Meta description is one of those areas of SEO that seems to drift in and out of popular attention. I don’t think it has ever made sense to ignore the value of meta description, although I have rarely given it the love it deserves.
Right now is a good time to think about this tag, and think about it carefully. The meta description tag is frequently overlooked for a number of reasons – meta description is old – it seems to have been around forever, it is not perceived as exciting, and it is not a quick fix – writing a good descriptions takes both though and time. The ubiquity of content management systems does nothing to help either – meta data is too often either left to be generated automatically or somehow just gets forgotten, buried under a backwater tab or lost at the bottom of a rarely used menu.
Everything has slotted into place, your site now has optimal urls, the content is good (but still getting better of course), your page titles are spot on. Your site has reached page 1 of Google for the terms you are focussing on… everything is going to be rosy and you can start think seriously about your new improved life spent sipping cocktails on the beach whilst your website just hums away.
Wait a minute, there’s a problem. People see your site in the search results, but nobody clicks through. This is where meta description comes in. Think of everything you have done so far as setting the stage, getting your product into that shop front in the prime position on the high street. The trouble is your shop window just doesn’t appeal and nobody bothers to come in.
The shop window
Meta description is your shop window, it is a key component of the snippets that Google shows on it’s results page. There is no guarantee that Google will use your description word for word, but the chances are it will use at least part of it.
As usual Webmaster Tools is great reference http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35624 and it pays to re-read the published advice from time to time.
Write for people
To many people just use meta description as an opportunity to place keywords and key phrases, there is clearly a place for this, but it’s no good just targeting machines. If the snippet that appears in the search results is your shop window, then it is also your chance to engage the viewer.
Don’t just treat your description as an opportunity to get one up on the system, treat it is a ‘Call to action’ – grab the viewer’s attention and make sure they want to click through to your website.