Part I: The Ultimate Guide to Meta Description

Posted by John Barlow - June 24, 2010 - SEO - 7 Comments

You’ve just taken over a client from an unscrupulous agency; title tags are stuffed with keywords, there’s a dodgy backlink history and the meta keywords are used on every page. Worst of all, your just not getting the traffic you’re expecting from the rankings you’re achieving.

You look at the analytics and webmaster tools and see that click-through rates are well below what you’ve experienced before; the meta descriptions need changing, fast. This two part series is going to look at how to find quick wins from your description without checking every single one manually, ultimately getting the traffic you deserve.

What makes people click?

Before we dive straight into fixing the problem, let’s establish a little background.  Have you ever really thought about what makes people click on your description? It’s an interesting question, and one which I’ve tried to answer with the following diagram:

Click Though Rate Tree

This looks complicated but it’s all common sense:

Brand: Do your consumers trust you? In fact, do they even know you? If you’re ranking #1 and have no branding why wouldn’t everyone click on the well known brand in the #2 position.

Marketing Synergy: Related to branding, are you doing any advertising in other mediums such as TV, display or social media that will help drive buzz for your product/service and generate clickthroughs.

The type of search: It’s long been shown that different types of searches will relate to different click through rates. If a consumer is searching for “buy Panasonic TZ10” they are almost at the end of their consumer journey and will undoubtedly click on a retailer rather than an information site.

The SERP: Universal search will screw up your expected click through rates, as they’ll often affect where your rankings are visually positioned on the page.

Relevancy of Title +Description tag: Is the copy that you’ve written relevant to what the user is searching for? Are there keywords in the title? Does the description sound relevant to the keyword being searched for?

Pull of Title + Description: Is the copy well written? Does it read well (probably not if it’s jam packed with keywords)? The description is the SERP sales person, is it going to convince the searcher to click on your snippet.

We’ve established what the key factors are but how can we effectively and methodically improve them.

Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools has recently changed to offer some insight into how much coverage you’re getting on keywords and relevant click through rates, it’s vital for analysis of descriptions. Let’s have a quick look at how Webmaster Tools is structured so we can best understand the data we’re getting, this is the basic display:

Note that we’re looking at a certain time period (usually pre-set to the last month), and there is a visual representation of the impressions + click through rates. Below this is a list of all your keywords, as well as the number of impressions, clicks and click through rate (CTR).

There are a few things you should know before progressing. In marketing generally an impression usually is when someone has “seen” your ad; in this case I think it’s slightly trickier. From my experience I believe that an “impression” is when someone looks at a page you’re snippet is on. As your rankings are more like a range of values than a fixed number they will often range over more than one page. This causes a slight CTR problem, see the diagram below:

Click Through Rate Issue

In part II of this post, I’m going to show you fast, effective ways to find these issues and deal with them.

About the Author

John Barlow

Caliban is a SEO with a passion for tweaking even the smallest of details to get the edge he needs. He writes regularly on his Mobile SEO Blog

I was just browsing through the internet looking for some information about link building strategy and came across this website. You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your website. Thank you for sharing.


This is a great post ! it was very informative. I look forward in reading more of your work. Also, I made sure to bookmark your website so I can come back later. I enjoyed every moment of reading it.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

Yeah, Google is doing a great job with constantly adding new features to Webmaster it.I will keep my eyes open for your post on Friday. Look forward to it.

Carrie Hill
Carrie Hill

I LOVE the new webmaster tools info on keywords. It really helps us see the CTR and more granular data on organic keywords without having to do "math" which is NOT my forte.Stay tuned, I have a piece publishing at on Friday about using your PPC Ad copy to test calls to action and phraseology for your Meta Descriptions :)Thanks for Sharing!~Carrie

Orange County Websit
Orange County Websit

High search engine rankings alone will not going to help the website until and unless people visit the site. The meta tag description is one of the important part of SEO to get your website higher ranking in search engines. What most people do is that they overuse the keywords which causes in penalizing. Always use keywords through keyword research and try to use some long tail keywords. A brand name is always helpful in building traffic. So, build your brand initially rather than marketing. Let people know about you and then your products. This will definitely going to help in future.Lastly avoid two things -- Black Hat SEO and fooling people.


  1. […] June 25, 2010 | View Commentstweetmeme_style = 'compact'; tweetmeme_source = 'm_thompson'; ShareIn Part I of this two part series, I left you saying how inaccurate the CTR’s Google was give are. Now I want you to totally forget […]

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