Front Desk SEO: Meta Descriptions

When launching a new site or even a new page, the meta description is one of the last things written. Everyone knows it is important, but after writing and optimizing the content for 30 pages of a new site, the chore of writing the meta description grows from a minor task to a major challenge. Trying to summarize the 1500 words written for your landing page into a sentence that needs to fit in a specific amount of space almost seems absurd. Then, when you’ve actually done it, how do you know if it is actually any good? How do you measure this result? Or do you just put it up and hope for the best?
As part of our Front Desk SEO series, in this article we are going to explain why meta descriptions are an important part of optimization. Then we are going to explain how to write a good meta description.

What is a Meta Description?

Every page on your hotel’s website has a meta description. It is the basic description of the page Google and other search engines use it when the page shows up on their results pages for a search. Beyond the title of the page, a topic for another blog post, the meta description is usually the first thing a potential guest reads about your hotel when searching for a place to stay.
Some sites are launched without meta descriptions and Google creates one from the content on the page. Sometimes this works out well, and sometimes it doesn’t. Good SEO requires minimizing the chance of something bad being used to describe the page. Blank just isn’t an option when creating a powerful, meaningful meta description for your page.

What Makes a Good Meta Description?

There is only one metric used to determine if a meta description is good or not: do people click on the listing in the search engine results page? That’s it. How do you know what people will click on? This is where we get into long conversations about curiosity gaps, excitement, and perfect lengths. Each digital marketer tries to implement ‘best practices’ to get the highest click through rate they can.
The results of these practices vary depending on industry and searcher intent. For hotel’s the meta description needs to best match the searcher’s intent. For example, a web search looking for a hotel near a fun local attraction should turn up meta descriptions responding the need for vacation and fun.

Blue Magnet’s Best Practices for Meta Descriptions

Blue Magnet focuses on four elements when crafting a meta description for a page.

The Four Key Elements to a Great Meta Description

An effective meta description is personal. It speaks directly to and is about the reader. It uses you and your, not we and our.
Descriptive Action
Meta descriptions that achieve results for a site include descriptive action, using verbs to emotionally connect with the user.
A good meta description makes an implied or explicit promise to the reader.
The last element to consider in a great meta description is something evoking the reader’s curiosity, compelling them to click to find out more.

What about keywords? Keywords in the meta description help the site rank, right?
Google does not use meta descriptions as a ranking factor. Putting keywords in the meta description will not help the page rank better. Using keywords in the meta description will cause those words to be bolded on the SERP when Google lists your page there. This extra bit of eye-candy could be enough to attract attention and lead to a click.
As a rule-of-thumb, if the keyword is just going to be a repeat of what is in the title tag, then there is no point in repeating it. Using a variation of the keyword in the title tag is a good idea, though.
A good meta description is the same as a good call to action and all the tricks to get people to convert on a website can be used to in a meta description.

What are Some Examples of Great Meta Descriptions on Hotel Web Pages?

As mentioned earlier, the true measure of greatness for a meta description is in the clicks. Without access to the analytics to every hotel website to see what kind of click through rate each meta description generates, it is impossible to truly point to a meta description and declare it great. What can be done, though, is determine if a meta description contains the 4 elements Blue Magnet uses to craft meta descriptions.
Below are five meta descriptions taken from the SERPs with an analysis of each one using the four elements.

Example 1

the first example of a good meta description
Enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the links when you visit the Crowne Plaza Walnut Creek. Find the best golf courses and country clubs near Mt. Diablo!
“When you visit” The meta description could have included more personal elements, but it is at least speaking directly to the reader.
Descriptive Action
“Enjoy” While not intensely evocative, this verb at least matches the expectation of a day playing golf. Much better than “Read” or “Learn” which are not activities connected with playing golf.
“Enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the links”, “Find the best golf courses” These are two promises being made in the meta description which relate to the reader’s intentions of playing golf.
“near Mt. Diablo” Not the strongest element of curiosity, but it does cause a tickle of interest which could entice the reader to click to see how the best courses near Mt. Diablo compare to the best courses they have played on.

Example 2

the second example of a good meta description
Take a step back in time when you book our Nixon Library special! Just 5 miles from our hotel, the museum gives a candid glimpse into his fascinating story.
“You book” Like the example above, the description could be more personal. What really weakens the personal aspect of this description is it stops being about the reader and the reader’s experience and about what the museum is doing for the reader. This would be stronger if it read, “you will get a candid glimpse into Nixon’s fascinating story.”
Descriptive Action
“Take a step back in time” When speaking about museums, libraries, zoos, and other such places, it is easy to fall back to “Visit”, “Learn” or even “Read” as those are appropriate actions. This meta description calls up the feeling of ‘walking through history’ which is spot on for this kind of tourist attraction.
“Take a step back in time”, “gives a candid glimpse” From this meta description, the reader is being promised to be transported back into the era of the Nixon Presidency as well as receiving candid information about Nixon.
“candid glimpse”, “fascinating story” These two elements create a lot of curiosity in the reader to encourage them to click through.

Example 3

the third example of a good meta description
Savor the smoky flavors of tri-tip bbq and explore the nuances of our regional cuisine when you embark upon your Central Coast foodie adventure.
“you embark upon your” This meta description is all about the reader’s savoring and exploring tri-tip bbq.
Descriptive Action
“Savor the smoky flavors”, “explore the nuances” Savor is a great verb to use in relation to food. Explore may seem a bit odd, until the very end of the description where the word adventure is used. Exploring and adventure go hand-in-hand.
“foodie adventure” This phrase has a hint of a promise to it. It would be stronger if it promised you will ‘discover new culinary delights on your foodie adventure’ but there is a space constraint.
“foodie adventure” Pulling double duty in this meta description, a foodie adventure does force the question ‘what is that’ which is the essence of curiosity.

Example 4

the fourth example of a good meta description
“Prepare ye costumes and gather thy squires” A bit dated, but it is part of the charm.
Descriptive Action
“Prepare…”, “gather…” For people who have attended a renaissance fair, there are a lot of preparations to do and gathering all the children together also resonates. This meta description is letting the reader know there is more to a renaissance fair than just attending.
“a weekend of Elizabethan-style revelry” The promise is simple but clear – you will have a weekend of revelry – Elizabethan-style. This of course leads into our next element.
“Elizabethan-style revelry” What does this mean? The desire to click is strong just to find out what makes Elizabethan-style revelry different than other types of revelry.

Example 5

the fifth example of a good meta description
“Celebrate your special event” The meta description is about the searcher’s special event.
Descriptive Action
“Celebrate” Celebrate describes exactly what will happen at this location for the special event.
“breathtaking, one of a kind views” As promises go, it is a bit subtle, but it is there. The searcher will have her breath taken away by the views.
“Breathtaking” The curiosity element makes us contemplate just how amazing are these views. The searcher clicks just to see what the description means by breathtaking.

Give Meta Descriptions Special Attention

Every aspect of a web page should be developed, designed, and written to be as effective as it can be. In the creation process, those pesky descriptions sometimes slip away from us. We put them off to the last minute and write them in a frenzy at 3am desperately trying to meet a launch deadline.
We tell ourselves that we will go back and make them better after the pages are launched, but when does that actually happen? The page is launched, indexed, and served up in searches with a rushed meta description.
While Google might not consider a meta description as a ranking factor, the meta description is part of your page’s first impression on the searcher. A keyword stuffed, meandering sentence, and list of words will not impress anyone.
Whether you adopt Blue Magnet’s meta description best practices or develop our own, having a sense of what the meta description is supposed to do for your site will help you write consistent and effective meta descriptions. At the very least, it will assist in evaluating whether the meta description is good or not.

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