With so much on your plate when it comes to managing your nonprofit’s website, writing meta descriptions for each page or blog post might seem like an easy step to skip. Don’t do it! By leaving the meta description section blank, you’re missing out on the opportunity to convince those who find your site through search engines and social media links to click through.
Follow our meta description best practices to get more out of your website content when it appears in search results and on social media.
What Is A Meta Description?
A meta description is a short blurb of text that you write for each page of your website to summarize the information on the page and why it matters. Search engines may look for and use a meta description when displaying search results, and social media platforms often use it when a link is shared to give people a preview of the content. Simply put:
[Meta descriptions] should generally inform and interest users with a short, relevant summary of what a particular page is about.” – Google
Search engines like Google often play around with how they display meta descriptions. Recently, Google experimented with showing longer snippets around 300 characters long. But at the time of this post’s publication, the typical length that Google will display seems to be back between 130-155 characters. Any longer than that and your text is likely to get cut off.
As an example, here’s the meta description for Wired Impact’s homepage:
Want more examples? Don’t miss out on the download offered below!
All that said, search engines don’t always use the meta description that you write when displaying search results. Google often shows a piece of text from somewhere else on a page if it deems that blurb to be more relevant to what the searcher is looking for. It’s just another reason to make sure your website has great content everywhere!
Why You Should Care
Even though there’s a chance that Google will make up its own meta description, there are still a couple of good reasons that you’ll want to write one for each page on your website.
When your meta description does show up in search results, having a well-written one can help make your content look more clickable. And from a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective, web pages that attract a lot of clicks are likely to be seen as highly relevant and authoritative. This means they’re more likely to rank higher within the results.
While we’re talking SEO, it’s important to know that you don’t need to be optimizing a page for a specific keyword in order to write an effective meta description. You just need to be specific about what your page is about. If you do have some keyword research handy, check out some of our previous posts to learn more about using it to optimize your content:
- Brainstorming Keywords for Nonprofit Websites
- Writing for Search Engines and Real People Gets Your Content Noticed
- SEO for Blogs: Increase Your Nonprofit Blog Traffic
Social media channels like Facebook and Twitter commonly pull in meta descriptions when showing link previews. On Facebook, you used to be able to edit the description for your link, but that functionality has since been removed because there was potential for people to write misleading captions.
When you use meta description best practices on your website, the customized text that shows up with a link on social media will help motivate followers to click and share. For example, how compelling do you think this meta description was when the link was posted on Facebook?
No judgment (we’ve all been there) — but it’s hard to know what sort of information you might get on a page with a vague promise. If someone doesn’t know if the content offers them any value, they tend to keep on scrolling.
Meta Description Best Practices
Now that you know how and where your meta descriptions are used, it’s time to start writing! Use our 7 meta description best practices to motivate people to click on your content, either in search or on social shares.
Give an Accurate Summary
First and foremost, offer specific information about what someone should expect when they click on your page. Being coy or click-baity can be a turn-off to people that don’t know your organization very well.
Include a Call-to-Action
Do you want people to do something on your page? Think beyond “learn more” or “read more” and get them excited to take action or help in some way.
Focus on the Benefits
It’s a tricky balance when you have so little room, but don’t focus on the details of the page as much as what someone will gain from reading it. What’s the value from a visitor’s perspective?
Avoid Special Formatting
Now’s not the time to get weird. Avoid using special characters, all caps, title case sentences or other formatting that can make your site look spammy. (Special characters could also keep search engines from using your description.) Keep it simple.
Don’t Give It All Away
If your page answers a question or makes a special announcement, don’t feel like you have to give it all away in the meta description. Offer just enough information that people feel comfortable going to your site without being tricked somehow.
Make Them Unique
Be sure to customize the meta description for each page on your site. They should all be different because every page offers unique content. However, you can certainly use a similar “formula” for pages that are in the same section or serve a similar purpose.
Don’t Be a Robot
The term “meta description” can sound a little techy, but your writing doesn’t have to be. Be inviting and friendly using your nonprofit’s typical tone and style.
Get Our Meta Description Checklist & Examples
Now that you know the basics, get ready to write meta descriptions with our downloadable checklist and 21 meta description examples from actual nonprofit websites.
If you need somewhere to focus first, start with the most important pages on your website—the homepage, the main pages in your navigation, popular programs and pages that have important calls-to-action. By breaking up your work into smaller chunks, writing the descriptions will seem more manageable. After all, each one is only 1-2 sentences long.
You’ll also want to take the time to check punctuation, spelling and formatting issues like extra spaces. If it helps, write out all of your meta descriptions in a document first and ask someone to give them a quick review. You can continue to use the document in the future when you add new pages to your site.
Using the Yoast Plugin
We’re big fans of the Yoast Plugin and include it in our nonprofit website platform. If your organization’s website is built using WordPress, the plugin can help keep you up-to-date on meta description best practices (including the ideal length), as well as other SEO tactics. One feature that’s especially helpful for new websites—or for people just starting with meta descriptions on an existing site—is the ability to edit meta descriptions in bulk for all of your pages at one time.
However you approach writing meta descriptions for your website, you’re better off making your best effort than not writing them at all. Using our list of meta description best practices, nonprofit marketers at all levels of experience have the ability to give website content a little boost without a big time commitment.
Have you struggled to write meta descriptions for your website? What questions do you have about using meta descriptions for search and social media? Let’s talk in the comments.