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5 Meta Description Tips To Help Your Content Get the Clicks



5 Meta Description Tips To Help Your Content Get the Clicks

In its early days, USA Today was dubbed “McPaper” for its very short stories.

Unlike their peers at other newspapers, USA Today reporters had to digest big news into just a few paragraphs. Many in the profession criticized USA Today articles for their brevity. But I think those critics missed the talent required to synthesize and write concise copy.

It’s a skill that content marketers can appreciate, especially now that every piece of digital content needs a meta description. Our task is even more difficult than the one USA Today journalists face. We must summarize the content – no matter how long it is – in 156 characters.

And meta descriptions can’t just be short – they also have to compel readers to action. They’re one of just two factors searchers use to decide if your content is worth their precious click. (The other is the title or headline).

I’ll share some tricks for packing the biggest punch into a tiny space. First, though, let’s look at a few real-world examples.

Meta descriptions need to pack a big punch in a tiny space, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

A look at real meta descriptions

I know you know what they look like on SERPs, but I wanted to provide a visual reminder. So, I snapped the results from a search for “what are meta descriptions.” Yep, it’s a meta example.

(Of course, I can’t be sure each of these is the meta description. Google ultimately decides what appears in the results. It might choose a snippet from the page if it thinks the meta description as detailed in the HTML tag isn’t a good assessment of the content. But for the purposes of this article, let’s assume they are meta descriptions.)

The image shows four search results, each with meta descriptions below the page title.

The image shows four search results, each with meta descriptions below the page title. Each description ends with an ellipsis to indicate there’s more text ready to read. Interestingly, the visible descriptions are less than and more than 156 characters, so if you’re writing a meta description that you hope Google will use and fit in total, go for fewer than 156 characters or put the most important text early in the sentence.

Here’s how to make the most of the words that do fit.

1. Consider the searcher (aka why would someone search for this content?)

Think about why your audience would search for this topic. First, identify the targeted keywords for the article – this helps you understand who the target search audience is.

For example, consider Search Engine Journal’s meta description (for its article on how to create meta descriptions): “The meta description is an HTML tag that provides search engines and searchers a description of what the page is about.”

While BrightEdge describes its page this way: “A meta description is the information about your page that appears in the search engine results below the title/URL of the page.”

Both explain a meta description. However, by using the phrase “HTML tag,” Search Engine Journal indicates its page serves an audience that wants to learn about SEO technicalities. On the other hand, BrightEdge wrote its article for a more general audience, which makes sense because it targets general marketers.

Make sure your meta description fits your targeted searcher’s intent.

2. Include keywords, even if they’re already in the headline and SEO title

You’ll find plenty of writing advice that says you should avoid repeating a word in one sentence that was used in the previous sentence. You might interpret that counsel to mean that you should avoid repetition in your title and meta description. Please don’t.

Crafting a compelling meta description isn’t about the perfect flow. It’s about getting people to read and click on your content. That often takes a more promotional approach.

Crafting a compelling meta description isn’t about the perfect flow. It’s about getting people to read and click on your #content, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #SEO Click To Tweet


3. Entice the click – unless you don’t want one

It can seem like there are only two options for a meta description:

  • Answer the search query directly
  • Give just enough to pique searchers’ curiosity, so they click the link to read the full story on your website

If your sole purpose is to deliver the answer, answer the query directly (but expect fewer clicks). If you only want clicks, take the curiosity route.

In most cases, it’s probably best not to go one way or the other. Consider a combined approach for your meta description – give an answer (even if it isn’t the answer) and still pique their interest to read more.

You can do this by writing a meta description that explains what they will get when they choose to read your content as opposed to anyone else’s.

Use your meta description to explain why searchers should read your #content (rather than any of the other options on the SERP, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #SEO Click To Tweet

Let’s look at the HubSpot meta description as it appears on the search results page for the query “what are meta descriptions”: “Apr 28, 2022 — A meta description is the snippet of information below the blue link of a search result. Its purpose is to describe the contents of the page to …”

Its meta description reads much like every other result. But if you click through to the article, you’ll find it provides examples to go along with the basic explanation. What if HubSpot revised its meta to be specific to its content and differentiate itself from the rest?

“Apr 28, 2022 – A meta description is the snippet below the blue link of a search result. In these examples, see how they describe the contents of a page …”

See the difference? Now, the searcher knows they’ll find examples of meta descriptions if they click on the HubSpot link.


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4. What about including the company name in the meta description?

If your company has sufficient brand recognition and awareness in your industry, use its name in the meta description (or title). It brings a credibility factor that other results may not.

In the SERP screenshot I included above, HubSpot, Google, and BrightEdge use their names in their page titles. In some cases, that’s not feasible. Perhaps you need the real estate to capture the article better, or maybe your organization’s name is long.

The latter is the issue for the Content Marketing Institute – it’s 27 characters. Though CMI has good brand recognition, it’s not so valuable that it’s worth taking more than one-third of the recommended title length. Instead, we include the name in meta descriptions when we can, usually at the end (“ – Content Marketing Institute”) since it’s not the most important part of the description but could be seen and helpful to some degree.

5. Don’t avoid punctuation, even though it counts toward the 156 characters

It can be tempting to save every possible character for words. In most cases, you should avoid that practice. Searchers scan the results to understand the context of the content – they rarely read the meta description word for word at first glance. So make it easy to understand at a glance.

As you write, think about how the description will appear. Is it easy to pick up the keywords and points when scanning? Or would searchers have to read closely to get the gist? If it’s the latter, rewrite it using fewer words and more sentences or breaks.

Adding a little breathing room to your description also helps it stand out among a sea of results – especially those that seem to cram in everything possible.

Bring the power to your meta descriptions

Compelling meta descriptions benefit from powerful writing more than most content elements.

To power up yours, avoid (or at least limit):

  • First-person references
  • Weasel words
  • Qualifiers
  • Intensifiers
  • Prepositions
  • Passive phrases (which almost always consume more characters than active ones)

By adopting the “McPaper” mindset, you can serve up nuggets of meta descriptions designed to sate your target searcher’s appetite.

How do you approach writing meta descriptions? Share what works for you in the comments.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Is Twitter Still a Thing for Content Marketers in 2023?



Is Twitter Still a Thing for Content Marketers in 2023?

The world survived the first three months of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.

But what are marketers doing now? Did your brand follow the shift Dennis Shiao made for his personal brand? As he recently shared, he switched his primary platform from Twitter to LinkedIn after the 2022 ownership change. (He still uses Twitter but posts less frequently.)

Are those brands that altered their strategy after the new ownership maintaining that plan? What impact do Twitter’s service changes (think Twitter Blue subscriptions) have?

We took those questions to the marketing community. No big surprise? Most still use Twitter. But from there, their responses vary from doing nothing to moving away from the platform.

Lowest points

At the beginning of the Elon era, more than 500 big-name advertisers stopped buying from the platform. Some (like Amazon and Apple) resumed their buys before the end of 2022. Brand accounts’ organic activity seems similar.

In November, Emplifi research found a 26% dip in organic posting behavior by U.S. and Canadian brands the week following a significant spike in the negative sentiment of an Elon tweet. But that drop in posting wasn’t a one-time thing.

Kyle Wong, chief strategy officer at Emplifi, shares a longer analysis of well-known fast-food brands. When comparing December 2021 to December 2022 activity, the brands posted 74% less, and December was the least active month of 2022.

Fast-food brands posted 74% less on @Twitter in December 2022 than they did in December 2021, according to @emplifi_io analysis via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

When Emplifi analyzed brand accounts across industries (2,330 from U.S. and Canada and 6,991 elsewhere in the world), their weekly Twitter activity also fell to low points in November and December. But by the end of the year, their activity was inching up.

“While the percentage of brands posting weekly is on the rise once again, the number is still lower than the consistent posting seen in earlier months,” Kyle says.

Quiet-quitting Twitter

Lacey Reichwald, marketing manager at Aha Media Group, says the company has been quiet-quitting Twitter for two months, simply monitoring and posting the occasional link. “It seems like the turmoil has settled down, but the overall impact of Twitter for brands has not recovered,” she says.

@ahamediagroup quietly quit @Twitter for two months and saw their follower count go up, says Lacey Reichwald via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

She points to their firm’s experience as a potential explanation. Though they haven’t been posting, their follower count has gone up, and many of those new follower accounts don’t seem relevant to their topic or botty. At the same time, Aha Media saw engagement and follows from active accounts in the customer segment drop.

Blue bonus

One change at Twitter has piqued some brands’ interest in the platform, says Dan Gray, CEO of Vendry, a platform for helping companies find agency partners to help them scale.

“Now that getting a blue checkmark is as easy as paying a monthly fee, brands are seeing this as an opportunity to build thought leadership quickly,” he says.

Though it remains to be seen if that strategy is viable in the long term, some companies, particularly those in the SaaS and tech space, are reallocating resources to energize their previously dormant accounts.

Automatic verification for @TwitterBlue subscribers led some brands to renew their interest in the platform, says Dan Gray of Vendry via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

These reenergized accounts also are seeing an increase in followers, though Dan says it’s difficult to tell if it’s an effect of the blue checkmark or their renewed emphasis on content. “Engagement is definitely up, and clients and agencies have both noted the algorithm seems to be favoring their content more,” he says.

New horizon

Faizan Fahim, marketing manager at Breeze, is focused on the future. They’re producing videos for small screens as part of their Twitter strategy. “We are guessing soon Elon Musk is going to turn Twitter into TikTok/YouTube to create more buzz,” he says. “We would get the first moving advantage in our niche.”

He’s not the only one who thinks video is Twitter’s next bet. Bradley Thompson, director of marketing at DigiHype Media and marketing professor at Conestoga College, thinks video content will be the next big thing. Until then, text remains king.

“The approach is the same, which is a focus on creating and sharing high-quality content relevant to the industry,” Bradley says. “Until Twitter comes out with drastically new features, then marketing and managing brands on Twitter will remain the same.

James Coulter, digital marketing director at Sole Strategies, says, “Twitter definitely still has a space in the game. The question is can they keep it, or will they be phased out in favor of a more reliable platform.”

Interestingly given the thoughts of Faizan and Bradley, James sees businesses turning to video as they limit their reliance on Twitter and diversify their social media platforms. They are now willing to invest in the resource-intensive format given the exploding popularity of TikTok, Instagram Reels, and other short-form video content.

“We’ve seen a really big push on getting vendors to help curate video content with the help of staff. Requesting so much media requires building a new (social media) infrastructure, but once the expectations and deliverables are in place, it quickly becomes engrained in the weekly workflow,” James says.

What now

“We are waiting to see what happens before making any strong decisions,” says Baruch Labunski, CEO at Rank Secure. But they aren’t sitting idly by. “We’ve moved a lot of our social media efforts to other platforms while some of these things iron themselves out.”

What is your brand doing with Twitter? Are you stepping up, stepping out, or standing still? I’d love to know. Please share in the comments.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.


Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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45 Free Content Writing Tools to Love [for Writing, Editing & Content Creation]



45 Free Content Writing Tools to Love [for Writing, Editing & Content Creation]

Creating content isn’t always a walk in the park. (In fact, it can sometimes feel more like trying to swim against the current.)

While other parts of business and marketing are becoming increasingly automated, content creation is still a very manual job. (more…)

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How data clean rooms might help keep the internet open



How data clean rooms might help keep the internet open

Are data clean rooms the solution to what IAB CEO David Cohen has called the “slow-motion train wreck” of addressability? Voices at the IAB will tell you that they have a big role to play.

“The issue with addressability is that once cookies go away, and with the loss of identifiers, about 80% of the addressable market will become unknown audiences which is why there is a need for privacy-centric consent and a better consent-value exchange,” said Jeffrey Bustos, VP, measurement, addressability and data at the IAB.

“Everyone’s talking about first-party data, and it is very valuable,” he explained, “but most publishers who don’t have sign-on, they have about 3 to 10% of their readership’s first-party data.” First-party data, from the perspective of advertisers who want to reach relevant and audiences, and publishers who want to offer valuable inventory, just isn’t enough.

Why we care. Two years ago, who was talking about data clean rooms? The surge of interest is recent and significant, according to the IAB. DCRs have the potential, at least, to keep brands in touch with their audiences on the open internet; to maintain viability for publishers’ inventories; and to provide sophisticated measurement capabilities.

How data clean rooms can help. DCRs are a type of privacy-enhancing technology that allows data owners (including brands and publishers) to share customer first-party data in a privacy-compliant way. Clean rooms are secure spaces where first-party data from a number of sources can be resolved to the same customer’s profile while that profile remains anonymized.

In other words, a DCR is a kind of Switzerland — a space where a truce is called on competition while first-party data is enriched without compromising privacy.

“The value of a data clean room is that a publisher is able to collaborate with a brand across both their data sources and the brand is able to understand audience behavior,” said Bestos. For example, a brand selling eye-glasses might know nothing about their customers except basic transactional data — and that they wear glasses. Matching profiles with a publisher’s behavioral data provides enrichment.

“If you’re able to understand behavioral context, you’re able to understand what your customers are reading, what they’re interested in, what their hobbies are,” said Bustos. Armed with those insights, a brand has a better idea of what kind of content they want to advertise against.

The publisher does need to have a certain level of first-party data for the matching to take place, even if it doesn’t have a universal requirement for sign-ins like The New York Times. A publisher may be able to match only a small percentage of the eye-glass vendor’s customers, but if they like reading the sports and arts sections, at least that gives some directional guidance as to what audience the vendor should target.

Dig deeper: Why we care about data clean rooms

What counts as good matching? In its “State of Data 2023” report, which focuses almost exclusively on data clean rooms, concern is expressed that DCR efficacy might be threatened by poor match rates. Average match rates hover around 50% (less for some types of DCR).

Bustos is keen to put this into context. “When you are matching data from a cookie perspective, match rates are usually about 70-ish percent,” he said, so 50% isn’t terrible, although there’s room for improvement.

One obstacle is a persistent lack of interoperability between identity solutions — although it does exist; LiveRamp’s RampID is interoperable, for example, with The Trade Desk’s UID2.

Nevertheless, said Bustos, “it’s incredibly difficult for publishers. They have a bunch of identity pixels firing for all these different things. You don’t know which identity provider to use. Definitely a long road ahead to make sure there’s interoperability.”

Maintaining an open internet. If DCRs can contribute to solving the addressability problem they will also contribute to the challenge of keeping the internet open. Walled gardens like Facebook do have rich troves of first-party and behavioral data; brands can access those audiences, but with very limited visibility into them.

“The reason CTV is a really valuable proposition for advertisers is that you are able to identify the user 1:1 which is really powerful,” Bustos said. “Your standard news or editorial publisher doesn’t have that. I mean, the New York Times has moved to that and it’s been incredibly successful for them.” In order to compete with the walled gardens and streaming services, publishers need to offer some degree of addressability — and without relying on cookies.

But DCRs are a heavy lift. Data maturity is an important qualification for getting the most out of a DCR. The IAB report shows that, of the brands evaluating or using DCRs, over 70% have other data-related technologies like CDPs and DMPs.

“If you want a data clean room,” Bustos explained, “there are a lot of other technological solutions you have to have in place before. You need to make sure you have strong data assets.” He also recommends starting out by asking what you want to achieve, not what technology would be nice to have. “The first question is, what do you want to accomplish? You may not need a DCR. ‘I want to do this,’ then see what tools would get you to that.”

Understand also that implementation is going to require talent. “It is a demanding project in terms of the set-up,” said Bustos, “and there’s been significant growth in consulting companies and agencies helping set up these data clean rooms. You do need a lot of people, so it’s more efficient to hire outside help for the set up, and then just have a maintenance crew in-house.”

Underuse of measurement capabilities. One key finding in the IAB’s research is that DCR users are exploiting the audience matching capabilities much more than realizing the potential for measurement and attribution. “You need very strong data scientists and engineers to build advanced models,” Bustos said.

“A lot of brands that look into this say, ‘I want to be able to do a predictive analysis of my high lifetime value customers that are going to buy in the next 90 days.’ Or ‘I want to be able to measure which channels are driving the most incremental lift.’ It’s very complex analyses they want to do; but they don’t really have a reason as to why. What is the point? Understand your outcome and develop a sequential data strategy.”

Trying to understand incremental lift from your marketing can take a long time, he warned. “But you can easily do a reach and frequency and overlap analysis.” That will identify wasted investment in channels and as a by-product suggest where incremental lift is occurring. “There’s a need for companies to know what they want, identify what the outcome is, and then there are steps that are going to get you there. That’s also going to help to prove out ROI.”

Dig deeper: Failure to get the most out of data clean rooms is costing marketers money

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