On-Page SEO Factors – Meta Description Tags

The Meta Description tag is the second-most important element to include in a landing page's Head section. The content of the Meta Description should be relevant to the page and support the theme established in your Title tag. Meta Descriptions typically elaborate on the Title while also introducing secondary keyword phrases that may not have been important enough to display in the Title. The Meta Keywords tag is another Meta tag that many SEOs focus on even though their value has been almost completely discounted. We do not recommend spending any time optimizing them – your effort would be better focused elsewhere.

What is a Meta Description?

Within the Head section of a page the Meta Description tag content is contained within a <meta> element with the name "description". You cannot see the Meta Description anywhere on the page in your browser. You will have to If you view the source of the page. For example, if you view the source of this page, then you will find the following directly beneath the page's Title tag:

<meta name="description" content="On-Page SEO Factors: How-To Optimize Meta Description Tags - Learn Search Engine Optimization Basics at SEOCipher.com." / >

On your page, the content should be different but the Meta tag should be formatted in essentially the same way. If you do not see a Meta element with the name "description", then you probably do not have a Meta Description tag on that page. It is not uncommon for pages to be initially developed without this tag.

Aside from viewing the page source, you will also commonly find Meta Descriptions in search results pages. If the Meta Description of your page is relevant to the user's query, then the Description will often appear directly beneath the Title tag (the anchor text) as part of your page's listing in the SERP.

How do I update Meta Descriptions?

If your pages are not dynamically generated from a database, then you will probably be able to update your pages' Meta Descriptions by updating the HTML files via FTP. On the other hand, if your site has dynamic pages then you will have to figure out another way to update them. Your webmaster (assuming you have one) should be able to update your Meta Description tags without much trouble. If you don't have one, then you might have to talk to whoever built your site originally to see if a CMS could be created for you. This will likely involve an additional investment on your part unless one is already there. If there is already an admin area available to make such changes, then you will simply have to get access to it.

Length and Keyword Usage Guidelines

Once you have figured out how to update the Meta Description tags on your site, you will then have to determine what specific keywords you want to focus on within them. The Title tag will dictate what will appear in the Meta Description to some degree. Any keywords that are used in the Title tag should also be used in the Meta Description. But because there is more room to work with, your Descriptions should also contain related keywords that you could not get into the Title tag.

Meta Description tag content should be no more than 24 words in length. Many SEOs suggest using each individual word a maximum of two times in a Meta Description. Our guideline is a more flexible maximum of three usages for any word. But as was the case for Title tags, you should avoid repeating keywords unless you are trying to target a unique keyword phrase that is not utilized elsewhere. In other words, do not repeat keywords just for the sake of repeating them. You should only repeat words if you are trying to optimize the page for multiple phrases that share some words but there isn't a more efficient way to string them together.

Although we suggested a word limit above, it is worth noting that Google does not have a maximum number of words that it will display from a Meta Description – they have a maximum number of characters. That maximum number of characters is 156. Since there is no search operator to query for Meta Description content, it is difficult to know whether the character limit is simply a maximum number of characters that will appear in SERP snippets or if it is a maximum for ranking calculations as well. To be on the safe side, we recommend using your higher priority keywords in the first 156 characters.

Key Takeaways – Meta Description Tag Best Practices

To sum up, here are some key things to remember when optimizing a Meta Description:

  • Keep the Meta Description 24 words or less.
  • High-priority phrases should be utilized within the first 156 characters of the Description.
  • The maximum usage for any particular word is three.
  • Avoid making the Description a string of keywords. It should contain partial or complete sentences if possible to enhance readability. Remember that the Description will often appear in SERPs. A better worded Description could increase click through rates.
  • Use as many high-priority keyword phrases as you can given the recommended usage limits.
  • Utilize keyword phrases in the exact way they are searched. Please note that word order is important and you should use stop words if they are commonly included in the query.
  • You should use words from additional phrases if you cannot use them exactly due to the three usage maximum.
  • Make sure that keywords targeted in your Meta Description accurately reflect the topic of the page.
  • Do not utilize keywords or phrases more than once in Meta Descriptions without a specific reason for doing so.

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