Definition and How to (Well) Optimize them?


The meta description tag is an HTML tag that describes the content of a web page. It is located in the source code of the page, at the same place as the title tag, in the head of the HTML content of a page. The meta description has no direct influence on the SEO of a site, but it can have an indirect impact on the ranking of pages in search results thanks to its important role in optimizing the SEO click-through rate . Here’s everything you need to know about it and the mistakes to avoid.

Reminder: a meta description in HTML, what is it?

The meta-descriptionwhich is part of what constitutes the snippet of a web page (“excerpt from a search result”), is an HTML tag, to be inserted in the of each of its pages, which allows to give a short summary of a web page (article, PDF file, web page, product sheet, product category, homepage, etc.) to a user browsing the organic search results of a search engine.

This short description appears under the title tag in the search results of a search engine like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex or Baidu.

Unlike descriptions that may appear under Google ad titles, meta descriptions are exclusively for organic search results.

What is the HTML code to use to create a meta description tag?

The HTML code to define the description of a web page is as follows:

<meta name="description" content="La meta description d'environ 155 caractères doit être ajoutée ici.">

This HTML code must then be placed in the of the page, in the section.

What is the purpose of a meta description?

For an SEO, the main objective of a meta description is not to stuff it with keywords, but to optimize it in order to to encourage the Internet user to click on his organic result rather than that of its competitor (we are talking here more about CTR SEO optimization than SEO optimization strictly speaking).

A meta description should be seen as a way to convince the Internet user, in less than 160 characters, to click on his search result rather than that of the competitor.

Be careful however, it is important not to “sell a dream” to the Internet user via the meta description to avoid any return in the SERPs a few seconds after clicking on a link. This approach, which is called “pogosticking”, is heavily penalized by Google since this type of behavior tends to indicate to the search engine that the destination page has been deceptive for the Internet user.

What does a meta description look like on Google?

Here is what a meta description traditionally looks like on Google:

Meta description in desktop format (computer):

meta description desktop
Preview of a meta description displayed on a computer in Google search results

Meta description in mobile format (smartphone):

mobile meta description
Preview of a meta description displayed on a smartphone in Google search results

Meta description, how many characters? What is the ideal length?

Although Google no longer officially recommends an ideal size for this tag, the world’s leading search engine historically recommended a maximum length of 155 characters. The meta description must be sufficiently developed to encourage the Internet user to click, but not too long at the risk of being truncated by search engines.

How to make a good meta description?

The meta description is an important part of SEO. Indeed, it is this short description that appears under the title of your page in the search results. It is therefore important to take care of its writing to encourage Internet users to click on your link.

Here are some tips for write a good meta description :

  1. Write a catchy text between 145 and 155 characters;
  2. Challenge the reader with questions: ex: What is a meta description? How to optimize a meta description? Which are the errors to avoid ? …;
  3. Give an overview of the problems solved by the web page: ex: 5 tips for optimizing your meta description (and not being penalized by Google). ;
  4. Reassure the Internet user about the quality of the products or information present on the page: eg: French company recognized since 1985, Certified Google Partner Platinum, Recommended by 95% of our customers, …;
  5. Transmit to the Internet user reassurance elements that can help him project himself into visiting the page and why not, the next steps in the conversion funnel (contact, product purchase, etc.): e.g. by indicating how long the company has been operating on the market, mentioning the origin of the products, the number of stars on the review sites, the delivery times applied (for an e-commerce)…
  6. Use emojis, arrow symbols or HTML characters when the theme lends itself to it to attract the eye of the Internet user and encourage him to click;

Google’s 7 tips for optimizing meta descriptions

For a meta description to be well optimized, according to Google, it must:

  1. Already present in the HTML code of each web page crawled by search engine crawlers (this is the basis);
  2. Be unique for each separate web page. Google doesn’t like duplicate or overly similar content from one page to another. For meta descriptions, his recommendation is therefore identical;
  3. As far as possible, reflect as accurately as possible the content of each page (Google does not like clickbait);
  4. Provide relevant elements for the Internet user, even if it is not displayed in the form of sentences (a sequence of relevant words or values ​​can be considered as a good meta description for Google);
  5. Provide relevant information on the product in the case of a product sheet (eg price, type of customer for whom the product is intended, country of manufacture, delivery time, return conditions, etc.);
  6. Be generated automatically with logical and coherent sequences of words when it is impossible to proceed otherwise (for sites with tens of thousands of pages for example).
  7. Be neat and provide quality information to promote a better click-through rate.

Mistakes to avoid to avoid being penalized by Google

For a meta description to be appreciated by Google, it must not:

  1. Contain a series of over-optimized keywords associated with the request targeted by the page (we are talking here about over-optimization and keyword stuffing);
  2. Be duplicated on your entire site, on all its pages;
  3. Communicate information that the user will not be able to find on the page after clicking on the snippet;

Some examples of re-optimized meta descriptions according to Google

Here are examples (before / after format) of well-optimized meta descriptions according to the mountain view search engine:

google meta description examples
Some examples of meta descriptions optimized according to Google

Some frequently asked questions about meta descriptions

Can Google automatically replace a page’s meta description?

Yes. It is not uncommon for Google to replace the meta descriptions of pages on its own.

It is also possible, when the meta description does not exist in the source code of the page, that Google takes over a passage from the page to create the preview that it will display under the Title in its search results as meta description.

How to see the meta description of a page?

To be able to analyze the meta description of a page, you have several options:

  • Go to the page to be analyzed and perform a CTRL + U (Option + Command + U on Mac) then CTRL + F to search for name=”description” in the source code of the page.
  • Copy the page URL and make a site/track the URL in Google (however, with this method you won’t be able to make sure that Google hasn’t changed the meta description.
  • Use a browser extension allowing you to extract this data from the pages you visit: the Chrome Web Developer extension allows just that (in addition to many other features which are also free. If you wish to use this extension, you will have to consult the section “View Meta Tag Information” to access the meta description of the page visited.
  • Use a crawler like ScreamingFrog to analyze meta descriptions in bulk, at the scale of a site for example.

There are still other methods, but these are the most useful.

How to edit WordPress meta description?

In WordPress, to be able to modify the meta description of an article, a page, a category, a tagyou must use a dedicated free plugin (extension).

There are many on the market but the best known are Yoast SEO and All in one SEO.

Once installed, these extensions will automatically add on each article and page a new module allowing to modify the meta description (and the title) directly in WordPress, while previewing the final result which will be displayed in the Google search results (the SERPs).

(Adding a plugin to your WordPress site requires administrator rights).

What are the criteria that influence the display of a meta description in Google?

The width of the device’s screen, the use of capital letters, the exceeding of the maximum recommended number of characters, the addition by Google automatically of the publication date of the article are all criteria and parameters that can influence the final display of a description in the search results.

What about meta description generators?

Most automatic meta description generators will not give you good results (except AI-powered automatic writing software). If you have thousands of pages to process, it is best to define dynamic rules such as:

  • Take the first 155 characters of the page;
  • Take the first 60 characters of the page then add “X”.

How to write meta description? Meta description or meta description?

The correct writing of meta-description is without the acute accent. This is an HTML tag, so the “é” should not be used.

For further, this article from Google about a few technical parameters associated with meta tags might interest you.

See also  8 tips to optimize your netlinking

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