Meta descriptions might not be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to optimizing a website but they are way too important to ignore or worse yet do wrong. The fact is you might be better off with no meta description rather than copying the same thing to every page of your website or stuffing it with irrelevant keywords. Meta descriptions matter because search engines often use them to create the short descriptions you see in search results. These short descriptions need to interest the searcher enough that he chooses your site from among all the options. If they don’t you are loosing clicks and your good search rankings go virtually wasted (you might even lose your rankings).

Optimizing poor meta description tags on an established site is one of the fastest and easiest ways to improve traffic almost overnight. Search engine use meta description in search results when they are relevant to the query or when the webpage lacks content from which to pull this data. This means that they are particularly important if your pages are not rich in content as may be the case with pages that are heavy in images or video.

Five steps you can take to immediately improve your meta descriptions.

1) See how your short descriptions already appear in the search engines. To do this try searching Site:www.mydomain.com in Google. If the descriptions read nicely you don’t need to make any changes to your meta descriptions but if they look like those in our case study (Screenshot below) keep reading.

2) Make sure that every page on your website has a meta description which is unique and that it pertains to the content on the specific web page.  If you have 100,000’s of pages on your website its fine to write these algorithmically but they still need to be unique and pertinent to each individual page.

3) Every tag should be readable and interesting. Put yourself in the shoes of a visitor who is looking at the search results and trying to decide which site to visit. If you are having trouble coming up with ideas on how to format and write them check out what the leading sites in the search results for your topic are already doing.

4) Keep tags to 160 characters or less. If you want to go up to 256 characters its okay but break your description into at least two short sentences (here is great article on meta description length).

5)  Once you update your tags give the search engines some time to index and then search again and see how they look. Hopefully things have improved. If you notice that the search engines are pulling content from the page that you don’t like you might want to consider removing that content. If you spend some time working on this you can get the descriptions appearing in the search results to  read pretty close to how you want them.

If you have poor descriptions currently and make these changes you should start getting more traffic immediately from the search rankings you already have. If you are still wondering if it’s worth it consider these actual results for our test study Touristlink.com where after several weeks of tweaking and rewriting meta descriptions we ended up with an estimated 37% increase in click thrus from search. As an added bonus optimizing your tags might even improve your search results as search engines could favor sites that get more clicks.