Do I Really Need Meta Descriptions and How Long Should They Be?

4 min read
  • Meta descriptions are concise texts that search engines show below the titles of search results.
  • Google can generate meta descriptions for your website’s pages, but you should write them manually for pages that are crucial to your site.
  • Meta descriptions should be written like an ad and 150–170 characters long.

Even mentioning the term “meta descriptions” makes some of my clients cringe. For good reason: The brief texts that appear below the title on Google’s1 search results pages (SERPs) should describe a page’s content succinctly and convincingly. Despite their brevity (or maybe because of it), people typically detest writing meta descriptions. And that’s even more true if they have to write one for every single page of their website. But should they?

Meta descriptions are still necessary (more or less)

Why should you write meta descriptions if Google provides them automatically—sometimes even against your will? Because, frankly, Google doesn’t do a good job picking meta descriptions for you. It’s the last resort.

Concise descriptions are not only difficult to come up with, it’s even more taxing to create them for tens of thousands of pages. And the job doesn’t get easier by Google changing the way they display these descriptions as they like.2

Still, if you want to lure users from Google onto your website, you’ll have to provide meta descriptions, at least for your most compelling pages.

Pages that can’t do without a meta description

There are some pages that can’t do without a proper meta description. These are:

  • The front page
  • The about page
  • Product pages
  • Category pages
  • Blog posts

For other pages, you might leave it up to Google to pick the right words. However, make sure that those pages are not high ranking or in other ways crucial for your website’s success. If you rely on those pages to drive traffic from search engines, always provide a meta description.

The ideal length of a meta description

Meta descriptions should be between 150 and 170 characters long, even though Google states that there’s no specific length required (the engine decides what length it deems useful).

For most website owners, it’s difficult to provide a description of exactly this length for each of their pages. Indeed, it’s cumbersome to hit the right number of characters every time, but at least for your most important pages you should put in the effort. After a while, it’ll become easier to move words and sentences around to hit the sweet spot—it’s all a matter of practice.

How to write compelling descriptions

Length aside, the quality of your meta descriptions determines whether users will click on your result or go to another site. So, how can you write meta descriptions that make people click?

Imagine you’re writing an ad for a specific page on your website. How would it read? Describe what that page offers in a convincing and active tone. Try to answer the following questions:

  1. Why does the user need what’s on your page?
  2. What job would they hire your content for?
  3. What is your solution to the user’s problem?

Find a balance between being too reserved and sounding like a used car salesman. Promise nothing the page cannot offer—that’s called clickbait and is frowned upon.

To improve the conversion rate, try implementing terms that your users might search for. Google will display these words in bold letters if they resemble the user’s search term, which makes it more likely that your result gets clicked on.

Meta descriptions are simple, but their specific length requirements make them cumbersome to write in bulk. If you don’t have the resources to provide descriptions for all your pages, choose the ones your website depends on. At least they should make a good first impression.

  1. Let’s not pretend other search engines played a significant role. But, yes, Bing also has meta descriptions. Jump back.︎
  2. In 2017, Google said that meta descriptions could now be up to 320 characters long. Only to revert that change a few months later after many site owners had just finished adjusting their meta descriptions. Jump back.︎