Have you said any of the following to try and capture a lead?
- Are your legs tired? Because you look like you’ve been standing in line for software all day.
- Excuse me but there’s something wrong with my wallet—it doesn’t have your business card in it!
You probably haven’t, and that’s a good thing. All the same, it’s never a bad idea to survey the meta descriptions on your pages to ensure they’re sending the right signals. This is doubly true if you’ve put time and money into improving your SEO. You might think that meta descriptions aren’t important since Google has made it clear that they don’t use meta descriptions to determine page rankings, but your ranking doesn’t matter if an actual person isn’t enticed to click on your page.
Since meta descriptions must appeal to people, they’re like pick-up lines: you want to find just the right words to pique interest. The seven tips below will help you create great meta descriptions to help you capture the leads you’re looking for.
1. Keep It Short
Just like you might get cut off if you try to use a 1000 word pick-up line, your meta description will be cut off at 160 characters in Google (and thereabouts in other search engines). Keep them between 150 and 160 characters to ensure your whole message gets across… instead of just your great lead-up.
It’s also a good idea to be concise when you’re creating a meta description specifically for a product page. Use the limited space to summarize the information that’s most important to the visitor, like price, platform requirements, and key features. This helps show the prospect exactly what the page will offer them.
2. Speak Their Language
When was the last time you used quotation marks, dashes, or backslashes in a pick-up line? Most likely, never. Try to stick to alphanumeric characters in your meta descriptions since search engines, much like people in bars, will often cut you off at the first sign of an asterisk.
3. Be Confident (Yet Accurate)
“I’m kind of a loser and you’re most likely way out of my league,” is a bad, bad way to start a conversation. But so is, “You probably recognize me because I’ve starred in 5 Hollywood films and modeled for Versace,” if you actually haven’t. Similarly, lackluster or inaccurate meta descriptions are no good. The best ones show confidence by emphasizing the benefit the reader stands to get by clicking your page, but also accurately reflect what it is they’re clicking.
So, it’s a bad idea to throw tons of keywords into your meta description that don’t correspond to your page’s content, because you won’t attract people who are interested in what you actually have to offer.
On the other hand, using keywords that are relevant in your meta description is a great idea, because if a visitor inputs those keywords into their search, their search terms will appear bolded in the results. If bolded text pops up in your meta description, it will emphasize to the visitor that your page contains exactly what they’re looking for.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Toot Your Horn (A Bit)
It’s never good to come off as cocky, but including phrases like “since 2002,” or “the choice of Fortune 500 companies,” can make your page come across as a legitimately helpful and respected source, instead of some spammy thing that snuck its way into the results.
5. Don’t Repeat Yourself, and Don’t Repeat Yourself
There are two types of repetition you need to watch out for with meta descriptions:
The first is repeating the same meta description for all of your pages. This is comparable to trying the same line on every person in a bar. Just as the people at the bar will start to ignore you, search engines will ignore your meta description and favor page snippets. Long story short: if you want to be in control of your meta descriptions, make them unique.
The second type of repetition is repeating information from the page title in your meta description, which is somewhat analogous to saying “Hi, my name is Janet and I’m from Nebraska, where I was named Janet and in Nebraska.” This doesn’t displease the search engines, but it will use up valuable characters (remember you only get 160!).
6. Social Sites
If your pick-up line is really dazzling, it might be repeated and attributed to you (maybe that’s optimistic). In any case, if your meta description works to attract visitors, and they share your link on a social site, your meta description is what will appear in their post. For instance, if someone tweets a link to your page or inputs the URL in their Facebook status, the snippet of text that auto-populates on the social network will be your meta description. This is further incentive to write for people first and foremost.
7. Trial and Error
With pick-up lines, sometimes tests-runs can be the best indicator of what works and what doesn’t. (Smile = good, slap= bad).
The same goes for meta descriptions: testing will let you hone them and determine what truly works. As with pick-up lines, don’t be afraid to try different tactics to discover what really attracts the visitors you’re looking for.
8. Let Your Looks Do the Talking For You
This will sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes it makes sense to leave out a meta description altogether. Here’s why:
For pages like a homepage, list, or directory that could contain a great many keywords, a meta description can be too general to appeal to someone quickly scanning search results. If you leave out a meta description, search engines will select a snippet of text from your page that relates to the term the searcher entered (and bold the exact-match keywords). It’s a sneaky way to call out what people really want to find on your site, without having to do any guesswork. Your meta description is basically saying “Here I am! Mr./Mrs. Right!”
Hopefully, these seven tips will give you a good sense of how to use your meta descriptions to improve your lead-gen game. In case you were looking for an actual pick-up line, I’ll leave you with this winner:
You can’t spell “Good business” without U and I.
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