Google upped the ante on meta descriptions leading into 2018, and that means brands that want to stay competitive online need to start tweaking some foundational SEO elements in their content. The longer meta descriptions have more property on which you can stake your search engine (and consumer attention) claim, but so does everyone else.
I highlight what you need to know — and do — to put this new metadata and SEO trend to work for your site below.
The Importance of Writing Strong Metadata
If content marketing was a sport, it would be track. To compete, you’d have to put both long-distance runners and sprinters on the pavement.
A long-term marketing plan that builds an audience and inspires trust with high-quality content is critical to success. The bar for quality content rises every year — unlike the long jump record, which has been unchallenged since 1991.
At the same time, best practices, tools and search engine mechanics evolve rapidly in this industry, and your team must be able to keep pace with all of that.
It always surprises me to see brands not investing in either of these things; for example, we still see many pages that haven’t created metadata for optimized search engine performance. Even brands investing in producing in-depth, authoritative posts sometimes ignore these little details — and that’s like the relay team dropping the baton mid-pass. You might have the fastest runners on the field (or best content online), but without the baton pass, you can’t win the race.
Here’s what makes metadata critical to SEO success:
- The meta title tag is an important ranking factor, which means it’s a major player in where you end up in the SERPs. You’ll want to slip in a keyword or two, and maybe your brand name. Since most meta titles display to users within the SERP (but not once on your page), you also want to consider clarity and conversion.
- The meta description tag isn’t an explicit ranking factor, which means the content in it doesn’t directly impact SERP algorithms. The content is seen by consumers conducting searches, though, and is your one chance to sell your content’s value and entice someone to click on your link (and that behavior does factor into your performance in the SERPs).
Put these factors together, and you have a monstrous impact on your page’s organic click through rate (OCTR). This is pretty much the baton pass here, guys. You don’t want to drop it.
What about Google’s recent move to longer meta descriptions? Here’s what you need to know.
So, What About Google’s Recent Move to Longer Meta Descriptions?
Google announced in December 2017 that it was boosting character counts for meta description text shown in their SERPs. Previously, it showed between 160 and 180 characters; now it will display between 250 and 300 characters, depending on the results page.
Before you get excited over the extra space and start filling it with keywords, let me say this: I think Google is giving us a clear signal here.
Yes, Google wants you to provide more detail for searchers before they visit your site, and they’ve made it possible to do that.
No, they don’t want keyword stuffing and low-quality content in the meta description. And neither do you.
Meta Descriptions Are the First Impression
Meta descriptions are your first touch point with someone searching online.
Tossing keyword stuffed hodgepodge into your meta tags is like a restaurant serving up a random assortment of ingredients they pulled off the bottom shelf. It’s not going to look enticing, and most people aren’t going to order from that menu. Yes, include primary keywords so Google will highlight them in the SERP, but nest them in quality metadata marketing copy that says something about your page and convinces people to click.
Treat your meta descriptions as ad text — connect with whatever intent your searchers have, entice them to click and you’ll get more clicks. This will help you boost your organic click-through rate (OCTR) and can help you rank better.
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Strong Meta Descriptions Can Boost Your RankBrain Score
A second reason you need high-quality meta descriptions is because it helps you attract the right people to your site, and that can indirectly boost your RankBrain score and your position on Google’s pages.
RankBrain is Google’s third most important ranking factor (after quality content and backlinks), and it essentially looks at how searchers interact with the pages they see in the results. Primarily, that comes down to two major factors.
- Dwell Time (Time on Page). This is how long someone stays on your page. Average dwell time for a Top 10 result is about 3m 10s (less than the current world record for fastest mile, which is 3m 43s). At an average reading speed, that’s enough time to ingest about 600 words of content, so you need to provide excellent, longer form or interactive content to keep people on the page. You also have to attract users interested in your content; if your meta description is attracting people interested in cars and you’re serving up even the best content possible on collectible ceramics, the bounce rate will be high (this is also referred to as pogosticking). You dropped the baton, and your RankBrain score will suffer.
- Organic Click Through Rate. This is the percent of clicks your page receives out of all the clicks received by the displayed results for that search. A high percent says that your meta data is doing a better job at enticing people than the meta data from your competition.
RankBrain combines these two factors, which are both dependent on strong meta descriptions, to help Google understand how your page is truly performing from a searcher’s perspective. Pass the baton and perform well, and Google may reward you with a bump up the page results podium.
What should brands do now that Google displays longer meta descriptions? Here’s what you need to know.
What Should Brands Do Now that Google Displays Longer Meta Descriptions?
Reading between the lines, I think Google’s move to longer meta descriptions is going to change how you optimize for factors such as RankBrain. Your organic competitors are going to be leveraging the longer character limit to boost their CTR, so to keep up you need to do that too.
It’s not a 100-yard dash to see who gets to the top, but you do need to act now rather than later. Start by taking an endurance event stance; if you haven’t started managing your meta, you need to learn, and if you’re already in the game, extra training never hurt anyone.
If you have pages that you think you should be ranking better for, it’s worthwhile to head into Search Console and review that page’s organic CTR. You might find that updating the meta description to boost CTR will not only get you more clicks immediately, but it might also help your rankings in the mid-term.
If you see success with that, a full audit of your site’s OCTR could be in order.
And since everyone’s starting with the longer descriptions at the same time, the playing field is at least a bit level for now. Take this opportunity to rethink your metadata SEO strategy, work in some better performing keywords and work with partners to write meta descriptions that use the extra length to sell your page to the right target audience.