By Stephen Sandecki
Author's note: This is part two of a series designed to educate self-storage operators on the basics of on-page search-engine optimization (SEO). To read other installments in the series, search for "Sandecki" using the search box in the upper right corner of this Web page.
To clarify, on-page optimization relates to things done directly to your Web page(s). Everything explained in this series can be done by whomever manages your website. If you run your website on a third-party platform or use third-party CMS (content-management system) software, you may be limited to how effectively you can optimize your on-page SEO. To get the most out of on-page SEO, give it consideration during the website-development phase.
This series is divided into seven parts, each focusing on a different optimization technique. Part one focused on the benefits of the HTML title tag. In part two, were going to talk about the title tags counterpart, the meta description.
There is debate among SEO professionals about whether a Web pages meta description has any effect on search-engine rankings. This is due to comments made by Google employees. However, since meta descriptions are still displayed in search results, they play a pivotal role in Internet marketing. To err on the safe side, I will teach you how meta descriptions should be optimized for search engines and humans.
The Technical of the Meta Description Element
The meta description, which is used to provide an actual description of a Web page, is part of the head HTML element and is located inside theHTML syntax. The meta data is used to provide page-specific information and isnt displayed on the actual Web page. This information can be used by browsers, search-engine crawlers, etc., to obtain more information about the page. Below is an example of the meta description HTML syntax:
Its important to remember you can only have one meta description per Web page. If you have more than one, search-engine crawlers and Web browsers will always use the one that appears first in your HTML code. Now that you understand exactly what a meta description is, its time to learn how you can use it for click conversion and (debatably) on-page SEO.
How Search Engines Use a Meta Description
Search engines use the meta description element in their search results. Its usually displayed underneath your title tag. This makes it very important that you optimize your meta description for both search engines and humans.
First, when viewing search results, a human will often use the meta description as a way to determine if he wants to click on that result. Second, its debatable that meta descriptions are used by search-engine algorithms to provide relevant search-engine results. Below is a simple example of how a title tag would be used in search results. The section inside the red square is the title tag for that Wikipedia Web page.
As you can see, apart from the title tag, the meta description is one of the most prominent parts of search-engine results. If your title tag is able to capture the eye of a human reviewing search results, your meta description will be what seals the deal and gets him to click on it. Generally, you use the meta description to accurately describe your Web page or provide a call to action directly related to your Web page.
One thing to remember: Relevancy is very important because if your meta description isnt relevant to the Web page, search engines will take a snippet from your Web pages content and display that instead.
Optimizing Your Meta Descriptions for Search Engines
Search engines may or may not use meta descriptions in their algorithms to rank search results. However, since meta descriptions can help improve the click-through ratio via search results, I'll tell you how to properly optimize them for humans and search engines. By following this method, youll be able to ensure your meta descriptions are attractive to humans and have the fail-safe of being optimized for search engines.
First, its important to remember that search engines limit the number of characters from a meta description that will be displayed in search results. For Google this limit is 155 characters. Below is an example of a meta description, located in the red square.
As you can tell, this Web page is about bear hunting, so that keyword is inserted two to three times in the meta description. Because bear hunting was the search term, that phrase is bolded in the search results. By using your Web pages primary keyword in your meta description, youll get it bolded, which draws attention to the person doing the searching.
You can also see that the example is a very short, sweet description of the website. It describes everything you can find on the home page and more. This engages the searcher because he now knows this Web page is about bear hunting and contains everything he needs to know about the topic.
Dont just stuff keywords into your meta description, as this may appear as spam and discourage people from clicking on your site. It may also trigger search engines to use a random snippet instead of your defined meta description.
Just like title tags, the meta description isnt very difficult to optimize. By following some simple rules and guidelines, you can easily optimize it from every single one of your Web pages. Below are some tips to remind you how to properly use the meta description element:
- Meta descriptions may or may not be used by search engines for ranking purposes. Default on the safe side and assume they are.
- Make your meta descriptions as relevant as possible to your Web pages content.
- Limit your meta description to only 155 characters.
- Try to insert the Web pages primary keyword or keyword phrase two to three times if possible.
Remember, the meta description should be primarily written for humans, not search engines. By following the guidelines above, you will successfully optimize your Web pages for online users and Internet search engines.
The next installment of this column will be more advanced, including information about URL structures.
Stephen D. Sandecki is the Internet marketing specialist for LifeStorage Centers LLC. He has more than eight years of experience in search-engine optimization, paid search and Internet marketing, and six years of experience in the self-storage industry. LifeStorage has 18 facilities throughout the Chicagoland area. For more information on Chicago Storage , visit LifeStorage.net.