A meta description tag can be one of the most beneficial elements to add to your website when implemented correctly. It functions as a small preview or welcome to people who come across your website's pages listed in a search engine result page. When done correctly it can help drive traffic and bring in more clicks. You can write a meta description for every single page on your website. This provides a preview of each page that is indexed on Google that would draw in unique page views.
A meta description is a simple element inserted into the code of your webpage. It is a small text description of your page that offers a preview of your site on a search engine results page. It has zero bearing on where you show up on the search engine results page in terms of keywords. It is the first piece of text, other than your title tag, that potential visitors come in contact with. It is not something to quickly type up and post. The right meta description can attract more unique page views, hopefully leading to conversions down the road, so it's something to put some serious thought into.
Google allows for 160 characters in their meta descriptions, which is the shortest limit out of all search engines, so it's a best practice to have something at 160 characters or just below. This insures that your meta description will never be cut off and won't leave potential visitors with an incomplete idea of what your site can offer. If you don't consider yourself a writer, think about enlisting the collaborative help of someone who knows their way around the written word.
This is the meta description tag for the CNN.com homepage exactly as it shows up on Google:
CNN.com delivers the latest breaking news and information on the latest top stories, weather, business, entertainment, politics, and more.
This is a first rate description - It is concise, but not too short and it lets visitors know exactly what the website offers. More importantly, it is clearly written and professional.
If you don't insert an actual meta description tag in the code of your website you risk having a search engine trying to decide on what relevant text should be included under your title tag as a summary of each individual page. As of Sept 3, 2010, the NRA.org website does not have a meta description tag on its homepage. Under the title tag on the search engine results page the following text is shown:
While widely recognized today as a major political force and as America's foremost defender of Second Amendment rights, the NRA has, since its inception, . . .
This provides would-be visitors with an incomplete idea of what the NRA stands for and what its website can provide visitors with. This does nothing to effectively market the site or bring in new visitors. This is essentially one big missed opportunity. Although a poor meta description won't cripple a website or render it ineffective, it doesn't help. Bottom line - if you can use it to effectively market your website, why wouldn't you?
As a rule of thumb, you need to keep meta descriptions succinct, unique, informative and if applicable, provide a genuine (not cheesy) call to action for each page. Try not to have a meta tag over 160 characters. Even though some lesser used search engines allow for over 200 characters, Google will cut you off after 160 with ellipsis.
Let's say that you run an online bookstore. You don't want a meta description like, “Buy Your Books Here! CHEAP!" It looks unprofessional and your website comes off as gimmicky. You want to have a description that sounds natural and organic. When brainstorming think about what makes your business unique, what special qualities your webpage offers to consumers, and express that in 160 characters or slightly less.
If my website offers something unique, such as rare or antique books and first editions, that is something to point out to consumers that could draw in unique page views. So instead of something generic and amateur like: “Buy your books here! CHEAP!, " I want to try something along the lines of" “We specialize in the most rare and hardest to find books. Browse our online store to view extensive listings of our out of print and first edition collections". This meta tag is 158 characters, so it will never be cut off by any search engine. It describes a unique niche that the store fills and it provides a call to action for people perusing the web. Most importantly it's easy to read and flows naturally.
If you are writing your website in html, inserting a meta description couldn't be easier. This is an example of what a meta description looks like if you look at the source code of a web page:
META NAME="Description" CONTENT="optimized meta description here"
That is all you need! Once you put in optimized and high quality meta descriptions on your website it will go into effect the next time Google crawls your site. (this can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks) It's simple, easy and free, there is no reason not to do it.