how to write meta descriptions for SEO

There’s a billion pieces of content online: articles, blog posts, white papers, videos, pictures, and so much more.

It can be hard to stand out, let alone attract swarms of eager visitors who want to read your blog, watch your videos, subscribe to your newsletter, and buy your book.

We’ve explained how metadata makes books searchable online and how giving your book the right categories and keywords can help it succeed.

But what about all the other content you create?

How can you get more traffic to your blog posts and author website?

Let’s take a look at meta descriptions and how writing a great one can help you get more traffic to your website, more devoted readers, and more fans who will buy your books and products.

write better meta description

What Are Meta Descriptions?

Much like the description on the back of a book cover, a meta description is a brief blurb explaining what an article or website is about. And just like that book jacket copy, it needs to be short, tantalizing, relevant, and targeted.

No easy task, especially when most search engines cut off  meta descriptions after only 160 characters.

Yes, that means you basically have the length of a tweet to tell someone all about your post or article and why they absolutely have to read it right now.

Thankfully, we’re writers—we’re good at this sort of thing!

On a more technical level, a meta description is a line of HTML code—an attribute—that briefly describes what a webpage is about.

In practice, it’s used by search engines to give people an idea of whether the result they’re looking at is truly relevant to what they searched for.

Think of this as an opportunity to advertise your webpage, blog post, article, or other online content: you get a few lines to tell potentially interested readers why they should click through and read your post.

what is a metadescription

As you can see, search engines like Google only show a limited amount of a meta description if one is too long—like we said, that’s usually about 160 characters. Otherwise, it just cuts the description off with a “…”

That’s not very effective—in the examples above, when searching for “vitamin D,” the top-ranked sites don’t tell you what benefit you’ll get out of the article or why you should read that article in particular. The meta descriptions there simply start defining vitamin D and then get cut off.

That’s fine and dandy if you run a huge site like Wikipedia with millions of links, but if you’re still scrapping for links and traffic, you’ll need to focus on every factor that will help you get more readers, like writing great meta descriptions.

What Makes Good Meta Descriptions?

Which brings us to the real point: what makes a good meta description?

1. It’s Short

Well, obviously, a great description is going to be short: 160 characters or a bit less. Any more than that and you run the risk of your carefully crafted webpage summary getting chopped off by Google.

Just think about it like writing a great tweet and you’re in good shape.

2. It’s Clear and Relevant

But beyond being short, it gives the reader a very clear idea of what they’re going to read and why it will help them answer the question they were searching about.

Let’s look at another example:

writing a good metadescription

So here, rather than just defining vitamin D, the meta descriptions are telling us why vitamin D is important. One practically gives you all the information you need to know right in the meta description:

Adequate vitamin D intake is important for the regulation of calcium and phosphorus absorption, maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, and is suggested to supply a protective effect against multiple diseases and conditions such as cancer, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

3. It’s Readable

Good meta descriptions read almost like a flash fiction story: they’re compelling pieces of ad copy that describe exactly what you’re going to get when you click through.

It’s not a list of things you’ve included on the webpage. It’s not the first line or two of your post. It’s a unique, carefully crafted teaser for the post that is proofread and accurate, and that gives the reader a clear reason to think their search is over if they just click on your article.

4. It Describes Reader Benefits

Convincing the reader their search is over can be done by describing the benefits they’ll get from reading your post.

Let’s look at this approach with our vitamins example. Here, rather than listing all the ways vitamin D is good for you, the meta description teases you with the idea that you may be deficient in this essential vitamin, then tells you what the article will explain in more detail: how it affects women’s health in particular.

Vitamin D deficiency is one of the best ways to sabotage your health. Discover the many vitamin D benefits for women and learn why it’s crucial to health.

This technique gives less concrete information related to the search, but it encourages the reader to click to learn more by stating that they’ll get some specific added benefit from reading: learning how vitamin D affects women and helps keep them healthy.

Since people are usually searching online for the answer to a specific problem or question, pointing out how your content will help them with that is a very good way to boost your click-throughs and your readership!

4. It Uses Active Words

Related to pointing out benefits, great meta descriptions use active words to encourage readers to do something—namely, click through to read the whole article.

how to write better meta descriptions

This example includes two: “discover” and “learn.” It promises to teach you about a topic you’ve shown you’re interested in and give you concrete ways to apply that knowledge in your life.

Not bad for 160 characters!

Good active terms to use in your benefit promise include:

  • Discover
  • Learn
  • Understand
  • Reveal
  • Check out
  • Start
  • Stop
  • Build
  • Join
  • Save
  • Try
  • Get
  • Find

Think of this element of your meta descriptions like writing an advertising call to action—you’re trying to get the reader to click. What will encourage them to do it?

5. It Uses Keywords

These vitamin D examples also show us another essential feature of good meta descriptions: keywords.

optimizing keywords for metadescriptions

Those bolded terms are exact matches to what the original search text was looking for: “benefits of vitamin D.” They show the searcher at a glance that the previewed article really does talk about exactly what they want to know.

Your meta descriptions should never just be a string of keywords, but they should include plenty of those keywords.

You can figure out what keywords people are looking for when they search on your topic by using Google Keyword Planner or simply by running a Google search on your own, then noticing what auto-fills the search box and what “related searches” appear at the bottom of the page.

Then take those keywords and include them in your meta description.

In this case, we see “vitamin D,” “benefits,” “health,” “deficient/deficiency,” “science,” and “evidence” turning up a lot in searches. So you should craft your meta description to include as many of those keyword terms as you can and still keep it both short and relevant to what you’ve actually written.

Combine all of these elements into your meta description and readers will surely take notice! Your short description will be clear, relevant, readable, and targeted to what your potential reader is searching for.

In just two lines, you will have shown them that you care enough to craft a summary that addresses their problem and offers a solution—and that makes them much more likely to click.

Samples of Meta Descriptions

Here are some great templates you can use to help you write better meta descriptions:

This blog post reveals [Benefits, Secrets, etc.]

Example: This blog post reveals the real reasons why a few bloggers get millions of visitors from Google while others struggle to get any.

Learn how to [do X to get Benefits]

Example: Learn how to write better meta descriptions so you can get more traffic and leads without doing any extra work. Includes free meta description templates.

Includes [Downloadable Item or Resource]….

This is another great phrase to add to your meta descriptions to make them stand out from the competition. If someone is looking for a free template, download, video, sample, or other item, let them know you’ve included what they’re looking for in your post by writing that into the meta description!

List of [5 ways to do X] gives you [Benefits]…

Example: This list of 5 ways to improve your meta descriptions will help you get more traffic to your website and improve your SEO immediately.

In Brief

Meta descriptions let someone searching online see a brief summary of what an article’s all about to help them decide whether to click and read the whole thing.

A good meta description should be short, relevant, include plenty of keywords but still be readable, and use action language to draw in the reader.

Crafting a great meta description can help more readers decide to click on your link, increasing your traffic and search ranking and helping win new fans for your work.

Short, targeted, readable meta descriptions with clearly outlined benefits draw in more readers to your site or post.

For more ways to use SEO techniques to boost your writing, check out these articles: