Get More Traffic to Your WordPress Site With Meta Description Tags

Get More Traffic to Your WordPress Site With Meta Description Tags

Knowing how to use the meta description tag is important to building a successful, high-traffic WordPress site.

Get more search traffic with a good meta description
Traffic - bad for driving, great for your website

The meta what now?

The purpose of the meta description tag is to summarize the content on a web page. The information contained in your meta tags is read by browsers and search engines and helps them categorize the web page and display it correctly.

The meta description and SEO: Separating myth from fact

Does the meta description affect SEO?SEO Myth: “Placing keywords in your meta description will help your site rank higher for those search terms”.

SEO Fact: Google and most other search engines don’t consider the meta description tag in their ranking algorithm. Metadata hasn’t been important to search rankings for years.

The text in your meta description tags has zero influence on where you site ranks in search results.

That goes for the meta keywords tag too – check out this article I wrote last week for more info.

So is the meta description tag a waste of time these days?

Absolutely not. Using meta descriptions wisely is an essential part of your SEO strategy.

Remember that SEO is about more than just ranking higher in search results. That’s only half the equation.

The other half is making sure that those search results actually bring targeted, qualified traffic to your website. And this is where the meta description tag becomes very important.

Google can use your meta description as a ‘snippet’

What Google calls a ‘snippet’ is the excerpt from a webpage that you see displayed in the search results. If I search Google for ‘bicycle repairs’, this is what I come up with:

How to use the meta description tag

The highlighted text is Google’s snippet. A couple of sentences intended to give the searcher an idea of what the web page is about.

How to write good meta description tags
Google searches for relevant text to include in the snippet

Google can – but doesn’t always – use your meta description as the snippet for your web page. If the Google bot determines that your meta description is relevant to the user’s search query, it will probably show up as a snippet.

If there is no meta description tag on your web page, or the description doesn’t match the user’s search terms, then Google will pull a more relevant piece of text from the content of the web page.

If this happens, you don’t have any control over which text Google chooses for the snippet.

When you see a snippet that has been patched together from two or three different sentences, this is Google using the content of the web page instead of the meta description tag.

Failing that, a third possibility is that Google will generate your snippet with data from the Open Directory Project. It all depends on which information appears most relevant to what the user is searching for.

While using targeted keywords in your meta description tag won’t affect your search rankings for those terms, it WILL improve the chances of your meta description being used as a snippet.

It is always more desirable that Google uses your meta description as a snippet, because this gives you control over how your web page appears in search results. Not where it appears, but how it appears – which is equally important.

The snippet is your chance to sell your website

A good snippet can dramatically improve your click-through rate on SERPs (search engine results pages). You want that little piece of text to grab the reader’s attention, tell them that your site has what they’re looking for, and entice them to click through and discover more.

Using the meta description tag in WordPress

To maximize your chances of Google using your meta description as a snippet, and that snippet improving your click-through rate, follow these guidelines:

  • Make the meta description highly relevant to the content of the web page, and use the keywords and search terms that you’ve optimized your site for.
  • Write well – spare no effort to make your meta descriptions appealing and eye-catching.
  • Make your descriptions around 150 characters long, including spaces. If they’re longer, Google will chop them off mid-sentence. And if they’re too short, content will be pulled from your webpage to add to the snippet.
  • Make sure every page on your site has a unique meta description – if Google sees the same description tag on multiple pages this can be interpreted as duplicate content, which is an SEO killer.
  • Don’t use any symbols or quotation marks in your meta description, because Google doesn’t accept these in a snippet. Use letters and numbers only.

An example of meta description success

When I search for ‘vintage furniture stores’ in Google, these are the first three results I get:

Effective use of the meta description tag

As you can see, the second listing in these search results has the best snippet: It’s well-written and engaging, contains the search term I was looking for, and is the right length to be displayed properly on the page – 157 characters.

Aim to create something similar for every page on your WordPress site, and you’re well on your way to success.

How to create your meta description tags

Keep in mind that no meta description tags are included by default when you install WordPress, and they will not be automatically generated when you create pages and posts. You need to add meta description tags yourself.

The WPMU Dev SEO plugin is the simplest way to add meta descriptions to your WordPress site on a page-by-page basis. There’s no HTML coding required – the plugin creates a simple interface in your WordPress dashboard where you can add, edit and delete your meta description tags.

Got any more meta description wisdom to share? Let us know what works for you on your WordPress site.

Thanks to Luca Deravignone, Thomas Hawk and Ari Moore for the photos.