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May 16, 2008
Avoiding SEO Brain Freeze Part Four - Marvelous Meta Description Tags

Now that you've learned how to find the most appropriate keyword phrases and have chosen which pages of your website they correspond with, plus have written terrific Title tags for the pages you are optimizing, it's time to write some marvelous Meta description tags.


This article assumes you know what Meta description tags are and how to code them into your website's pages, but if you need more info on them, please see this Meta Description article.


There are a lot of misconceptions about how the search engines use and treat Meta description tags, as well as their overall benefit. This stems from the fact that all of the search engines treat them differently, and on top of that, they're always tweaking this aspect of their algorithms. In fact, whether or not you even use Meta description tags within your pages will make little difference to your search engine rankings. That said, they can come in very handy to better control the description that appears with your listing in the search engine results pages (SERPs). This is important because good descriptions can increase click-through rates from the SERPs to your website.


The first thing to note is that what the search engines show as the description for any given page in the SERPs is “query-dependent.”  Which simply means that the displayed description for your page will vary depending on what words the searcher actually put into the search box. For instance, if someone types a phrase into Google’s search box that pulls up a page from your website in the SERP, the information from your Meta description may or may not show up as your displayed description. It is most likely to show up if some form of the searched upon keywords are contained within your Meta description tag, but even this is not set in stone.


If you have no Meta description tag, or the searched upon keyword phrases are contained elsewhere on your page (and not in the Meta description tag), the search engines are likely to pull that snippet of text directly from your visible page content instead. If you’ve got great marketing copy on your pages, these snippets should be fine. But if your copy is lackluster, your SERP descriptions are likely to be poor as well.


Creating unique Meta description tags for each page of your website increases your chances of controlling the description that is displayed in the SERPs. The key here is to create well-written marketing statements of 1 or 2 sentences that also utilize a few keyword phrases for which you have optimized the page. The number of characters and words does not matter as the search engines will index even very long Meta description tags; however, keep in mind that for very long ones, they will sometimes display only part of the description—usually the part that contains the relevant keyword phrases.


With all that in mind, here are the basic steps to writing marvelous Meta description tags.


Step #1: Starting with your most important (top-level) pages of your website, review the keyword phrases you used in your Title tags and see if there were any from your original keyword list that you weren’t able to work into the Titles. You’ll want to make sure to use them within your Meta description if at all possible.


Step #2: If you left your company name out of your Title tags, be sure to use it as part of your Meta description tag as you definitely want it to show up in the SERPs for branding purposes. As a general rule, you can often start your description with the company name, e.g., “Company Name offers…”. If you already used the company name in your Title tag, it can be omitted in the description tag.


Step #3: Keeping in mind the focus and targeted keyword phrases of the page for which you're describing,create 1 or 2 marketing statements that sum it up. The idea here is to be enticing—you want to get the click-through—therefore, feel free to use superlatives as necessary. Remember that the difference between Title tags and Meta descriptions is that Titles should contain mostly just the facts, where descriptions give you a chance to let your creative juices flow.


That’s basically all there is to it! You may want to revisit your Meta descriptions once you’ve written the actual copy for each page to see if they need tweaking, but for now, simply pop them into your pages and you’re good to go!


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As an SEO Consultant, Jill Whalen has been providing her no-nonsense, practical SEO advice since 1995. If you learned from this article be sure to sign up for Jill's popular High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter to keep up with the latest information in the ever-changing world of SEO. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen, "Like" her at Facebook, and "Circle" her on Google+.

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