The Ultimate Guide to Meta Descriptions, 2017


A meta description is a short HTML tag informing the reader what your website provides. This is how a meta description will appear on a Google search engine results page (or SERP):

The meta description is the main chunk of text at the bottom. The keywords the user typed into the search engine appear highlighted in bold. The date is sometimes added by Google in the first line of the meta description.

To view a page’s meta description, right click on the page and select ‘view page source’, then  use the Ctrl+F function to search for the code. This is the code for a meta description:

<meta name="description" content="This is an example of a
meta description. This will often show up in search results.">


Meta descriptions have a strong impact on ranking, but this impact is indirect. There is  no direct ranking benefit from meta descriptions. Google does not use meta descriptions as a factor in their ranking algorithm, and for other search engines it is not a key factor. This means that, as well as looking unattractive, ‘keyword stuffing’ (whereby websites pack their text with frequently searched words) does not work in meta descriptions.

So how do meta descriptions impact ranking? Well, Google uses click-through-rate (CTR) as a ranking factor, and may move a result up if more users click-through than would be expected from the current ranking position. Meta descriptions can persuade users to click on a page, so when they are strong and compelling they can drive up your ranking.


Here are our 7 Rules for crafting the perfect meta-description:

  1. Write 150 characters. Search engines often shorten meta descriptions that are more than 156 or 160 characters long. However, your meta description is an important chance to promote your site, so a short meta description is a wasted opportunity. Around 150 characters is optimal to get in important content, while avoiding truncation by the search engine. Bear in mind that Google will sometimes alter the length to include a date or other relevant pieces of text, like keywords.
  2. Do not repeat yourself. To Google, two pages with the same meta description look like the same page, even if they have different title tags. Use a separate meta description for each page to help Google provide accurate results. Using distinct meta descriptions will increase the likelihood that the user lands on the most relevant page of your website, and therefore stays.
  3. Use your main keyword. Keywords included in meta descriptions do not affect your search ranking, but Google will highlight keywords that the user searched in bold. This helps catch the user’s attention and get click-throughs.
  4. Use a call to action. Studies show that using a call to action (CTA) raises your click-through rate. A call to action is simply when you ask the user to do something; in this case, to enter the site. Use simple, active language to welcome users: ‘Try for free’, ‘Find out more’, or ‘Come and claim’. More subtle examples of a CTA include ‘Discover,’ ‘Experience’ and ‘Take advantage of’.
  5. Think about your user. What is your user interested in? Whether it is your best-selling product or a seasonal sale, use your meta description to talk about that. Tempt users into your site with descriptive language or target their curiosity. Be simple, to save them time and effort.
  6. Describe your page accurately. Some site owners like to draw visitors onto their site by using interesting-sounding meta descriptions that don’t match the page. Such practice is referred to as ‘cloaking’. This will not only infuriate visitors, but Google has automatic crawlers targeting this kind of behaviour. Getting caught will lower your ranking in future searches.
  7. Use symbols (with care). Too many non-alphanumerical characters can cause problems, but one or two relevant symbols can make your meta description stand out. Popular symbols include stars (five, ideally) and hashtags. Double quotation marks should be avoided at all costs, because Google uses them as a cue to cut text from your meta description on the SERP.


Jane Klue at The Media Image explains:

 As Google has evolved, becoming increasingly skilled at providing relevant search results, meta descriptions need to be written with the end user in mind. Text should be enticing and compelling, evoking the interest of potential customers, sharing a preview of the contents on the landing page it’s dedicated to.

Basic elements to consider when creating meta descriptions include: 
– Create unique text, relevant to the landing page it is linked to 
– Ensure that text is approximately 150 characters in length 
– Include core keywords in a natural way if possible 
– Avoid duplicate copy 
– Avoid keyword stuffing 
– Include a call to action 

To summarise, meta descriptions are another form of ”click bait” and act as the hook that may draw in potential customers. Text needs to be informative, alluring and user-orientated, to get potential customers to click through to your landing page, as opposed to your competitors’ pages.


As a rule of thumb, if your site provides a service, your meta description should be a logical and readable sentence. This demonstrates your thoughtful, customer-focused ethos.

But if you are selling a product, your customer service is less important to customers. So focus on the product. In particular, if your company sells technical products, your target audience is most concerned with the bare facts. This means structured content is the way to go. Here is a good example:

If you are in the market for a new phone, you’re likely preoccupied with the specifications of the model. This includes manufacturer, USPs, and price. Make sure you include information on whatever is likely to be most attractive to your customer. Sales text can be omitted, but if there is space it doesn’t hurt to add a call to action.


Rich snippets are search result snippets that contain some extra information. This could be a star rating, price, availability, or a promotion for upcoming events; it could be an image, or the preparation time for a recipe.



Avoid keyword stuffing. Google will automatically embolden all relevant search terms. That means a meta description that’s brimming with keywords will show up mostly bold, which is confusing. Have faith that the searcher will base their site visit on more than whose text is darkest; a sentence that reads well, with an engaging CTA, is far more effective.


Don’t forget that duplicate descriptions can be detrimental to your ranking on the SERP. Each description should be tailored to the purpose of the landing page, and not the mission statement of the whole site. The good news is there are a number of modern content management systems that generate unique meta descriptions automatically. So there’s no need for boilerplate, copy-pasted meta tags.


It may sound obvious, but careless spelling errors and poor grammar will undermine the authority of your brand and lead to lower click-throughs. Avoid using all caps in meta descriptions or multiple exclamation marks. Make sure you use spell check before uploading your content.


If you leave out the meta description, Google will fill the field with a snippet of your site content which contains the searched-for keywords. Google will pluck out the relevant phrases from pages you might not have specifically targeted to the searcher. The downside of this is lack of control. Searchers might be taken to less relevant pages that contain those keywords, but that a human would recognise as not specific to their query.


In May 2016, Google added an extra 100 pixels to the width of results on the SERP. For results appearing on desktop computers, the maximum length is now 200 characters. However, Google admits that this is a guideline rather than a rule. Because Google will sometimes cap an overlong description with ellipses, a large meta description is risky. For search results appearing on mobile, the length is 170 – 172 characters, which is more strictly enforced due to the lack of available space on a phone screen.

Bear in mind though, these are merely averages compiled by an independent source. Eric Seal, a member of the SEO Inc. team, advises caution here, pointing out that Google is liable to continuously experiment with lengths of title tag and description. It would therefore be a mistake to assume that the current layout will remain the same indefinitely. And if Google does continue to increase the width of its search results, Seal advises that you resist the urge to fill the extra space with unnecessary and irrelevant keywords, arguing that this can make your meta description look like spam. 


Every meta tag follows the same format when viewed in HTML; a name attribute followed by a contents attribute.

This line is usually contained within the body section, which comes above the body section where the page’s main content resides.

A professional tip is to put all your meta tags all together within the head section. That way, the elements of your page that you may wish to alter are easy to locate. It saves time on coding, since only one set of editable regional tags is required. If you’re building a DWT (Dynamic Web Template), it will save you even more time to have your editable tags in one place.


There is a lot of debate on the benefits of including contact details such as name, address and phone number in your snippet. The wisdom of doing so depends on your company. Contact details are especially useful for companies with more than one location, since different numbers and addresses will appear to searchers from different regions. On the other hand, some companies may be run from home, so website owners will be understandably wary of publishing their address online. In that case, the street name or even town is enough.


To create and edit meta descriptions on WordPress you will need to download Yoast’s fantastic SEO plugin . Setup and installation is easy; once that is out of the way, you’re ready to take control of all your meta tags. Here is a link to download the plugin for free.

Now you are ready to get started. Begin by opening your SEO Dashboard, then click Features. Under Advanced Settings Pages, hit Enable.

The page will now reload, and more options will appear. Head to the ‘Titles & Meta’ page and hit Enable again, under where it asks ‘Use meta keywords tag?’ Then save your changes.

Now Yoast will let you meddle with your metas. Open the post or page you wish to edit, or add meta tags, then scroll down a little to the ‘Yoast SEO’ meta box below the post editor. Under the existing snippet you will see the Meta Keywords field. 

Enter your keywords here (no more than ten), all separated by commas. Make sure they are all justifiably relevant. To edit the meta contents of the snippet, click ‘edit snippet’. The preview will become editable.

Now input your chosen values, including your keywords, into each field. Once finished, you can close the snippet editor. Your changes will save automatically. The meta descriptions for your homepage can also be modified from the homepage tab on the SEO dashboard. Yoast SEO Premium affords you control over your company’s presence on social media.

For more information you can visit the ultimate WordPress SEO guide for beginners.


Last year, Blogger made several improvements to allow users to have more control over their meta tags. As with any brand, your blog will appeal more to search engine users if it has a strong meta description. To modify yours, first add a meta description to your homepage. To do this, enter your Blogger Dashboard, go to Settings, then Open Search preferences. Now click Meta Tags, go into Description and click the Edit link. Then click the ‘Yes’ radio button.

After completing the above, you will see your changes and a search description option. To add meta descriptions to each blogger post and page, click ‘posts’ on the Blogger dashboard, then go to the ‘pages’ tab and choose the page you want to edit (or create a new one). Click the ‘search description’ option and fill your desired value in the field below. When you’re finished, click ‘done’.

To check on Blogger – or any web page – if your meta description is correct, right-click on the page and select ‘view page source’. You will now see the raw HTML code. To find your description, use the Ctrl+F function

If your meta description does not appear here, don’t worry; there’s a fix. From the Blogger Dashboard, click Template, then Edit Template. Now, search for the head section in the HTML code. Once found, paste this code just before it.

Then save the template, and check again to see if the meta tag appears in the live version of the page. Note that for older blog posts, the changes you’ve made may take longer to materialise.


Shopify also allows its users to edit meta tags. To do so, you need to check if your theme is compatible with the built-in SEO features of Shopify on the home page, collection pages, product pages, and general pages. The process is slightly different for each of these features.

  1. Edit meta description on homepage: Open the Online Store, then go into Preferences. It’s as easy as that; you will reach a page that allows you to edit your homepage meta tags directly.
  2. Edit meta description on general page: Go into the Online Store, but this time click Pages. Select the page you want, then edit the meta tag fields to your chosen description or title.
  3. Edit meta descriptions for products: For all products, go into Products from the Online Store page. Choose the product you wish to re-describe, then hit Edit Website SEO.

You can now enter your meta description, as well as the title and a few other variables.

  1. Edit meta descriptions for collections: Go from the Products page to Collections and select the Collection you want to edit. Again, click Edit Website SEO and enter your chosen values there.

To check if your changes have been updated on the live page, you can view the source code by right-clicking the page and choosing ‘View page source’. If your meta description/title tag has not changed as it should have, you can edit the page template. To access the template, go from the admin section to Online Store, then Themes. There’s an ellipsis (‘…’) at the top right of the screen: click this, then choose Edit HTML/CSS. The process now is equivalent to Blogger’s, and many other CMSs or site builders.

Your new meta description should now be updated.


When you’ve set your site up on Magento, you’ll notice the title tag and meta description revert to a default. However, this can be modified to increase your search potential. First, click the System tab, then go into Configuration. On the left hand of the page, double-click Design.

Click on the HTML Head bar to reveal a dropdown. You can edit your default title and default description here.

Remember, as with Blogger and Shopify, to check your changes have been saved. Using the same process described earlier, you can access the page’s HTML code to see whether your title and description can be read by search engines. Luckily, Magento’s intuitive interface means editing your meta tags is a fairly straightforward procedure.


On the most recent version of Joomla (Joomla 3.7.2, at the time of writing), you can change your default meta description via the admin dashboard. In the menu on the left of the screen, click the Global Configuration link under SYSTEM, and make sure you’re on the Site tab by clicking Site. Now find the Site Meta Description setting under Metadata Settings. Here you can enter a new site meta description. Once you’ve edited all the fields you wanted to change, click Save on the top left of the page.


It can be easy to forget, but Google is not the only search engine in the world. Two challengers are Bing and Baidu. Recent data shows the market share of the main contenders:

  • 81.62% Google
  • 7.04% Microsoft Bing and MSN live
  • 5.21% Baidu
  • 4.64% Yahoo
  • 0.15% Ask
  •  0.04% AOL
  • 0.02% Excite

Depending on your target audience (since different regions prefer different search engines), it’s worth taking a moment to get to know the differences between them. Globally, the top five most used search engines are Google search, Bing, Baidu, Yahoo and Ask. However, there are also big regional differences, especially in countries with high levels of censorship. For instance, in South Korea, Naver and Daum combined hold 90% of the market share. And in China, Baidu holds around 80% market share. So how do these different search engines use meta descriptions?


Bing’s guidelines for meta tags are not dissimilar to Google’s. The main divergence is a stricter attitude to symbols and special characters; all of the following are disallowed from description text: <, >, {, }, [, ], (, and ). Bing also lets you have a description as short as 25 characters – although for best results this isn’t recommended.

Echoing to a lesser degree Yahoo’s unfortunate oversight, Bing’s chairmen also flatly denied that keyword tags had any bearing on how search results were ranked. That is, until a Mr Duane Forrester (Project Manager for Bing) posted this blog article. In it he explains that keywords figure only in Bing’s algorithms if they are abused, and in that case, negatively. He described the procedure as more of a “spam signal”, intended only to penalise keyword stuffing, not to benefit any particular style or company.

As you can see, the differences between them are not too great. This is good news for companies and customers alike. Wherever you are, whichever search engine you’re using, the results yielded will be just as trustworthy.


Baidu is a Chinese web services company headquartered in Beijing and the leading search engine provider in China, delivered in the Chinese language, with no other languages supported. Baidu is criticised as being the most restrictive of search engines, restricting certain content from its users. This is a result of the country’s well-documented censorship laws. Documents leaked in April 2009 from an employee in Baidu\’s internal monitoring and censorship department showed a long list of blocked websites and censored topics on the Baidu search engine. ‘Baidu SEO comes with its own unique and challenging environment of complex language issues, cultural differences, user behavior, legal issues, censorship, and technical considerations.

One of the main differences to consider when writing for Baidu, is that unlike Google, which does not use meta tag keywords as a ranking factor, Baidu is one of the few search engines that does. ‘Baidu may still use meta keywords as a ranking signal. There is also some evidence that supports the possibility that meta descriptions may even affect rankings on Baidu, in addition to being used for the SERP snippet’. Another obvious difference is that title tags and meta descriptions need to be written in Chinese, and a different character limit therefore applies. A simplified Chinese character is equal to approximately two romanised characters. The character limit for the title tag is 68 characters and for the meta description it’s approximately 153, so approximately 34 characters and 76 characters respectively when using simplified Chinese. A SERP preview tool for Baidu can be found here.


In 2009, when Google announced that they were no longer using meta keyword tags in their ranking algorithm, Yahoo announced at their SMX East Conference that they had also dropped meta keyword tags. The company was then met with backlash from users and employees who denied that this was true. Yahoo then revised their announcement to say that, while they did still index meta keyword tags, they were now the lowest ranking signal in their system, making their impact minimal.

What that means is, words appearing in any other part of the page (e.g., the body, title, description, anchor text etc.) take priority in the ranking. Repeating these words in the meta keyword tag has little or no effect on page position. Therefore, keyword stuffing in the keyword tag will actually have less effect than introducing those same words in the body of the document, or, in fact, any other section.

However, when no other ranking signal is present, unique words that only appear in the meta keyword tag section of documents can still be used to recall these documents. In summary, meta keyword tags have a slight but not negligible impact on search page ranking.


Yandex operates the largest search engine in Russia with approximately 51% market share in the country. The Yandex website states; ‘Meta description tag is one of the ways to improve the representation of your site in search results (i.e. its snippet). The contents of this tag is taken into account together with fragments of the page text when the snippet is generated.’ The recommendations from Yandex on writing meta descriptions are in line with that of Google and the general best practice outlined, in that snippets should describe a page not a site and the content should be relevant, not too short and written for humans.


Naver is the most popular search engine operating in South Korea with a market share of 70%. As with Baidu, it faces criticism for search result manipulation. As when writing for Baidu, it must be in Chinese, when writing content for Naver it is essential to write in Korean. The layout of Naver is very different to that of Google, however it is still essential to write relevant, compelling and easy to read meta titles and descriptions and to avoid keyword stuffing. A SERP preview tool for Naver can be found here.


Twitter and Facebook are at the forefront of a new kind of digital marketing. If you share a page on Facebook, the site will search for what’s known as open graph markup on your website. If you do not have open graph markup, social networks like Facebook will use your meta description as the default description included within the link that has been shared.

The Twitter equivalent of Open Graph is Twitter Cards , which you can add to your website for free. All the same rules apply to social sharing, but there’s one extra thing to bear in mind. Keywords have less significance, whereas engaging text (and an eye-catching image) become even more important. If your page is intended to be shared on social media, remember it’s just that: a social medium. Statistics prove a more conversational tone yields a much higher click-through rate.


With 93% of online experiences beginning with a search engine, optimising your company’s website for SEO is essential to online success. Yes, there are a million complex ways to rank higher on the SERP and bring more eyeballs to your page, but, like the fool who built his house on sand, unless you’re building your company’s digital presence on a bedrock of optimised meta tags, other SEO and digital marketing tactics can be a wasted effort. With 75% of users never scrolling past the first page of the SERP, no company can afford to ignore this easy-to-come-by advice. Follow the tips in this guide to give your company the best possible advantage on the web.

Please note that information in this article is valid as of 14/09/17.

Please contact us if you found any errors. 

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