When SEO isn’t about Google and is about people – The marketing value of meta descriptions

Digital marketing can’t really be called digital marketing any longer. For anyone marketing a business, digital is now so core to our work that it’s really just “marketing”.  Which means we need to constantly learn new skills because technology doesn’t stand still (as much as we’d sometimes like it to). And along the way, we also need to be reminded of some older skills and activities – things we know but sometimes forget about. One of these is the marketing value of meta descriptions.

Meta description is a rather ugly and technical sounding name for “the little bit of copy Google displays when showing a search result for your business”.  Which still doesn’t sound that interesting and exciting…until you remember that this little bit of copy can be hugely important on whether people choose to click on your search result, thus visiting your site and spending money with you. Your SEO work often focuses on APPEARING in the search results – your meta descriptions are what help complete that last step of a personal clicking on your search result.

Yet all too often, businesses have default meta descriptions appear, or worse still, have messy code or blocked results show up. Which makes people far less likely to click on your business in a search results page. And this is a missed opportunity: a true ‘zero budget marketing’ opportunity as all it takes to improve your opportunity for clicks – and so visitors – is a little bit of time in copywriting.

How meta descriptions can appear

An example of the marketing value of meta descriptions can be seen in the examples below. This is a search on Google for “little black dress”. The first result for The Iconic isn’t too bad, although it’s largely a default meta description. However, the next three – for the-lbd, asos and Hello Molly – are custom written. And they are persuasive and let people know what they’ll find when they click. The final result, for boohoo, is what happens when you let Google grab something random from your site for a meta description.

search results for little black dress

Using webmaster tools to identify missed opportunities

I recently found myself looking at Google webmaster tools (aka Google search console) for a retail site I work with. If you don’t use Google Search Console, you should. It is an awesome (free) tool that shows what search terms customers are finding you through and for those terms, your clicks, impressions, click through rate (CTR) and position you appear in for various search terms.

So I was checking the search terms we rank for. It struck me that for some of the terms we were not getting the CTR we should be. That is, we were showing up for the right term, on page one of Google, but not enough people were clicking on us.

And this is where meta descriptions and pages titles suddenly become really important.  Because almost the only thing that affects what people click on is what shows up for your search result: your page title and meta description. Now, I say ‘almost only’ because other factors do come into play – they suddenly remember they’ve done business with a competitor that appears, or get enticed by a Google advert instead – but meta description and title the only real factor you can actually control.

A copywriting test & resubmitting your URL.

I decided to test whether changing the meta descriptions, and tweaking page titles, would make enough of a difference to make the effort worthwhile. It does require some effort because there ARE default meta descriptions for the site that weren’t too bad. And manually changing them – particular for a retail site with lots of SKUs – is time consuming. But it’s something that’s free to try, so I

I focused on the keywords that were getting the most impressions first. So I picked fifteen keywords, put them into Google to see what the search results showed. Then I rewrote these meta descriptions (inside my CMS), keeping the old copy on file and adding the new copy or page title.

The final step is re-submitting the page to Google to crawl (which you also do in the search console under the CRAWL site menu and then “fetch as Google”. I found it only took a day or so for Google to recrawl the site and have the new meta descriptions appear.

Of 15 rewritten meta descriptions, 12 resulted in significantly more clicks

When I say significantly more clicks, some of the CTRs moved up several percentage points, most at least one percentage point. Extrapolate that out to your top 50 search terms and that can mean a whole more clicks – and a lot more potential business.

So what sort of thing did I change? Ultimately, I focused on putting more about what the customer would find when they clicked. I conveyed breadth of range. I also added location information, so that people would know that this was an Australian site. I tried to make it more compelling and persuasive and clear.

I’ll share one example. The search term was “washi tape” – changing the copy took the CTR from 6.5% to 7.9% – which translates to 91 new prospective customers in a month for this term alone.

Old copy
Notemaker has a wide range of washi tapes, available in different sizes, patterns & colours. Shop online with Australia’s leading stationery store!

New copy
Australia’s widest range of washi tapes. So many sizes, patterns & colours in popular Japanese washi tape. Hundreds available! Many on sale. Buy online today.

So the difference weren’t huge. But it did make a noticeable (positive) difference within a month. A positive test and one that I’ll be continuing to roll out for top keywords.

The reason it’s worth treating this like “a test” is not only to track your successes: it’s to find what didn’t work.  Two terms did noticeably worse when I changed them, even though I thought the copy was better. So I’ll be changing those back!

A work in progress

Gaining real marketing value from meta descriptions isn’t a once off activity. It’s something you’d ideally look at monthly, or every few months, to see where there are gains to be made. It’s something you can do yourself if you don’t have the resources to pay someone too. And it can provide more visitors – and so more potential sales – without a big investment.

So what is the marketing value of meta descriptions? It’s a zero budget marketing tool that’s potentially hugely powerful in bringing you prospective customers, yet one all too easy to forget about! Good luck with your own testing!

 

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