What are meta description tags? And are they important for SEO?

When I quote a job I actually give a separate cost for writing meta description tags. Why? Because they’re fiddly little suckers, which can take ages to write, and deserve to be costed separately.

But what are meta description tags exactly? And are they necessary for SEO?

Ok, meta description tags aren’t viewable on the actual web page but they do let webmasters and search engines know what a web page is about. They look like this:

<meta name=”description” content=”SEO Copywriter: Need an expert UK SEO copywriter for visitor focussed copy that the search engines will love? Call this SEO copywriter now.” />

This meta description tag is from the SEO Copywriting page on this website. Take a look for yourself. Simply click on the link above, click on View in your toolbar, and then click on Source. (This works in Internet Explorer, although other browsers will be similar.)

Now, back in the day, meta description tags – along with meta keywords – were something that search engines would consider, before showing your web page on the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs). Not any more. Unfortunately, they were abused and now the Search Engines all but ignore them for SEO purposes.

So if meta description tags aren’t necessary for SEO, what’s the point of them?

Well meta description tags are used for the ‘snippet’: that two line bit of copy that appears beneath a link on the Search Engine Results Page.

This is how the SEO copywriting page from this site appears on Google’s SERPs.

Page title showing in Google SERPs

So a well written meta description tag, containing the appropriate keywords and a call to action, can really improve your link’s clickability. (Yeah, I know it’s not a real word.) Those couple of lines act as an advertisement for your website; attracting potential visitors, and encouraging them to click-through.

Your meta description tag should include the key phrase you used in the page title plus a brief description about the page, the website or the company. The description tag needs to be different on each page. (In the same way your page titles are different for each page.) And, oh yeah, it needs to sound interesting. Think of it as a mini ad, with a benefit and a call to action.

For example:

Colour Photocopying Chiswick | Speedyprint Printers, London
Colour Photocopying Chiswick: For quality colour photocopying with quick turnarounds, visit our Chiswick store. Free quote.
www. speedyprinterschiswick.co.uk

Your company’s name doesn’t need to be included in the meta description tag, unless it’s not clear from the domain name. For example:

4 Colour Business Card Printing Chiswick | Speedyprint Printers, London
Quality 4 colour business card printing in Chiswick from Speedyprint Printers. Great prices, quick turnarounds. Call us now for a free quote.
www. sppc.co.uk 

The Search Engines don’t always use your meta description tags. Sometimes they yank a few sentences out of the web copy, if they think that’s more useful to the searcher. In fact, Google used to ignore description tags completely and just find an appropriate sentence or two from the copy. But not anymore. These days they are much more likely to show a description tag, especially if it’s well written and contains the right keywords.

And how long should a meta description tag be? Up to 150 characters including spaces. Not very big. But absolutely worth getting right if you want searchers to click through to your site.


Find out more about the importance of meta description tags on the Google Webmaster blog channel on YouTube.

  • Andrew Nattan
    Posted at 12:43h, 15 September Reply

    Great post – and I’m glad to see there’s someone else out there who puts a call to action in the meta! It seems so obvious, but it just hardly seems to happen.

    • Sarah Turner
      Posted at 12:54h, 15 September Reply

      Hey Andrew
      Thanks for the comment. I’m constantly amazed that companies allow their web developers to write their description tags. Some are awful!

      Anything that helps get potential customers on to a site is good. I have to remind clients that ‘getting on page 1 of Google’ isn’t the end – it’s just the beginning!

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