SEO 101

Meta descriptions are a hidden - yet important - jewel in your webpage. While the search engines don’t use them in ranking your page, the search engines will often display them as a part of the search results page. Think of them as a mini-advertisement that can greatly improve or harm user click-throughs to your site. In today’s post, we’ll talk about what meta descriptions are, what they look like, and some important considerations in how to optimize them.

What is a Meta Description?

A meta description is like a 2-3 sentence summary of your page that explains what your webpage is about. It shows up in two primary places: search engine results pages and other websites such as social media sites.

For those that want to look a bit under the hood and dig into the code – don’t worry, we’ll spend 2 sentences talking about code and then get back to “good stuff” - the meta description shows up in the “head” section of the webpage. It looks like this:

<html> <head> <title>Your page title goes here</title> <meta value=”description” content=”Your meta description goes here. It should be between 150-160 characters and contain a few important keywords describing this page and a short call-to-action.” /> </head> <body>your content goes here…</body> </html>

Now, if you are using a content management system (CMS) like Joomla or WordPress, you don’t have to worry about the code. You can manage the meta descriptions through your CMS.

What does a Meta Description look like to visitors?

Your visitors won’t see the meta description on your page (unless they look at the code), but there are two places where your visitors will likely encounter your meta description: search engine results and other websites such as Facebook. Here is an example of how the same page meta description will look in the different areas:

Search Results Page

In a search results page, the meta description will show up as the text right after the title and URL of each result. Often, the search engines will use the meta description from the webpage. So, it really behooves you to craft a good meta description, since it can influence whether people click on your result or not. Notice that the search engine will highlight any keywords that were used in the search in bold.

Snippet from search results page

In Social Media such as Facebook

Whenever you share a page on Social Media, it will often pull in an image from the page along with the title tag and the meta description to display along with your update.

Shared post in Facebook

Writing and Optimizing your Meta Descriptions

Here are some key points to remember when writing and optimizing your meta descriptions:

  • Write for human readers and give them a good reason to click on your result or link
  • Include a call-to action such as “click here” or “learn more by clicking here”
  • Make it welcoming
  • Limit the meta description to roughly 150-160 characters including spaces
  • Use a unique description for each page
  • Make sure the description is relevant to the page
  • Use the most important 2 or 3 keywords that describe the page and put the most important one toward the beginning of the description
  • Don’t repeat the same keyword multiple times (eg. Avoid keyword stuffing).

Updating your Meta Descriptions

The good news is that if you are using a CMS like Joomla or WordPress, you can manage your meta descriptions without digging into the code. How you edit the meta descriptions can vary if you have special plugins or extensions, but here are the most common methods.

Updating your Meta Descriptions In Joomla

By default, Joomla will use the meta description of the article. To update the meta description for the article, you edit the article. Here are the steps for Joomla 2.5. It is generally the same process for Joomla 1.5 and Joomla 3.x versions. From the control panel:

  1. Go to Content >> Article Manager
  2. Click on the article item
  3. Click on the Meta Options on the right side
  4. Edit the Meta Description field as desired
  5. Click “Save & Close” in the top right.

You can also override the title for pages linked to menu items by editing the “Meta Description” field in the “Meta Options” for the relevant menu item. From the control panel:

  1. Go to Menus >> Main Menu (or relevant menu name)
  2. Click on the menu item
  3. Click on the Meta Options on the right side
  4. Edit the Meta Description as desired
  5. Click “Save & Close” in the top right.

Updating your Meta Descriptions In WordPress

WordPress does not include the ability to set and update the page/post meta descriptions by default. It must be enabled either in your Theme or with a special SEO plugin. If you are using a special SEO plugin or have theme options enabled for managing your meta descriptions, these will often be toward the bottom of your page when editing the page using the control panel.


Your meta descriptions are a basic, yet highly important part of your search engine optimization (SEO) effort. While it doesn’t improve your search ranking, it can improve your click-through rate. For prospects finding you through the search engines and social media, it can make the difference between clicking on your link and skipping to the next item. Take some time to craft a meaningful and relevant meta descriptions for your pages.

If you have any questions on how to update your meta descriptions, let us know. We can point you in the right direction.

Sign up for Katalyst Web Alerts...

Want to learn more about loving your website? Sign up for Katalyst Web Alerts and receive a copy of our handy website maintenance checklist!