When my 74-year-old mother asked me where my phone book was yesterday, she was a bit shocked when I told her I didn't have one. Then I opened my computer and asked what she needed. This "no phonebook" reality is common for people under 45, so if they're in your demographic, listen up.
Your Web page's meta tag description is the new phone book ad. Not just the index page description, either. Each and every page that might pull a listing for a key phrase needs to have a compelling description attached to it.
Tag optimization has evolved a lot in the last three years, thank heavens. Almost completely gone are the tags that simply list key phrases or, worse yet, stuff them so often into a sentence that said sentence becomes barely readable. Now it's time to evolve a bit farther. Let's take this four-legged meta tag fish out onto dry land permanently.
When I flip through the "new" phone book (i.e., scroll my Google search result listings), I will click on the most compelling link. Yes, being in the first three is important, but once a website is on page one, it's on my radar. That means it could be the description that pulls a click even if the site is in spot seven or eight. So, the title should be phrase relevant, but also the description needs to be phrase relevant, descriptive of what I will be finding, and (check this out) compelling.
Why not? Just because it's called a description, doesn't mean it only has to describe. I know this meta tag game has always seemed to be about the search spiders, but ultimately it's about the clicks - clicks that humans make with brains and fingers. So why have we as designers and optimizers and content writers lost sight of the fact that these two-sentence page descriptions should sell a person and urge them to click?
I propose that if we had to pay Google to enter page descriptions, we'd be a lot more creative with the copy. You see it all the time with the paid ads. The writers on that right-hand side are doing so much more with fewer characters. Take these ads below as an example. On a Google search for "swimming pools," here are the top five organic listings. Compare the call to action here in these ads with the top five paid listings that follow.
Swimming Pools, Above Ground Pools, & Pool Accessories
Above Ground Pools and In-Ground Pools: Nationwide Pools is the largest single
above ground swimming pool location dealer in the United States.
Guide to inground and above ground pools including in for on swimming pool...
Swimming pool costs can become overwhelming - find out what your wallet's in...
National Pool Wholesalers - Above Ground and Inground Swimming...
Inground and above ground pools and pool kits. Swimming pool supplies at
Swimming Pools & Water Fun - Outdoor Play - Toys "R" Us
Buy Swimming Pools & Water Fun products at Toysrus.com. The leading toy
store for toys, educational toys, baby products, and more.
Walmart.com: Toys: Outdoor Play: Swimming Pools & Accessories
Shop Low Prices on Toys, Outdoor Play, Swimming Pools & Accessories.
Swimming Pool Sale
2010 Models- 40-60% off Now. Inhouse Financing.18ft. Pools- $499
Inground Fiberglass Pools
100's of inground fiberglass pools installed in Northern Ohio. Call NOW
Above Ground Pools
Blue World Pools Designs & Installs Pools For Those Who Want The Best!
Inground Pool Construction With 25 Years Of Experience. Free Quotes.
Pools at Kmart®
Save 25% On All Pools And More at Kmart! Hurry, Sale Ends 7/17.
Some may argue that we're appealing to two separate buying cycles here. The savvy searcher understands that paid ads are a hard sell for those ready to buy, and the organic ads tend to be a soft sell for the research oriented. Yet, there's no excuse for not having some call to action for researchers even if it's "learn, click, read, compare, and find." Many even fail to sell a brand or product benefit in the description, which is something even a researcher will look for in an ad.
You may have noticed that I keep calling the organic listings "ads," and if that seems odd, well, it shouldn't. Next time meta tag description writing comes up at the website redesign meeting, all that copy writers need to be told is that the meta title and descriptions are the 21st century yellow page ads. If writers simply keep that in mind as the tags for each page are crafted, the website will evolve and benefit exponentially.
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Sage Lewis is the president of SageRock Digital Marketing. SageRock has been a leader in Web marketing since 1999, offering search engine optimization, paid search marketing, social media marketing, and analytics.
Sage speaks nationally with SES and other prominent Web marketing organizations. He is one of the most sought after speakers and coaches in the field of Web marketing. From coast to coast, Sage has trained, coached, and consulted with some of the largest brands and conferences in the country.
Sage is also "The Web Marketing Video Guy" with nearly 500 Web marketing videos published. Sage writes as an expert for ClickZ in the "Search Engine Marketing" section. He lives in Akron, Ohio with his wife, Rocky, and son, Indiana.
His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
March 19, 2014