What Is a Meta Description?
A meta description is an HTML element that summarizes a webpage’s content.
Google often uses meta descriptions in snippets on search engine results pages (SERPs). Below the page’s URL and title.
You should provide a meta description in the <head> section of each page’s code. Within a meta description tag, like so:
<meta name="description" content="Learn how to develop a tone of voice for your brand and use our template to get started.">
Most content management systems (CMSs) and SEO plugins allow you to add and edit HTML meta descriptions by typing in a designated field.
Here’s an example from WordPress:
Note: Short descriptions can also appear in link previews on social media and other platforms. These are usually taken from the Open Graph tag called the “og:description.” If you don’t supply one, the platform might display your HTML meta description (a type of meta tag) instead.
Why Are Meta Descriptions Important for SEO?
Meta descriptions (sometimes called SEO meta descriptions) aren’t a direct ranking factor. Google doesn’t take them into account when determining rankings.
But meta descriptions are important for SEO. Because they’re often used to generate snippets that tell searchers about your page. And help you stand apart from competitors on the SERP.
An effective snippet convinces more people to click your link, increasing your click-through rate (CTR). And can even increase brand awareness.
Both can have a positive effect on your SEO.
If Google believes your HTML meta description doesn’t satisfy the searcher’s intent, it may generate a different snippet for you.
In this example, we searched for “what is SEO.” And Google displayed the meta description written by our team:
But when we searched “what does SEO stand for,” Google replaced the SEO meta description with more relevant text from the page:
Note that Google may bold keywords from the query (or other highly relevant text). This helps users to scan results and find pages that match their needs.
Of course, it’s best to control your site’s snippets as much as possible. So you can protect your branding.
That’s why you need to write effective meta descriptions.
5 Tips for Writing Meta Descriptions
Let’s take a look at best practices for writing meta descriptions:
- Consider Meta Description Length
- Add the Primary Keyword
- Cater to Search Intent
- Include Calls to Action
- Make Every Meta Description Unique
1. Consider Meta Description Length
We recommend a meta description length of 680 pixels or around 105 characters. This gives you space to write an effective summary. While reducing the risk of truncation in the SERP.
Meta description checker tools (like To The Web’s) allow you to measure pixel width and preview your snippet. Just bear in mind that the mock-up isn’t 100% reliable.
Technically, there is no length limit on an HTML meta description. But Google truncates snippets based on the amount of space available.
Truncation could harm your CTR.
Generally, Google cuts off meta descriptions at around 960 pixels (approximately 152 characters) on desktop. And 680 pixels (approximately 105 characters) on mobile.
You might see higher estimations out there—155 characters is a common meta description length recommendation. But our testing shows 105 characters is safer. And can help you earn a high CTR.
The exact number of characters displayed in a snippet depends on various factors, such as:
- The user’s device (e.g., there’s more space on desktop than mobile)
- The width of the characters (e.g., an “m” uses more pixels than an “i”)
- The user’s search query (because words take up more pixels when bolded)
Tip: Protect the most important information by placing it at the front of your meta description. This can also help grab readers’ attention.
2. Add the Primary Keyword
Each meta description should include the page’s primary keyword—the main search query you want the page to rank for.
This won’t affect your SEO directly. But it can encourage users to click. Not least because Google often bolds words that appear in the query. (Or synonyms.)
Let’s say you want to rank for “best trail running shoes.”
In this meta description, the phrase isn’t mentioned specifically. Searchers might not think the page is relevant.
This SEO meta description stands out more due to the bolding. And explicitly addresses the searcher’s needs.
3. Cater to Search Intent
Understanding search intent (what the searcher wants to achieve) is key to writing an effective meta description.
When someone searches “buy iphone,” Apple entices users to click through by talking about trade-ins and low monthly payments.
When someone searches “compare iphones,” Apple lets users know they can examine various models.
Note how Google rewrites the meta description for this iPhone 14 specifications page. Because searchers want details—not a vague summary.
Perform search intent analysis before writing meta descriptions. Then assure searchers you have what they need.
4. Include Calls to Action
Calls to action (CTAs) tell searchers what they should do next. Use them in your meta descriptions to prompt clicks.
- Shop online
- Learn more
- Try for free
CTAs are imperative sentences—they start with a verb and encourage readers to take action. Direct writing can make meta descriptions more concise, engaging, and persuasive.
Consider this before and after, for example:
Before: Luggage, travel accessories, and more are available on our website. Complimentary monogramming can be accessed with any purchase.
After: Shop online for premium luggage & travel accessories. Get FREE monogramming with purchase.
5. Make Every Meta Description Unique
Write a unique meta description for every page that might appear in Google (i.e., indexable pages).
That way, you can tell users exactly what each page is about. And maximize your CTR.
Generic, duplicate meta descriptions don’t add value. And they definitely don’t describe what you’ll find on a specific page.
If you don’t have time to write meta descriptions manually, hire SEO writers to craft them for you. Or prioritize writing meta descriptions for the most important pages until you have time to write the rest.
Meta Description Tools
Use these meta description tools to save time and boost your organic CTR:
- Site Audit: Check your site for missing and duplicate meta descriptions
- On Page SEO Checker: See if Google is rewriting your meta descriptions
- Google / Keyword Overview: Review your competitors’ snippets
- PageImprove: Update meta descriptions the easy way
- SplitSignal: Perform A/B tests on your meta descriptions
- To The Web’s SERP Preview Tool: Measure meta description length
Semrush’s Site Audit tool checks your site for various technical SEO issues. Including missing and duplicate meta descriptions.
To start, enter your domain and click “Start Audit.”
When the analysis is complete, go to the “Issues” tab.
Go to the “Search by check” field and enter “meta description.”
If you see the “# pages have duplicate meta descriptions” error, click the link to see affected URLs.
Use the arrows to see URLs that share a meta description.
Want to get duplicates fixed? Use the checkboxes and “Send to…” button to create a task in the Semrush CRM, Trello, or Zapier. (You may need to set up the corresponding integration first.)
Once you’re finished, go back to the “Issues” tab.
If you see the “# pages don’t have meta descriptions” warning, click the link to see affected URLs.
It’s a good idea to write unique meta descriptions for these pages. Use the check boxes and “Send to…” button to create tasks in the Semrush CRM, Trello, or Zapier. (You may need to set up the corresponding integration first.)
On Page SEO Checker
Semrush’s On Page SEO Checker checks whether Google is rewriting your meta descriptions.
To get started, enter your domain and click “Get Ideas.”
Then follow the prompts to configure the On Page SEO Checker. You’ll need to set one or more target keywords for each URL.
When setup is complete, scroll down to the “TOP pages to optimize” table. Choose a page to explore and click the “# ideas” button to the right.
Then scroll to the “Content” section.
If your HTML meta description doesn’t match what Google shows in search results (for one or more target keywords), the tool will advise you to “Provide a more relevant meta description.”
Click “Show more” to see the affected keyword and the “SERP Meta Description” displayed on Google. This can help you understand how to write something better.
Note: It’s not necessarily an issue if Google rewrites the meta description for more specific keywords. But you should try to control the meta description for your primary keyword, at least.
If your HTML meta description does match what Google shows in search results (for every target keyword), you’ll see this confirmation:
Tip: The On Page SEO Checker provides other optimization ideas based on best practices. As well as the top 10 results for your target keyword(s). And you can easily send tasks to Trello.
Google / Keyword Overview
If you need inspiration when writing meta descriptions, search your keyword in Google. And look at your top competitors’ snippets.
Determine what needs to be included. And what’s needed to stand out.
But bear in mind that Google personalizes search results according to your location, search history, and more.
Use Semrush’s Keyword Overview tool for unbiased results.
Enter your keyword, choose your country, and click “Search.”
Then scroll down to “SERP Analysis” and click “View SERP” to look at meta descriptions.
PageImprove makes it quick and easy to update meta descriptions (and other SEO elements) on your site. There’s no need to log into your CMS or get a developer’s help each time.
To install the PageImprove Google Chrome extension, click the “Try it for Free” button on this page. Then follow the prompts that appear.
Install the code snippet onto your site. (Using Google Tag Manager is the quickest way to add it to every page.)
And voila! When browsing your site, open the extension on any page to update its SEO meta description.
Tip: Check out our guides for advice on improving the title tag and H1 tag, too.
When you’re done writing your meta description, hit the green “Changes” button in the top right corner of your screen.
Review your draft and hit “Continue to publishing” to save your work.
SplitSignal allows you to A/B test your meta descriptions—i.e., compare different options and see which performs best. Based on real click-through data.
In this case study, an online music store compared a CTA-focused meta description (the control) against a product-focused meta description (the variant).
The experiment showed that the product-focused meta description increased clicks by 2.2%.
SplitSignal also allows you to perform SEO experiments on title tags, headers, and much more. You don’t need advanced development or data analysis skills.
To The Web’s SERP Preview Tool
To The Web offers a free meta description checker.
It tells you meta description length in pixels. And provides a handy mock-up of desktop and mobile results.
Use the tool to optimize your title tag, too.
Tip: Some plugins (like Yoast SEO for WordPress) allow you to preview snippets within your CMS.
Keep Learning About On-Page SEO
Meta descriptions are an important part of on-page SEO. But there are many more elements to optimize.
Learn more with our on-page SEO checklist.
Or get bespoke recommendations for your site with Semrush’s On Page SEO Checker.