Category Archives: SEO

Is Your Meta Description Working As Hard As Your Tagline?

A well-crafted Meta Description can be as important to your brand as your tagline. Companies spend thousands of dollars developing phrases that help customers understand the essence of their brand. Nike’s “Just Do It” or General Electric’s “Imagination at Work” are excellent examples. For consumers using a search engine, your Meta Description helps them quickly grasp what you have to offer and invites them to enter your virtual front door.

Here’s a great example from Exact Target:

Their well-written Meta Description is:

ExactTarget is the preferred targeted email marketing provider for Fortune 500 enterprises and Small Businesses alike. Find out why.

And results in a SERP display like this:

The SERP pages for Exact Target in Google

A well-written Meta Description achieves its objective if the reviewers next step is to click and learn more

Google has pulled Exact Target’s Meta Description to display along with their search result. Although it no longer has any influence on SEO rankings, the thoughtfully-written Meta Description is still playing a valuable role in driving traffic to Exact Target’s website.

Today we’re going to delve deeper into Meta Descriptions – exploring what makes a good one, looking at usage, and discovering what competitive intelligence you can glean from a side-by-side comparison. Read on!

Is your Meta Description a friendly doorman or an angry bouncer?


A thoughtfully-written Meta Description will crisply articulate what sets you apart from your competitors in a warm tone that welcomes visitors to come explore your website. Just like the doorman who offers a friendly greeting and holds open the door – your Meta Description can create a great first impression.

And if you aren’t proactive, the search engines will create a first impression for you, displaying seemingly random and definitely generic text to explain what their users might expect to find on your site. Like being greeted by an unfriendly bouncer, many visitors are moved along – clicking through to a competitor’s site instead.

Here’s a real-world example:

Unbounce, a leading landing page optimization company, has spent time perfecting a Meta Description that delivers results.

Unbounce's well written meta description prior to an accidental change

Unbounce’s well-written Meta Description prior to an accidental change

A few weeks ago, Rival IQ identified that Unbounce had released a beautiful new home page but had inadvertently wiped out their Meta Description.

Unbounce Changes scaled

Rival IQ tracks the change to the new Unbounce homepage and accidental deletion of their Meta Description

The impact on their SERP was immediate. Gone was any mention of who uses Unbounce and what makes their offer different from the competition. Instead, Google had put a bland face on their welcome.

Unbounce SERP no meta

The impact of a missing Meta Description is obvious on Unbounce’s new SERP

It didn’t take the on-the-ball marketers at Unbounce long to get their proven Meta Description restored, and in no-time, they were again starting the conversation with potential prospects with their best foot forward.

Writing Meta Descriptions that deliver clicks.

I find distilling a company’s value proposition down to 155’ish characters of goodness (the length SEOmoz recommends) a real challenge. Thankfully, there are some great resources to out there to help. Here are a few I found helpful:

You can’t win if you don’t play.

“80 percent of success is
just showing up”

Woody Allen

At Rival IQ, we track thousands of websites for our customers, and would you believe that 28% of the homepages don’t have a Meta Description? Another 30% have Meta Descriptions that are too long, abruptly cutting off after 155 characters. This means that a mere 41% of companies have a Meta Description that is the right length.  The result is that with just a little effort, you can be out-performing 50% of the market!

Meta Desc Usage Chart

Over 50% of companies do not have a Meta Description or have one that is too long

Positioning. Positioning. Positioning.

You can gain valuable insight into how your competitors are positioning themselves by doing a side-by-side comparison of their Meta Descriptions. (Assuming, of course, that they have them!)

This might sound daunting, but it’s easy to do with a spreadsheet and a tool that extracts the Meta Description, like the SEOmoz SEO Toolbar. [Begin Brief Product Plug] Our product, Rival IQ, makes it easy to build up a collection of companies and analyze their Meta Descriptions and many other examples of positioning language. If you are looking to quickly analyze Meta Descriptions for a set of companies, try our free Competitive Meta Description micro-app. [End Product Plug]

Learning from two example meta description comparisons

To demonstrate what we can learn from a side-by-side comparison of Meta Descriptions, I’m going to explore examples from two different industries. First, I’ll examine the dynamic, technology-oriented landing page optimization market, and then follow it with a look at the much more mature auto insurance market. In both cases, it is amazing to see the insights you gain from studying how companies describe themselves in relatively few words.

First, the landing page optimization market . . .

Meta description comparison for landing page optimization market

Key learning:

Missing Descriptions. Two companies have blank Meta Descriptions, including Visual Website Optimizer (another leader in this space).  Just to drive home my earlier point about random text getting displayed, here’s a look at their search result – it’s definitely in the “bouncer” camp:

Visualwebsiteoptimizer no meta

The impact of a missing Meta Description is clear in the SERP for VisualWebsiteOptimzer

Minimal Differentiation. Most of the landing optimization companies tout the same benefits – making more money, increasing conversions, and being easy to use. Only Unbounce gets specific about what they do and why it’s easy. Perhaps that’s enough to let them stand out.

Social Proof Stands Out. Ion Interactive is the only competitor to leverage social proof in their Meta Description, calling out Dell, DHL, and Western Union as customers.

As a marketer, I’d walk away from this analysis determined to get more specific about what I’m offering prospects (like Unbounce) and to possibly incorporate recognizable customer names (like Ion) into my Meta Description.

Let’s take a look at what we can learn from the auto insurance industry . . .

Meta description comparison for the auto insurance industry

Key learning:

It’s a mature market. There are no missing Meta Descriptions, and most of them are tightly honed.

Key messages. Some companies are building credibility and differentiation by emphasizing their longevity in the market. Others are specifying the type of insurance they offer. Very few of them tout benefits beyond price. (This might be a positioning opportunity.)

Free offer. Six of the eleven companies promote the offer of a free quote to discover how prospects can save. This is a great example of leveraging a Meta Description to perform advertising in organic search results. Clever.

As a marketer in this industry, I’d be weighing whether the offer of a free quote was differentiating and wondering if I should be emphasizing benefits other than price. (Allstate including their tag line, “You’re in Good Hands…” comes closest to doing this). And if I were GEICO, I’d be weighing whether the 35 characters I’m using spell out the acronym that is my known name (Government Employees Insurance Company) is worth the real estate.

Remember these three easy steps

  1. Spend the time to craft a Meta Description that welcomes customers with a concise articulation of your value proposition.
  2. More than 50% of businesses either don’t have a Meta Description or have one that is too long. Your first step to winning is to get in the game and follow the basic rules.
  3. You can gain key market-positioning insights by doing a side-by-side comparison with your competitors’ Meta Descriptions.

What is the best Meta Description that you’ve seen? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

One last time: Try Our Free Competitive Meta Description Report

Would like to see how your Meta Description stacks up against those of your competition? If so, we’ve created a Free Competitive Meta Description Report that will perform a side-by-side analysis similar to the examples in this post. To get started, click here, or look in the “Free Reports” section of our homepage,


Are you accidentally exposing your keyword strategy?!

Search engines stopped considering the contents of your meta-keywords tag at least 4 years ago (and probably much longer than that).  If you are spending time populating your meta-keywords tag, you are wasting time (at best) and enunciating your keyword strategy to the interwebs (much worse).  In this modern time of SEO consultants and marketing automation tools, you might imagine that there are relatively few people who still follow the now 10-or-more-year-old advice to populate the meta-keywords tag in their web pages, but a quick look into our data reveals that more than 50% of companies populate their meta keywords.

What, you’re still updating your meta keywords and need the quick fix? Go remove your website meta-keywords tag from your site now!  Then come back here and read about how to gain insights about your less savvy competitors.

Google and Bing don’t use meta keywords as an input to their ranking algorithms

Few, if any, SEO experts advocate the use of meta keywords for SEO purposes.  Matt Cutts (from Google) explains Google’s take on the matter,  and many others point out that Bing uses it only as a negative signal that decreases your page relevance.  If that weren’t enough evidence for you, go read the consensus of opinion on SEOmoz’s community forum.

In addition to pointing out the lack of relevance to search, most bloggers on the topic go one step further and actively advocate that research your competitors’ sites to gain insight into their keyword strategy.  I couldn’t agree more, so let’s look at how to quickly gain that insight.

Explore your competitors’ meta-keywords tag for insights into their keyword strategy

Despite my rant about meta-keywords being a waste of time,  researching your competitors’ use of them can be a quick and fruitful exercise.  A few minutes of time invested may provide valuable inspiration for keywords you may want to optimize for during your own SEO or PPC activities, or clue you in to shifts your competitors may be planning.

To quickly examine meta tags as you browse the web, find one of the many browser add-ons that surface many of the non-visible details the page you’re viewing contains.  My favorite add-on at the moment is the SEOmoz SEO Toolbar, and it is definitely worth checking out.

For longer term monitoring or for a broader survey of many websites simultaneously, you can use a tool such as Rival IQ (our app) to assemble your competitors and track a variety of information including meta-keywords tags.  As an example, I used Rival IQ to review the meta keywords for an insurance industry competitive profile I am monitoring.  This is a mature industry with large marketing and IT budgets, and nearly all of the companies had meta-keywords but have not been actively modifying them.  Have a look:

Meta-keywords usage in the auto insurance industry

In the mature insurance industry most companies still have populated meta-keywords

Another competitive landscape I reviewed while writing this post was the gamification market, a technology-driven space where you might expect complete adherence to modern SEO best practices.  Yet, even in this tech-heavy marketplace, 5 out of 11 companies still populate their meta-keywords tag, and at least two of them have spent time changing them during the last 3 months.  And no, I’m not going to say who! You could go sign up for Rival IQ and figure it out though ;-).  Again, have a look at who’s doing what:

Meta-keywords usage in the gamification industry

Multiple companies in the tech-savvy gamification industry also still populate meta-keywords

Believe it: 50% of companies still populate their meta-keywords tag

At Rival IQ, our systems peruse thousands of websites every day on behalf of our customers.  Among the things we examine are meta-tag contents (including keywords) and how they change over time.  Looking at some recent data from our system, I realized that more than half of the companies we monitor still populate their meta-keywords tag (surprising, yes!).  You could potentially write off many of these instances as yet-to-be-discarded relics of a different time.  But seeing indications that, at least for many companies, meta-keyword editing is a commonplace activity makes me cringe.  Not only have you wasted your time, but you’ve given your competitors an insight as to your awareness of best practices (and your thoughts on important keywords, too).

Over 50% of companies still populate their meta-keywords tag

51% of companies populate their meta-keywords tag

Perhaps a more shocking  statistic is that 27% of companies with a keywords tag made changes in the last 90 days!  In other words, that’s about 1 in 8 companies we track.  Clearly, there is still plenty of room for improvement in the world of digital and online marketing.

Bar Chart showing that 27% of Companies still modify their meta-keywords

27% of meta-keywords tags changed in last 90 days

Now, to repeat my earlier call: if you still have a populated meta-keyword tag, go make it so that you don’t!

Think I’ve got it wrong?  Do you still use a meta-keywords tag at your company?  Tell me why?  I’d love to hear from you.