Post By Ninja Dan
One thing that is not commonly done during the course of auditing is checking how a site looks in the SERP’s and looking a the SERP result for your page and for your competitors for a given phrase. Doing so, can show an unlikely area of opportunity, the meta description. Now, relax. I know that in and of itself meta descriptions are not a ranking factor but consider this:
- Why does Google Webmaster Tools insist on alerting you when meta descriptions are not unique if meta descriptions truly don’t matter?
- Do you overall rank highly for given phrases but traffic from that phrase is not what you expected?
Meta Descriptions & CTR
It is common knowledge that for most queries that the Top 10 results get 90% of all clicks, that a #1 ranking in Google on average yields a 20-35% CTR while a #2 ranking averages a 10-13% CTR. After that, the CTR dwindles down to single digits, with a #10 ranking averaging a paltry 1-2% CTR.
So how do meta descriptions factor into this equation? Meta descriptions most likely affect organic search rankings when they either exceed or fail to meet expected CTRs, especially on the first page of SERPs. This is similar to adwords, where CTR is at least somewhat tied to ad quality. Therefore, meta descriptions present an opportunity to attract a couple more clicks with a lower placement. Another important thing to note is that that CTR itself is a ranking factor, so there is an opportunity for a page in a lower position with a higher CTR to move up in position, which indirectly ties meta descriptions, at least partially, to rankings.
In this sense, the relationship between meta descriptions and performance in the SERPs is kind of like the air pressure in your tires and your engine’s gas mileage. The former doesn’t directly affect the latter until it’s dropped below expected levels. Only then is there is an observable correlation between the two. Then, once you improve what’s been literally dragging you down, there’s a noticeable “bump” in performance. That’s a site (or car) realizing its true potential in the SERPs.
Maximizing Meta Descriptions
So how do you get the most out of your meta descriptions to see the most benefit from your other SEO efforts? Here are a few quick tips:
Be specific to the page: Sometimes scale requires efficiency. Sadly, meta descriptions often are the victims of automation. Ideally, however, each meta description would be unique and specific to a page. You’d be surprised how often meta descriptions are just duplicates of one another or mention items/products/services/information not relevant to a page.
Include Calls to Action: If you want a user to engage in a certain behavior, whether it’s downloading a PDF, filling out a contact form or completing a purchase, the first step is compelling them to do so. The importance of calls to action is well known in usability and conversion circles, but is often forgotten when it comes to meta descriptions. Think of what you want a user to do when they reach a certain landing page – buy, shop, purchase, select, compare, find, browse, download, sign up, etc. Include and highlight that verb in the meta description and you’ll be on the right track.
Include Purple Cows: Don’t forget to include your unique value propositions – things that set your site apart from the competitors. Whether it’s your customer service, low prices or free shipping, highlight what makes your site unique and special compared to the others. Users have multiple options on page 1 of the SERPS – it takes something special to attract their clicks.
Although they’re not an immediate ranking factor, meta description influence SERPs not by causation but by correlation. Meta descriptions affect CTRs and hence can reward or penalize a site independent of other SEO factors. Acknowledging their importance will help you begin reclaiming the clicks that should be rightfully yours.