Description Tags Shouldn’t Describe – They Should Sell

Don’t Describe–Sell!

I’ve never liked the name for the meta description tag, mainly because describing what’s on a web page isn’t necessarily going to get someone to click on the link on the search engine results page (SERP).

Describing is Passive. Selling is Active.

The act of describing is a passive process. It doesn’t involve thinking; it involves observation and parroting back what you see. If you’re selling a house, you may start by describing what it looks like: the style, the square feet, the color, etc. Basically, you’re identifying the features, and as we talked about in this blog post, features alone don’t sell. Benefits do. The same is true for the meta description tag–simply describing what’s on the page is not going to compel someone to click on the URL. You need to write a clear, crisp, and compelling piece of marketing copy that focuses on (or at lease alludes to) a benefit–in about 20 to 25 words. Not an easy task.

And yes, not all search engines use the meta description tag (Google sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t). But it’s worth putting the effort into each description.

Here are meta description basics:

  • Like page titles, each description should be unique.
  • Try to limit each one to 20-25 words.
  • Don’t repeat what’s in the page title, especially if the page title already includes the company name. This wastes valuable real estate.
  • It’s okay to use keyword phrases, but it’s more important to have a compelling marketing message that gets people to click on the URL. If you can compel and weave keywords at the same time, great. But if a keyword phrase is turning your crisp message into clunky copy, axe the keyword phrase.

Meta Descriptions in Action

Let’s see this in action. One of our clients is Design A Mosaic, a company that makes photo mosaics from your pictures. It’s easy to do–you simply upload pictures to the site. And it’s affordable. There are also a variety of occasions where photo mosaics would make the perfect gifts, such as weddings and anniversaries. Photo mosaics can also be used for yearbook covers–all the graduating seniors’ pictures would be used to make one larger picture, such as the school mascot.

Let’s look at the descriptions when we do a search on “unique yearbook covers” in Google. Here are some results from one of the SERPs:
Unique Yearbook Covers
Based on their descriptions, which were pulled from the content, the first two entries sound like articles. In the third entry, Google doesn’t use the meta description; it pulls copy from the web page (which is why you should make sure you have keyword rich headlines and copy that effectively sell your products right up front).

The fourth entry is for our client, Design A Mosaic, and here Google does use our description. The fifth entry looks as if it’s for an actual high school. The sixth entry also pulls copy from the web page instead of looking at the description.

Meta Description Rewrite Clinic

As we mentioned above, sometimes Google uses your description and sometimes it doesn’t. Just to create a level playing field, let’s looks only at the actual descriptions for Lifetouch Yearbook, Design A Mosaic, and The Yearbook Store. Here they are:

  1. Lifetouch Yearbook: A proven leader in yearbook publishing, schools from K-12 and beyond trust Lifetouch Publishing to preserve their precious memories.
  2. Design A Mosaic: Create a unique yearbook cover design that your graduating seniors will cherish forever. Use their yearbook pictures & turn them into a photo mosaic.
  3. The Yearbook Store: Add-ons for yearbooks and Spirit Wear for the Yearbook Staff. Clear plastic yearbook covers, autograph section inserts, nameplates, staff lanyards & ID holders, staff t-shirts and hoodies, award pins.

We’ll let you decide whether you think Design A Mosaic’s description is compelling–or at least more compelling than the other two (feel free to rewrite it better in the comment trail). For now, we’ll explain why the other two aren’t compelling enough.

So what’s the problem with Lifetouch Yearbook’s description? Notice that it’s all about the company first, rather than the customer. The words “proven leader,” while important on, say, the “about the company” section of a website, do nothing for the description since you’re making a claim that you don’t have the space to back up. The word “trust” is problematic as well. The description asks the reader to trust the company–yet what reason does the reader have to trust the company? At the end of the description, we finally get to the customer: “preserve their precious memories.” But by this point, it’s just not enough.

How might we rewrite it to be more effective?

With over x-number of professionally designed, protective-coated, full-color yearbook covers to choose from, your graduates’ memories will be preserved for a lifetime.

The number of designs, the protective coating, and full-color covers are all features, but we then show the benefit: the graduate’s memories will be preserved (the protective coating is what seals the deal). How do I know about the protective coating? From the website. To me, this is a feature that should be used in the description since it segues beautifully into the benefit.

Let’s look at The Yearbook Store’s description: “Add-ons for yearbooks and Spirit Wear for the Yearbook Staff. Clear plastic yearbook covers, autograph section inserts, nameplates, staff lanyards & ID holders, staff t-shirts and hoodies, award pins.”

It’s a laundry list. And don’t forget, what I had searched on was “unique yearbook covers.” Is there anything in this laundry list that fulfills the need I have? I’m thinking no. The truth is the copy Google used for the description is actually what’s most compelling:

These covers provide years of protection against soil and wear while allowing your unique yearbook cover to shine through.

This line shows the feature–a cover that provides protection against soil and wear–and the benefit: it will protect your unique yearbook covers. While it doesn’t necessarily fulfill my need for finding a unique yearbook cover, I might be compelled to click on the link, thinking other areas of the site might actually have ideas for unique covers.

Do you need help with a description or do you want to know if you’re on the right track? Leave your description in the comments, and we’ll give you feedback.

DISCUSSION

4 Comments

  1. Excellent tip Robyn. Did you test to see which of these descriptions actually drive more click through to the site? I am almost sure the sell description works better but i am not sure what kind of uplift it might create.

  2. Thanks for chiming in Khalid, we recently re-launched Design A Mosaic, and we weren’t the original web developer. Previous to our engagement, they weren’t even ranking for that term, so we don’t really have any data to draw comparisons to unless we switch their description to something else for a period of time assuming that their rank remains consistent. Other than that, we can’t tell what click-through others are getting on that key phrase necessarily. What we usually do is determine the “reach” in the search results by using the number of visitors from that key phrase vs. the # of searches as estimated by keyword research tools. We can compare that to the typical CTR on SERPs based on position but again, I don’t think DM has remained consistent in any one position (as of this comment they are now 3rd in the SERP for that term) – at least, not yet.

  3. Hey skillful post, I certainly enjoyed it, specially with reference to the second commentary that you made.

  4. Yes, ultimately the meta description tag is about inducing a click when the user finds you in the search results, and not about getting a higher search ranking per se. It’s good to be clear about this, I think.

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