Article updated on October 3rd:  Google no longer shows 320 characters for the meta description in the SERPS

Online marketing skill level:  Beginner, you’ll learn about all the elements that make up a great meta description for a web page.

What are Meta Descriptions?

Meta descriptions are a summary of the content on your page. That is used in the search results to give the end user a guide or context as to why they should visit your page.

How Many Characters are Used in a Meta Description?

The search engines traditionally only showed 160 characters in the search engine results.

What Elements Make up a Great Meta Description?

They are one of the first contact points that a visitor or user will most likely interact with your website and you want to build that trust.  They should contain accurate information regarding the page as it will help keep the user or visitor engaged longer on your page.  As a personal preference you can include a call to action to encourage a click from the search result.  Try to maximise the character count to make use of the available real estate in the search results.  It is however more important write a quality meta description that is free of keyword stuffing, so if you need to use less characters then please do so.  Each page needs to have a unique meta description so pay attention if you have a very similar page.  If you do then you might want to address this by adding a redirect or changing the content of the page with similar content.

What if you don’t have a meta description for each page?

There is no need to stress if you do not have a meta description for each page on website as Google will attempt to create a meta description on the page’s behalf.  You should however manually or programmatically create a meta description for your page as you want to try and control your branding and content as much as possible.

How often do meta descriptions need to be refreshed?

There are two occasions that I think of when you should refresh and update your meta description.  The first point is very obvious and this is when the content of the page changes and the meta description no longer accurately reflect the content of the page.  The second point would be when the click through rate from the search results is low or does not meet expectations.  You can find out the CTR of page and keyword by reviewing the data the webmaster console.

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