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Learn SEO Basics Part 4: Website Page Descriptions

by | Sep 27, 2011

Well written website page descriptions are a necessary part of achieving higher rankings and, more importantly, they’re one of the key factors that entice searchers to click through to your website. That’s why, when writing your web page descriptions, you want to sell the reader the sizzle, not the steak.

Steaks Hamburgers on BBQ Grill

The web page description is the text that, under normal circumstances, is displayed directly under the page title in the search engine results pages.

The web page HTML code looks like this:

<meta name="description" content="Your Description Goes Here" />

The description on a search engine results page may look like this:

Google search engine results showing web page description

What’s the Best Page Description Length?

The description displayed in Google search results shows up to 149 155 characters (including spaces). This equates to about 20-30 words (your mileage may vary). Your description can be longer, but Google will cut it short (see below example).

UPDATE: May 2016. Google redesigned main search results column — increasing descriptions about 16-20 characters per line. The new description length is 100 characters per line. With a total overall description length of 150-160 characters

On the other hand, Yahoo! will display up to 224 characters. So which one should you optimize for?

The answer is both.

Personally, I start by writing a page description that’s about 200 characters in length. I then go through a rewriting process where I place the most important and intriguing information within the first 149 155 characters. It takes a bit of extra work, but I feel it’s worth the effort. This way, when Google cuts a long description short, you still end up with a description that optimizes the space allowed by Google.

On the other hand, if don’t want to go through a lengthy writing process, you can simply write a description that fits within 149 characters and leave it at that.

Google search results showing truncated descriptions

Page descriptions longer than 149 charters are cut short by Google

What Should Website Page Descriptions Include?

Page Description Content

The website page description should play off your page title and elaborate on the primary topic of your page. In that regard, I like to start the description with a variation of the main keyword followed by more descriptive text for what the reader will learn.

For example, if the main keyword phrase in your title tag is “Website Page Descriptions”, your page description could include “Web Page Description – What you need to know…

The description also provides an opportunity for you to include secondary keywords or phrases that weren’t included in the page title but are included in the page content.

Sell The Sizzle: Entice Users to Click!

The page description is your opportunity to entice web users to click your link and visit your page. But to do that, you have to sell them the sizzle — the juicy benefit the reader will get form visiting your page.

For example, in the above image, the page description for my last post in this Learn Basic SEO series, “How To Optimize Website Page Titles“, I entice users ti click through by using “Here’s how to fix it” as a call to action. More on that below.

Call-to-Action Descriptions

The above information is a starting point – the basics of writing a page description. The main goal is to write a compelling description that will intrigue someone to take action. You need them to CLICK the link and visit your site.

A couple SEO copywriting techniques you can use to do this are;

  1. Ask an open-ended question.
    Example: “Natural plant remedies. Do you know what plants can heal you and which ones can actually kill you?”
  2. Hint at what the reader will learn — but don’t give it away.
    Example: “A great page description can compel searchers to CLICK your link and visit your website. Here’s why…
  3. Tell them to click your link.
    Example: “Best Boston Cream Pie. An amazingly easy and delicious recipe. CLICK NOW to get it for free!

Additional tip: Include a contact phone number in the description — generally at the end. As popular as the Internet is for finding products and services, you’ll be surprised how many people prefer to talk with a LIVE person. Adding a phone number (with area code) will also help getting your pages listed in local search results.

Write Like a Human

When writing page descriptions, please keep in mind that search engine robots don’t bring you traffic. People clicking your links in the search engine results do. So make sure you write like a Human, for Humans.

Although you want to include relevant keywords in your page descriptions, it’s too easy to get too caught up in the SEO part that it ends up reading like it was written by a robot. Don’t do that. No one wants to learn from a robot.

Google the Controller

It’s important to note that no matter what you write, there’s no guarantee Google will display your description in the search results. In fact, Google will display whatever they feel is the best text based on a search query. Google even specifically states this in their Rich Snippets Testing Tool.

The excerpt from the page will show up here. The reason we can’t show text from your webpage is because the text depends on the query the user types

Screen shot from Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool

Google ultimately decides what text to use as a page description

What We’ve Learned

  • The page description is displayed under the title on search engine results pages.
  • A page description can be between 149 150-160 characters in length.
  • Include a variation of the main keyword in your description.
  • Sell the benefit. Entice readers to click your link by writing a compelling description.
  • Add a strong call to action.
  • Write like a human.

For more information about writing page descriptions, please read How to create the right meta description

In part five of this Learn Basic SEO series, I’ll be talking about how to choose keywords.

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