How to Improve CTR with Magnetic Meta Descriptions
SEO has traditionally existed to provide more traffic through organic search, but simply assuming that the #1 listing gets the most traffic is a reductive and oversimplified view of what we do.
The truth is that in the era of rich snippets and structured data, there are a number of nifty tricks to steal a little more traffic from the competitor who outranks you. You don’t always have to make drastic changes to affect your rankings. In fact, a few simple tweaks to your current SEO strategy can make a huge difference.
This post concentrates on the meta description, the underused secret weapon of any SEO looking to attract more traffic without ever moving higher up the rankings, and shares some tips on how to improve your CTR using the field.
Typical SERP CTR and user behaviour
Without getting into the specifics, Slingshot SEO’s post shows how traffic is typically shared across the organic listings on the first page of Google’s results:
Whilst ranking in position four for your main keyword seems a relatively good achievement, getting less than 5% of the available traffic for all that effort seems something of a let-down.
Maybe the top three positions are occupied by big brands with huge, unconquerable authority metrics. This could make you believe that outranking them would take years – if it’s realistic at all.
In this instance, it pays to optimise your snippet to catch the eye of the user. Many searchers will mindlessly click the top result; others will look for brands they recognise and trust. But the more discerning search engine user will read the title tag and meta description, opening the door for your snippet to give them the key piece of information they didn’t know they were looking for.
Use your USPs
While the title tag is one of the most important on-page ranking factors, meta descriptions do not influence search position, according to Google. However, the meta description has a huge influence in which link a searcher clicks on.
This is why your site’s meta descriptions are the ideal opportunity to forget about keyword optimisation and get the main selling point of your product/service across to the potential buyer. Display your unique selling points (USPs) prominently and convince a searcher that they should click your page.
Look at this result for the phrase “exhibition stands”:
While printdesigns.com just ask “why not give us a call?” DisplayWizard tell you exactly why you should call them:
1. Quality product
2. Affordable price
3. Full end-to-end service
4. Free UK delivery
There are four, easily-explained reasons to click their listing over their higher-ranking competitor. When business owners and marketing managers are pressed for time organising their trade show exhibition, are they going to waste time perusing each page, or choose the most attractive listing?
Use persuasive language
When deciding which elements of your service to include, it can be easy to get side-tracked with details.
Just like any writing task, focus on your audience. Think about what the searcher cares about and reflect that intent.
Brian Clark at Copyblogger recently wrote about “one of the foundational tenets of direct marketing” – the reason why. This concept definitely applies when it comes to meta descriptions.
1. Why are you the best?
2. Why should I believe you?
3. Why should I buy right now?
In this result, Simply-Christening have ticked two of the three points above:
Firstly – Simply Christening claim to be the best because their unique gifts are available at unbeatable prices. Secondly, they encourage you to buy right now because they have fast UK next working day delivery available – a bit of a mouthful but it’s certainly the best of any top ten listing for “christening gifts”.
All this meta description is missing is an answer to question 2) – why should the user believe the claims they’re making? When you talk about unbeatable prices, a price-match guarantee is a way of putting your money where your mouth is and reassuring the searcher that they don’t need to look elsewhere; your prices are the best.
Make an active snippet
I have to credit Distilleds Kristina Kledzik with this tip – start the meta description with a verb. By starting with a message like choose from thousands of ‘products’ or find your ideal ‘product’ your meta description becomes active, rather than passive.
By doing this, you prompt the user to take an action during their visit and create a more informative and attractive snippet. Kristinas post contains some great examples.
Think about length
Space is an issue when trying to answer three questions in one short snippet. Typically I aim for less than 160 characters in a meta description because Google cuts off anything longer, making it look untidy. Plus, I hate seeing this:
Sorry onlinemarketingpeople, you may have some decent rankings but I’m skipping over your scruffy-looking snippet. The ellipsis means that the sales message is incomplete and whilst it’s all a matter of opinion, my personal feeling is that shaving a few characters off your meta data to ensure it fits within Google’s limitations makes for a more eye-catching listing.
Taking the Simply Christening example above, the existing snippet is 141 characters including spaces. Rework the opening section and they could include a ‘price match guarantee message’ without missing out any other crucial information:
The new meta description answers all three ‘why’ questions with room to spare at 133 characters.
Find the strongest sales message
Once you’ve structured your meta description properly, it’s time to start testing. Testing ad copy in PPC listings can influence meta descriptions and the truth is, you’ve never finished optimising your meta data. Keep trying new ways of delivering your message and see what works best for your site.
For those who don’t have the luxury of an AdWords account, first of all get in touch with Custard and get yourself one. Secondly, check your organic click-through rate in Webmaster Tools, start a test and come back in a few weeks to check for improvement.