Have you ever attempted to conduct controlled research and/or testing of meta description tags? Unless your firm has its own in-house testing lab, the answer to this question is usually "no". Testing of meta descriptions, when conducted at all, is usually conducted sequentially. There are so many variables impacting the results of sequential meta description testing that the results are extremely suspect. Given the challenges of getting reliable results from testing and analysis, meta descriptions are usually written based on gut instinct.
As background, search engines commonly use the first 160 characters of a page's meta description in the search engine result pages snippet. There are few areas of search engine marketing that have: 1) more impact on click rates; with 2) less analysis and testing put into optimization.
Given the challenges involved in testing meta descriptions, it is often valid to assume that your competitors are simply using gut instinct in coming up with their copy. This creates an issue for anyone attempting to gain insight via competitive analysis when writing their own meta descriptions. When reviewing the meta descriptions being fielded by competitors, it is challenging to quantify which ones are the most compelling and/or have undergone optimization testing.
Ppc Text Ads
The meta descriptions appearing in snippets on search engine results pages have a close cousin with which they compete for attention. The descriptions in PPC text ads appear in an identical font and in close proximity to the snippets generated from meta descriptions. However, unlike meta descriptions which are challenging to test or research, testing of PPC ads is extremely easy. There are few aspects of search engine marketing that undergo more thorough optimization than PPC ads.
This results in PPC ads often being the more compelling and better sources of inspiration for writing meta descriptions. Here is an example of how a PPC ad can offer more insight into good copy writing than a competitive meta description based on a search for the term "personal injury lawyer":
Meta Description Text
Injury lawyer and personal injury Attorney. Acme Law handles injury cases of personal injury, car accident, workers compensation and truck accidents.
30 yrs + experience. No Recovery No Fees
In the above example, the meta description is less compelling despite the use of 149 characters than the PPC ad is utilizing just 40 characters.
The 3 Lessons
1) Do not stray away from summarizing key content from the page being described in an attempt to generate clicks. The meta description should be relevant to the content of the page it is describing.
2) Be aware that the search engines in their infinite wisdom sometimes ignore your brilliantly written meta description and insert text taken from the on-page content that their algorithms determine to be more relevant to the search query.
3) The text in the meta description is not a ranking factor. Write compelling copy for viewers, not for search engine algorithms..
The value produced by writing compelling meta descriptions is often over looked. A persuasive meta description tag can differentiate your snippet on a crowded search engine results page from those of your competitors. Attention grabbing meta descriptions can significantly increase search engine click thru traffic. In coming up with ideas for content to utilize in meta descriptions, competitors' PPC ads sometimes offer the most useful idea generating copy.
If you liked this, you might also enjoy Tested: The Best Length for a Description Tag is Longer Than You Think