Meta descriptions are essential for getting clicks from Google search engine results pages, but not in the way you might think. Photographers have thought for years that meta data is important to search engine optimization (SEO). Not true. Google has ignored meta data since the early 2000’s due to keyword stuffing, but that doesn’t mean meta descriptions aren’t important. This post covers why meta descriptions are critical to a photographer’s SEO strategy and how to write them successfully.
What is a Meta Description?
A search results page shows three pieces of information from each page in the list. 1) Webpage title 2) Webpage URL 3) Webpage summary/description
Google uses a hidden field in your HTML code called a meta description to populate the description text in search results. This is the only place a user will see the meta description, so you can write one that is heavy on marketing since it will not appear anywhere on your website. If you don’t write your own descriptions for each page, you lose the opportunity to sell yourself in Google.
Note: Google doesn’t always use what you enter in the meta description field. Sometimes it will find pieces of text from your page that more closely match the user’s search words and will piece together a different summary on your behalf. I mention it so you don’t freak out when you see something different in Google (not typical).
Imagine me screaming this next statement through a megaphone: Keywords in the description don’t help the page rank better. If you’re one of those photographers who crams a ton of keywords into the description, or looks at a well ranked photographer and copies her keyword-cram-method, you’re wasting effort. Trust me, the Google Webmaster Blog says so:
Even though meta description words don’t rank you high, searchers still see the page description in Google and consider those words before clicking the link. Here’s where your choice in words indirectly affect rank… Google will bold any words from your description that were searched by the user. In the example above I searched “Matt Cutts meta description keywords” and you can see how those words appear bold in the result.
Bold text stands out, thus may be more visible and indicate to the user your webpage is a match. But in all honesty, I would completely ignore the keywords aspect so you can focus on writing the best description for the user. More on that topic shortly…
Where Do Photographers Access Their Meta Descriptions?
Nearly every website editing system has a field for meta description. Usually it’s as simple as finding your SEO control panel or just ask your provider where the field lives. Here are a couple examples:
WordPress Blogs will default to the Tagline under your Settings > General area.
But many themes, like ProPhoto (my favorite, and affiliate) have a special SEO section:
Here’s another example from a Blu Domain photography website:
Blogger Blog – thanks Deirdre Ryan Photography for sharing this article about how to update meta descriptions in Blogger.
Individual blog posts have a different spot to add the description. If you don’t see a field for it when you’re editing the post in WordPress, install the All in One SEO Pack (or similar SEO plug-in) to add a field in the editing area of each post.
Tips for Writing Successful Meta Descriptions
Successful meta descriptions get users to click your page when it appears in Google. So even if you’re ranked fifth, potential clients can click your search result instead of the #1 result because your page appears more compelling.
Google has limited room to show information, and will cut off descriptions after about 160 characters. I can’t think of any reasons to write a description more than 160 characters, since that information will not be seen by users, and is not considered when ranking the page. Your description should include the following:
- Your name or brand
- Compelling description of the page
- Call to action
Example homepage description:
Zach Prez captures stunning natural light portraits with years of expertise. View his beautiful galleries.
Example blog post description:
Zach Prez has photographed a lifetime of beautiful hotel weddings. Contact Zach for a free behind the scenes venue tour.
Example pricing page description:
Zach Prez stunning portraits are competitively priced to meet your budget. Check out his Silver investment package that includes digital negatives.
Note how each page needs a different description to entice users to click it from search engines. Someone who searched for pricing, or for hotel weddings won’t be attracted to a canned description that says “I’m a photographer in your city who does weddings.”
Each description already has the user thinking about taking the next step, either looking at galleries, contacting you, or selecting a package.
Summary of Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions play a crucial role in search engine optimization. Not because the keywords help you rank better, but because they appear in search results and affect the amount of clicks you can attract from Google. Influence the potential client’s purchase decision before they even visit your site by including your name or brand, compelling description about the webpage, and a call to action. Remember to make each page’s meta description unique and specific to the person who would search for that page.
Learn more about meta data and SEO in Photography Web Marketing Guide.
Photo credit: Ann Bennett Photography