• Bryony Pearce

What's a meta description and why is it important?

In this blog you’ll learn:

  1. What a meta description is

  2. Why they’re so important

  3. Examples of the good and bad

  4. Tips on how to optimise your own

What’s a meta description?

Meta descriptions are snippets of HTML that appear in search results, like this:

Although there’s no concrete character length to stick to, typically, they’re around 160 characters long. After that, there’s a good chance they’ll truncate.

That said though, some characters are wider than others (take a ‘w’ and an ‘I’ for example) and therefore take up more space, which can reduce the wiggle room available to you.

To make things even more confusing, Google actually increased their meta description limit in December 2017, allowing chunks of text as long as 300 characters. So I guess the golden rule is there is no rule. Just make sure they're sufficiently descriptive while remaining within the upper character cap.


The often frustrating thing about meta descriptions (and Google for that matter!) is there’s no guarantee they’ll actually be used. Sometimes, if search engines don’t like your meta description because they don’t believe it answers queries adequately, they'll choose another extract of text from your page to use instead - one they think matches it better.

Why are meta descriptions important?

Although meta descriptions don’t actually factor into Google’s ranking algorithms, they can still impact your pages’ ability to rank. And here’s how.

The quality of your meta description can directly impact a page’s click through rate (CTR) for organic search queries. Your page's CTR can influence its position in search results. Therefore, your meta description contributes to your SEO efforts.

If you’re wondering why CTR affects your rankings, it’s because search engines see a high CTR as a sign of providing quality, useful information to searchers - providing they don’t bounce straight off the page, that is.

The good vs the bad

So, let's take a practical look at the power of meta descriptions - sorry Lonely Planet, we're pointing the gun at you for our what not to do example!

Hardly riveting, right? With a couple of tweaks, this could've easily been much more eye-catching though:

Whether you want to stroll around the Science & Industry Museum or sit down to afternoon tea at Manchester House, the city's oozing with great destinations. Discover the very best of what Manchester has to offer with our list of top things to do.

Same context. Different words. Greater pull.

How to make the most of your meta description

So, you're sold on why you need to invest in your meta descriptions. Mission accomplished. Now here’s how to do the doing.

1. Use keywords. If your meta description includes any or all of the terms browsers type into the search bar, the correlating words will be bolded in the results. In turn, this can catch people’s attention and help your description stand out from the crowd.

2. Make it compelling. Your meta description is essentially sales copy. You're trying to sell your page to searchers, to make them want to come in and see what it’s all about - it's no different than trying to entice people into a physical store with your shop window. To do that though, your copy needs to be compelling, readable, and understandable.

3. Avoid jargon. Tying into the last point, your page’s description needs to be easy to understand. If you start throwing in jargon people don’t know you’ll instantly turn them off. So, when you're crafting yours, put yourself in searchers' shoes and ask yourself: would they get this?

4. Avoid duplication. There’s no nice way to say it, it just looks naff.

5. Keep it relevant. If Google hasn’t already interjected and replaced it with something else, irrelevant meta descriptions written for the sole purpose of falsely luring searchers in will just down right pee them off. Which we’re guessing isn’t your end goal. Plus, they’ll click right back out and drag your bounce rate down anyway, so it’s a lose, lose all round really.

6. Keep it clean. Double, triple, quadruple check your meta descriptions for typos if you need to. Mistakes can project badly onto your brand’s image and attention to detail, and that’s the last thing you want before people have even entered your site, right?

If you need a hand leveraging your site’s meta descriptions, you know where I am:


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