Search Engine Marketing Does Not Start with PPC!!
In recent years, the humble Meta Description has been through the SEO rumour mill more than all the other web page elements put together.
From ‘does it or doesn’t it matter’ to keyword density myths and endless debate over character count…it’s been battered, bruised and misrepresented in chat room, blog and podium. So, time to set the record straight and share a killer tactic or three…
Rumour #1: Meta Descriptions don’t count
Oh yes they do! OK, it’s true that Google doesn’t factor the description into its algorithm (so no ranking points up for grabs), but it still has the power to influence by helping the search bots place the page in a relevant pigeon hole.
If there’s no description to be found, the search bots will draw their own conclusions. They’ll scan the page and decide for themselves what the copy is really about – and smart as they are, they don’t have your powers of inference and analysis.
Worst case, they’ll base their judgement on an ambiguous headline or some throw-away remark.
Result: they don’t see your page as a contender for its chosen category. Not good…
Rumour #2: People never see Meta Descriptions, so why bother?
People will see your Meta Description! Search Google now for your company, and whichever page you’re offered, the chances are your listing will be made up of two elements:
– A headline, taken directly from the page’s title tag
– A brief statement, lifted from your Meta Description
Yes, at times, Google will invent their own listing by repurposing the words they see on the page – but as above, that’s more likely to happen if their Meta Search draws a blank.
Most of the time, you influence the wording – just as you do with a Pay Per Click ad. The difference is, this is all free…so it’s well worth some extra effort!
Rumour #3: A Meta Description should be a list of keywords
Not true! You can save all that for your Meta Keyword list. Your Meta Description is a meaningful statement that summarises the page – and while it should include keywords, it’s more a pledge of content than a wish list for SEO.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim to use your target keyword in a benefit statement that trails the page’s content…and follow it with a call to action that prompts the reader to click.
Rumour #4: A Meta Description needs a high keyword density
Ah, the old density nutshell! The myth that’s given us page after page of unreadable copy, stuffed to the brim with keywords and driving bounce rates through the roof.
Let’s lay this one to rest: even on the page itself, Google isn’t looking at keyword density! In fact, the latest updates have been engineered to penalise keyword abuse…so overdo it and your page will suffer the consequences.
On the main page, search bots will look for keywords in ‘hotspots’ like title tags, headlines etc, and they’ll expect the odd instance in the main copy too. But for the most part, they’re seduced by natural variations and synonyms that suggest the copy is written for human beings.
When it comes to the Meta Description, of course it’s a good idea to include your main target keyword…but please don’t even think about going OTT.
Google will hate it! And if it’s not readable, no-one will click on it anyway.
Rumour #5: You’ve only got a few characters
Kind of true, but misleading. Google’s listing will normally show a 2-line description, with up to 175 characters (including spaces). And if you’re lucky enough to get an expanded listing, where they offer multiple pages of your site below the main link, the other page descriptions will be limited to around 35 characters with spaces.
But (and it’s an important ‘but) Google still sees the words that it doesn’t list. So you could write descriptions like this:
- A really compelling statement in the first 35 characters
- A bit more detail, with a hook or two for the reader, till you reach 175 characters
- Some extra info to help the search bots categorise the page – maybe up to 100 extra characters. A kind of appendix to the description.
Part three of this statement flies in the face of perceived SEO wisdom. But tests have shown some good results. Try it, and see how it works for you…
So, have we quashed a few rumours?
Who knows? One humble blog post can only go so far, and Meta Rumours will abound for many years to come!
But at least you’re in on the truth now: your Meta Description matters to readers and search engines, so a bit of careful tweaking can make a difference to your web stats.
Just try approaching it like an extended PPC listing, and see what it does to your SERPS and click-through rates in the weeks and months ahead.