Jun 24, 2016

Optimize Your Blog's Meta (Search) Descriptions Using Keyword Research

Optimize your meta description using keyword research in webmaster toosl
One of the things many bloggers struggle with when it comes to SEO is what exactly to include in their posts' meta descriptions.  The meta description (also called the search description on Blogger) is the short text snippet that appears on SERPs (search engine results pages) under the page title and URL.  Typically the meta description is a summary of the page content.

Here are a few examples of meta descriptions for chicken recipes on my site:
Examples of meta descriptions for SEO
(If you aren’t using Meta Descriptions/Search Descriptions, you want to read this post and make sure to focus on #3.)

Meta descriptions and SEO:

When it comes to SEO, here is what you need to know about those snippets:  
GOOGLE DOESN’T LOOK AT THEM.  They have ZERO direct impact on your content's search rank since they are not used in the ranking algorithm.   But that doesn’t mean they aren’t very very important.The purpose of these descriptions is to summarize what your post is about so that people reading through the results of their search query can decide if they want to click over.  Your goal, when optimizing this description, is to make a reader want to click over to your site.

Because click through rate (CTR) and time on site may be ranking factors, optimization of your Search Descriptions does have an indirect SEO benefit.  The more a search result is clicked and visited, the more it will be moved up the results list.  And once a search result is on top, it needs to continually be clicked to stay that way.

As an aside, it also should be noted that meta descriptions are often used as a description of your content when it is shared on social media.  Rich pins, Twitter Cards and Facebook link descriptions all use the meta description as it’s main source. 

What makes a good search description?

Meta descriptions should be TRULY reflective of what the post is about.  Google will quickly penalize any content that is deceptively maniplative in order to drive clicks.  If your post is a product review of a vacuum cleaner, your meta description should say that.  It shouldn’t say “Visit this post to win a free vacuum” (unless of course you are really giving away a vacuum.)

Descriptions should be around 160 characters. Anything longer will be cut off in the listing and anything shorter and search engines will look for something else to use instead, since short meta descriptions are most likely not a good representation of the content.  (To get a rough idea of how a post will look in the standard search results, you can mock them up here:  )

It should be conversational and descriptive.  Remember, you are writing this for HUMAN searchers, not for crawlers or bots so make sure you are writing what people what to read.  It should be full sentences that make sense and explain why someone would want to read that post.  What is in it for them?
It should include the keyword(s) that he post is focused on but it should be unique. Anytime a keyword from the search query is and exact match, those words will be bolded in the meta description on the SERP.  That will draw a searchers eye to the result listing, so it is a good practice to include keywords in the text.

You don’t want to use the same meta description for posts about the same topic. So if you have two tutorials on how to apply eyeshadow, you want to distinguish them from each other, such as “How to apply eyeshadow for day and evening” vs “Eye shadow application techniques for different times of day”

It can contain a call to action, such as “Find out more!” or “You must try this recipe” but be careful to not sound too much like a used car salesman when taking this approach.  Additionally, it should explain the benefit of the post to searchers.  Most people are using search engines to find answers to questions or problems, your meta description should explain how your post is going to fix that for them.

If you don’t include ANYTHING in the search description field, Google will typically just pull the first line of the post as a search description.  This is usually far from ideal.

How do you know how effective your search descriptions really are? 

In order to really understand if our meta descriptions are enticing enough we need to research their effectiveness.  Google has conveniently given us a list of all the search queries for which our content is shown, as well as in depth analytics about CTR,  in Google’s Search Console (aka Webmaster tools.)  You can find it under Search Traffic>Search Analytics.
Search analytics
(If you haven’t set up Webmaster Tools, you need to do that ASAP.  This post will walk you through it.)
These reports can tell which keywords are found in content on your site and can give you a great indication of what people are searching for when they find your posts.

Understanding Search Analytics Reports:

In this post am not going to go over all the reports and how to use them, since that would be the world’s longest post.  Today I’m only going to focus on the reports tool for Meta Description optimization. Search analytics tool in webmaster tools
First I want to quickly explain exactly what the parameters mean so you can understand why we are looking at them:
Clicks: The number of clicks on your URLs recieve from a Google Search results page.

Impressions: The number of times any URL from your site appeared in search results.

CTR: Click-through rate. The percentage of time that the listing is clicked when it is shown. (The actual number is Clicks / Impressions * 100).

Position: The average ranking of your website URLs for the query or queries. If your URLs appear more than once in the results list, it will be the average of all the positions.

There are also six different report types.  Today we are only going to focus on the first two:

Queries: These are the actual terms (or keywords) a searcher used that has generated impressions in Google’s search results.
To protect user privacy, queries that are made infrequently or that contain sensitive or personal information are grouped together as “Other"

Pages: The landing page that is displayed in search results.
Keep in mind that only data from the last 90 days is stored, so the keywords and queries are going to change over time. Obviously seasonal queries are going to show up only at certain times of year, along with trending topics. Some people save the data to a spreadsheet every 90 days so they can figure out yearly trends.

Impressions vs. Click Through Rate

To determine if our meta descriptions are going a good job of encouraging clicks through to our content, we need to use the Pages report and select the IMPRESSIONS and the CTR (you can adjust the date range to whatever you choose):
This will bring up a list of your post URLs sorted by total impressions, or your most popular URLs.  Next to the impression count is also the click through percentage.

In my case, my post on how to paint upholstery is currently my most popular and drives a decent amount of traffic. (I can’t specifically say what a “good” CTR would be, it really depends on the query, but I personally shoot for between 5 and 10% on average.)  If you look at my third listing (framing a mirror without miter cuts) you can see that it has a much lower click through rate.  I should update my meta description for that post.
Low CTR for organic searchTo see what terms people are searching for, I can click on that url (the small arrows on the right) and then go back and change the report type to Queries. You will see the specific URL in the bracket under the pages button.Queries for specific post
This will give me the list of queries that give only that post as a search result. When I do that you can see just how much click through traffic I am missing out on.  THOUSANDS OF IMPRESSIONS! All those people saw my post listed, but didn’t click over!
Search results for specific post
To figure out why my search description isn’t work, first I want to figure out what my search result looks like for that page, so I go back to my post on Blogger to see what I currently have a meta description:Search descript unupdateI quickly realize my problem.  I HAVE NOTHING THERE!  This is a post from 2012, which is before I was really optimizing my SEO. I need to get something in there ASAP!
Right now, if I search for that post, look what the meta description is instead: Search description not optimized
Well, that is not very appealing.

I need to go in an describe that post better so it is more obvious to people what they will find if they click through:Search descript update
I added the fact it was a DIY project.  I made sure to include “frame” and “bathroom” since those are popular search terms, and I clarified why this tutorial was special (no need to use miter cuts.)

Now I just sit back and wait for that content to be reindexed and in a few days I can go back and see if the click through rate has improved.

If I want to go back and analyze the next URL in Webmaster Tools, I just click the carrot next to the currency selected URL (under the pages button) and select Reset from the drop down menu.
Reset search results
Of course, not every low CTR will have search descriptions that are missing, some will just be poorly written or won’t contain the keywords or won’t explain the post well enough.  Editing your meta descriptions so that you can best explain how the posts relate to the keywords involved.  LOOK AT WHAT PEOPLE ARE SEARCHING FOR.  What terms are they using? Why is your post being pulled up for those terms?  What can your post offer them?

If you can generate more clicks on the content you already have by simply changing a few sentences, it will totally be worth it.


  1. woohoo Kim! great article. I've already changed a couple of "snippets". Thanks for such great suggestions and easy to understand language!


  2. Thank you for this post Kim, I've got some work to do! Thanks for clarifying what the search analytics reports mean.

  3. Kim, this was seriously one of the most helpful articles I've come across. I switched over from Blogger where I didn't have meta descriptions so a bunch of my old posts don't have them. It was so crazy to do this and see that you could pretty much predict which ones of mine didn't since they were the ones with the low click throughs. I've started changing and adding them and am already watching my CTR go up. Thank you!

  4. FINALLY read this post, and this is great! Looking forward to getting your boot camp emails.