The Four Ps of Writing a Great Meta Description

When a web user types a query into a search engine, various websites that have been deemed to match the user’s query are shown on the resulting search engine results page (SERP). More often than not, these results feature nothing but text, which makes it easy to get lost in the shuffle of websites vying for a user’s attention. How will your website stand out from the rest of the SERPs? What makes you unique?

A meta description is the page’s elevator pitch.

Whenever our SEO team talks with a new client, we make sure to take extra time to talk about the importance of unique meta descriptions for every page of a website. A meta description is the page’s elevator pitch. You’re a savvy business person in an elevator with a big-time angel investor. There’s no one else there. You have his or her undivided attention if you know just what to say. What is your 30-second pitch? How do you stand out? In the most basic way, this is the function of a meta description — to pitch to the searcher why your page is the one that deserves their attention. Everyone loves numbered lists, so here are four Ps for writing a great meta description:

1. Punchy

You want to say something in that 30-second elevator ride that’s really going to sweep the investor off his or her feet. A meta description works the same way. When someone is reading your meta description, he or she wants to be able to get a sense of who you are, what you sell and why your page deserves a click.

2. Packed with Perks

The honest truth is there are millions of people with great ideas trying to get the attention of investors, and there are millions of websites trying to get the attention of web users. What’s in it for us? Make sure your meta description shows customers what they get by shopping with you over anyone else. Free shipping, 2-day shipping, buy-one-get-one, a free gift or a discount code are just a few examples of perks you should be sure to include in your meta description.

3. Proofread

Every meta description should be written as if you were writing any other body of text. Use punctuation, capitalize pronouns, write in complete sentences and so on. There are some instances where it’s OK to abbreviate things, but you need to imagine someone reading this information about your company for the first time. You wouldn’t speak to that investor in shorthand phrases, would you?

4. Personalized

A meta description should be unique for the page it represents. Even if you sell a few products that are nearly the same aside from small details, the same meta description won’t do for each page. Take the time to write a unique meta description for every page of your website. This helps clarify the page’s intent to your readers, so they know whether your page is the one they’re looking for.

If you’re like many busy merchants, you might have a few concerns about whether or not your product or service fits into these parameters for a well-written meta description.

I sell industrial chains for machines. How am I supposed to make that punchy?

If you sell a product that doesn’t have a ton of curb appeal, you should focus on making your description as informative as possible. We imagine your customers are the type of people that know what they need and what their budget is for that product. Instead of being punchy, be precise. Use the meta description to make sure they know that this is the product they’re looking for, this is how it’s made, this is what it does and this is who you are.

Our margins are too low to offer free shipping or discounts. How are we supposed to convey perks?

If you can’t pack your description with perks, try to put the customer first. Do you source your products locally or ship within 24 hours? Do you have 24/7 customer service support? Do you offer free returns with shipping costs already paid? Even if it’s not a flashy perk, there is undoubtedly something your company does that is an attractive buying advantage for customers.

I sell tens of thousands of products. I don’t have the time to go through and personalize each one of these descriptions.

It’s a daunting task to handle this manually. Luckily, you can give yourself some short-term relief by optimizing meta descriptions in bulk. Write a more generic meta description and find a natural place to insert the name of the product within that description. Then use a spreadsheet and the handy concatenate function to create similar but unique meta descriptions for each product page. In a perfect world, we’d all have the time to personalize meta descriptions, but if time or scale of work is against you, this option allows you a placeholder in the meantime.

If a search engine decides there is other content on your page that better describes the page’s purpose and focus, they will create their own meta description in place of yours.

It’s important to note that meta descriptions are not guaranteed to appear in SERPs the way you write them; they are merely a suggestion to search engines as to what you want shown when a customer finds that page in a search listing. If a search engine decides there is other content on your page that better describes the page’s purpose and focus, they will create their own meta description in place of yours. This doesn’t negate the importance of an optimized meta description, but it can happen from time to time.

Now Google's character limit is 320, giving plenty of space to convey product details, pricing, shipping promotions and much more.

Recently, Google increased the character limit of meta descriptions. Previously, meta descriptions had a character limit of 156 in order to render fully in a SERP. Any information past character #156 was replaced with an ellipsis and lost to the viewing eye of a customer. The text was still readable by search engines, but as the end goal of the meta description is to attract clicks, it forced marketers to get creative with just a few sentences of space. Now, the character limit is 320, giving plenty of space to convey product details, pricing, shipping promotions and much more. We highly recommend using Portent’s SERP Preview Tool to test out how your meta title tags and meta descriptions will look in a search engine results page.

Not every meta description you write is going to be a masterpiece, and that’s OK. At the end of the day, your goal is to make it crystal clear to searchers that your listing is the best listing for their search query. The more you optimize this field, the better relevance your site’s pages will have and the more likely a search engine will display your optimized description in full. It’s a busy internet out there with lots of 30-second elevator rides. How will you stand out?

Have any questions about writing meta descriptions? Let us know in the comments!