When you hear “meta description,” you might be tempted to immediately tune out. However, the meta description is not some complicated technical term or SEO gibberish—it’s a simple, powerful tool for communicating with Google and with your audience.
So, let’s dip our toes into the world of the meta description. This meta tag is really important for lawyers doing SEO in 2023. We’ve got a few best practices that can take your SEO results from lukewarm to fiery—in 160 characters or less.
Here’s a basic definition of what a meta description is, where the meta description appears, how meta descriptions interact with the algorithm, and best practices for meta descriptions.
What a meta description is
A meta description is the short snippet of text that appears underneath the title on search engine results page (SERPs) on search engines like Google and Bing, and it’s there to help people know what content they will find on that page before clicking on it.
The meta description functions a bit like the blurb on the back cover of a book, but for your website. Search engines can only show a maximum of 160 characters for meta descriptions, so you should ensure your meta descriptions are 160 characters or less (as any characters beyond this will be cut off), and it should briefly summarize the web page in an exciting way.
For marketers: Meta descriptions can help attract visitors to a website. Just like a good book blurb can make you want to read the book, a well-crafted meta description can convince people to click to your site.
For online searchers: It can be tricky to know at a glance which result on the SERP will help you get what you need. You’re often in a rush when searching so you need to find what you are looking for quickly. Besides the title of the web page, a great meta description can point you confidently in the right direction—and the website had better deliver what the meta description promises.
What a meta description isn’t
A meta description is not a way to manipulate Google.
Some marketers will try to use the meta description to convince Google their website is the best possible solution for the searcher’s needs. They might try to optimize by cramming keywords and making big promises that aren’t relevant.
However, Google has gotten smart and it cannot be manipulated through meta descriptions. Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor. You could be penalized if you mislead Google with your meta description—or Google could simply decide to rewrite your meta for you.
Best practices for meta descriptions
There are two basic rules when it comes to meta descriptions:
Rule #1 – Do what you say you’ll do.
Rule #2 – Provide value as concisely as possible.
For instance, let’s say you’re searching for “which state has the biggest population”. Which of the below meta descriptions is the most immediately helpful?
Example: “California has had the biggest population of all 50 states since 1962, with nearly 40 million residents as of 2023.”
Example: “Want to know which state has the biggest population? Click here to find out.”
Here are a few more dos and don’ts:
DO: Use the primary keyword.
DO: Answer the user intent of the query so you’re providing value from the very first interaction.
DO: Research what your competitors are putting in their metas for similar queries.
DO: Explain what the searcher can expect from the content.
DO: Incorporate your brand’s tone or voice.
DO: Limit the meta to 160 characters—fewer is better (however, 70 characters should be your minimum).
DO: Refresh your meta descriptions from time to time.
DO NOT: Use vague language.
DO NOT: Use the same meta description on multiple pages.
DO NOT: Promise a comprehensive overview and deliver a page with just a few paragraphs.
DO NOT: Rephrase the question without providing any value.
DO NOT: Say “click here for more” or “learn more here”.
DO NOT: Leave the meta blank or copy/paste the first sentence of the page.
Review and next steps
SEO is a very technical field—but it’s underpinned by very simple philosophies. Communicate clearly, satisfy the user, and don’t mislead anyone. These principles apply to meta descriptions and all digital marketing.
Meta descriptions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to SEO success. While you can see some improvement by tweaking your meta descriptions, there’s a lot more room to grow. Propel your practice with support from SEO experts who specialize in helping law firms grow.