in the keywords ‘water heater’,  ‘popping noise’, and ‘sediment problem’
  • Is 125 characters long so below the maximum length.
  • Is unique.
  • Ends with a clear Call to Action that entices the user to read on.