If you’ve had any experience creating an affiliate website before, you’ll know that one of the first things you should do after getting your site and content up is to optimize it for the search engines. What this entails can basically be split into two parts: on-page and off-page optimization. These two topics themselves are pretty huge and I won’t delve into any details at this point, but in this article I want to touch on just one small aspect of on-page optimization that can make a world of difference in increasing the number of clicks to your website. I’m talking about the harnessing the power of meta description tags.
When I first heard the term, I thought to myself, “Meta what?!” It sounded like some corny super power out of a comic book. Well, though it isn’t a super power, you could call it a “secret weapon” that Internet Marketers have been using for a long while to get better rankings in search engine results… 'til it got ineffective that is. You see, meta description tags are commonly used by search engines to build a summary of your page content. It used to be thought that inserting keywords into the meta descriptions would help factor into how search engines (like Google) rank pages. For a while when search engine technology was new this might have been true, however as of September 2009, Google officially debunked that theory. Bring out the tissue someone, the world is ending... or not.
Despite this fact, any course touching on SEO today still recommends that you fill out the Meta description for your website and dump in your chosen keywords.
Well, first of all, it doesn’t hurt. While it doesn’t affect your search engine rankings in any way (according to Google), it still does get picked up and, if you notice, it usually gets highlighted in the results too. More importantly though, with a clever combination of right keywords AND compelling copy, you can increase your click through rate from the search engine results page.
You might be thinking though, “what’s the big deal? As long as I dump my keywords in there isn’t that good enough? I’ve got better things to do than working on measly ad copy. I’d rather spend the time on writing articles and sprucing up my site!”
To illustrate my point, let me just show you a quick snippet of a search I did for the term “dog potty training”. Here is a description of a site in 3rd place in rankings on the first page:
“Puppy potty training does not come easy especially during the first few months of their lives. Potty training a puppy requires patience and lots of ...”
Not very enticing is it? Not only that, if you notice, the description was cut off mid-sentence! That’s because Google automatically cuts off anything beyond 150-160 characters. I checked the link out and as expected,that description came from the first couple of lines of the page’s article because there was no proper Meta description in place. What did the person in first place have?
“Potty Training Dogs: How to Do It, with Advice and Tips.”
A bit better than the previous one and obviously there was a proper meta description with keywords included. But why stop there? If I were looking for dog potty training tips, I might click the link simply because it is number one, but if I were to see something like this instead:
“Training tips and problem solving for one of the toughest training challenges - housebreaking!”
Wouldn’t that make a more compelling description? That happens to be result number 8 by the way which bring me to my next point. With a great description, it is possible to beat out sites ranking higher than you simply because your description looks more attractive and addresses the customer’s need!
Note: while the description I picked wasn’t optimized specifically for dog potty training (didn’t have the keyword in the description), I wanted you to see the difference intone and approach compared to the previous ones. For your information, the title listed for that result was “Dog Training Basics – Potty Training Basic”.
Many know that first impressions count. So the first impression people are going to get if they find your site through the search engines is, you guessed it, your site’s meta description! You could have the best looking site on earth, but if no one is clicking on the link to your home page they will never know will they? That’s why it’s so important to have an ad copy that SELLS. Oops, did I say ad copy? Yes, I did - ladies and gentlemen your Meta description is free ad space for your site!
Okay, so by now I think I’ve hammered in the important and “latent power” of Meta descriptions quite enough. I don’t want to leave you hanging there without some practical tips though, so here are some guidelines to follow with regards to sprucing up your Meta description:
1. Presell the Living Daylights Out Of Your Site
I mentioned before that your Meta description is like ad space so you need to make sure your copy is as compelling as you can make it.You want the potential visitor to see your description and go “that sounds like EXACTLY what I was looking for!” and click on the link to your site. So put yourself in your customers’ shoes for a bit and try to position the copy in such a way that speaks to them. For example, you could be optimizing a particular product which has a generic name like “Twitter Mania” that could either be a game or some Internet Marketing twitter tool (I have no idea if such a product exists). If your description says, “Wondering if Twitter Mania will really get your 100 Twitter followers a day on auto pilot? Click to see verifiable proof!” it immediately does two things:
- It verifies beyond a doubt that the site is about the Internet Marketing tool (rather than a game or something else)
- Gets into the mind of the potential customer and addresses a possible question or doubt they might have
If you can get your keyword in there, great, but if not, don’t lose any sleep over it.
2. Make it Short and Snappy
You don’t want to be too long winded with this because like I mentioned before, search engines will cut off descriptions longer than 150-160 words. Think Twitter in terms of words limit and you’ll be fine.
3. Keep It Unique
While you probably won’t get a duplicate penalty (although I know some have reported having experienced a penalty), it’s always good practice to have unique descriptions. Not only does it keep you on the safe side, it just makes it more relevant to the particular page.
4. Keep It Plain
Avoid using any special characters like quotes or other non-alpha numerical characters because these probably will be truncated from your description when display in the search engine results.
5. Not All Pages Require Meta Descriptions
I know, this will sounds totally contradictory after my heavy advocacy of using Meta descriptions. While generally it is a good idea to utilize meta descriptions, if the page you are optimizing is gunning for long keyword phrases (more than 3 words), it could be better to let the search engine extract what it feels is the relevant text. This is because when the search engine does this, it automatically pulls the searched keywords as well.If you do have a Meta description in such cases, it may not match a user’s search term in comparison. Some may argue that search engines will overrule the Meta descriptions in such cases though so it’s a call you need to make. Most times I would say that writing your own Meta description is the way to go.
How to Insert Meta Descriptions
If you’re using a Wordpress blog then all you need to do is install a plug-in like All-In-One SEO or Platinum SEO (do a search for it under the add new plug-in section and it should come up). These powerful plug-ins let you customize your own Title Tag, Meta description, tags, etc.
If you are using a static HTML website, switch to Wordpress! Kidding (well, half kidding). You can use something like the following syntax to put Meta descriptions into your site:
<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="Your awesome compelling description goes here."/>
Taking It A Step (or Two) Further
Some of you overachievers out there will probably be going, “Is that ALL? This is too easy!” Well, if you want to really jump to the top of the class, the next step is quite obviously working on the Title Tag as well. In fact, I highly recommend you work on this together with your Meta description. One thing to keep in mind though is that, in the case of Title Tags, the keywords do count! So just make sure whatever snazzy title you come up with, it has your keywords in there.
Want more? Take this principle to your individual post or internal pages as well. After all, if it can be indexed by search engines, it can show up in search results right?
Hopefully I’ve given you some things to think about in terms of your use of Title tags and Meta descriptions to increase your click through rate. Seriously, if you haven’t started maximizing your use of Meta descriptions, now’s a good time!
About the Author: Joshua Siaw is an Internet Marketer who is slightly (emphasis on slightly) obsessed with all things SEO. To get a free report revealing two of his favorite back linking tools (which don’t cost a dime), click HERE.