Boosting SERP Click Through Rates (CTR) with Persuasive Meta Descriptions

A lot of people dismiss meta descriptions as an outdated SEO tool – one that the search engines have long since devalued following years of keyword stuffing and other outright scams.  However, these people are missing out an incredible opportunity to present search users with a snippet of persuasive text and increase the odds of generating traffic back to their sites from the SERPs.

Here’s how my company Single Grain is using meta descriptions to boost organic traffic…

1 – Understand the new role of meta descriptions

Our goal as marketers is to get more people to respond to our communications – preferably by pulling out their credit cards, in most cases.  However, in order to get them to this buying stage, we first need to get them onto our site, which means making our snippets that appear in the SERPs as attractive as possible.

Obviously, our goal is to get our site ranked as highly as possible in the SERPs, using a combination of on-page and off-page SEO.  However, there’s no arguing with the fact that Google Search Plus Your World, enhanced blended SERPs and a number of other factors have made gaining top positions through traditional SEO more difficult than ever.

And that’s unfortunate, as a recent study by Slingshot SEO – published on SEOMoz – demonstrated a huge decrease in click through rate that falls steeply in accordance with SERP position:

According to their results, although a top ranking site has over an 18% chance of being clicked through to, that likelihood falls to 4% or less as soon as the fourth position in the SERPs.  That’s a pretty big deal, as in many cases, the recent inclusion of additional mixed media SERP results and personalized results has bumped traditionally high ranking sites by at least this many positions.

So if we aren’t able to earn high click through rates by securing top positions in the SERPs, we need to encourage traffic to choose our listing over others using the only other means available – ensuring that the text contained in our SERP snippets is as persuasive as possible!

This is where the meta descriptions referenced earlier come in…  Because the SERP snippets pull their text directly from a site’s meta tags, we can control how persuasive our SERPs listings by simply changing the meta descriptions on our sites.

2 – Find persuasive ad copy for our meta descriptions

Since we know that our meta descriptions will display in the SERPs every time our site appears, one trick we can use to get more people to respond to us is to make a note of our best performing ad copy and place that in the meta description.

But where can we find this ideal copy?  In fact, both our PPC and Facebook ads serve as a good indication of what people will respond well to.

What we can do is to take the ads that are getting the most people to respond on Facebook and Google Adwords, and then use them in our meta description tags.  As these meta descriptions will then show up in the SERPs, more people will engage with our listings in the search results – leading to more traffic coming in to our site, more conversions and higher search engine results rankings due to a corresponding increase in CTR.

3 – Identify our best performing ads

Now that we know to look in our Google Adwords and Facebook Ads accounts to find the high performing copy needed to entice visitors in the natural SERPs, we’ll need to determine which of our ads are best suited for use as meta descriptions.

Obviously some of our ads will be better suited to this usage than others, so we’ll want to take advantage of the messages that resonate most with users in these settings.  Look for ads from within your account that meet the following criteria:

  • High impression rates – The more an ad has been seen in a live setting, the better able we are to assess other measures of its worth, including its click through rate and conversion percentage.  Newer ads may not be as well-tested, resulting in insufficient data to make a judgment call on.
  • High click through rates – Ads that have generated clicks in a PPC setting are likely to pull in the same level of interest from within the natural SERPs.  It isn’t quite as important that these ads result in conversions as in a PPC setting (since you don’t pay anything to appear in the natural SERPs), so instead look for ads that demonstrate a high level of engagement through their click through rates.
  • High conversion rates – Ads that result in conversions should be especially valued as potential meta description options, as they’ve already proven their ability to attract buyers.  Finding existing ads with high conversion rates (and correspondingly high impressions rates to validate their performance over time) should be your first priority for transforming ad copy to meta description tags.

To see a visual example of how this process looks in practice, check out the following screenshot:  http://screencast.com/t/TYh6nXAyXZH

4 – Tailor our best performing ads to fit the meta description tag

Finally, once you’ve decided which specific ad copy versions to use in your meta description tags, you may need to do a little tailoring to make your text fit the unique parameters associated with this usage.  Consider all of the following recommendations when adjusting your ad copy to appear in natural SERP snippets:

  • The meta description only has room for 155-160 characters total, so you may need to cut your ad text down to size (consider writing your meta descriptions in Twitter to see exactly how many characters you’ve used).
  • Consider incorporating any target keywords you have into your meta description as well (if they aren’t already used in your ad copy) in order to procure a small SEO benefit.
  • Keep a close eye on your organic SERP click through rates after making changes to your meta descriptions.  Although these recommendations should improve the amount of traffic you earn from the natural search results, nothing can be applied across industries with 100% accuracy, so it’s important to ensure any changes made don’t diminish your existing traffic flow.

Ideally, adjusting your meta descriptions using proven ad copy should result in higher click through rates from the natural SERPs and a new flow of motivated, engaged visitors back to your site.  As you’ll likely find, these visitors often have a higher motivation to purchase because the copy in the ad was engineered for the specific purpose of increasing sales, resulting in higher conversions – and more profit – for your business.

Image: edkohler

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About Sujan

Sujan Patel is the VP of Marketing at thisCLICKS, the makers of When I Work & Wage Base. Previously Sujan founded Single Grain, one of the top Digital Marketing agencies in San Francisco, CA. With more than 10 years of Internet marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Sales Force,…