Meta Description – What it is and how it can help your blog

The meta description is an often overlooked SEO element.

In this post we’ll discuss what the meta description is, why it’s important, how to find the meta description, how to change your meta description, and some basic advice for optimizing the meta description for your food blog.

Food Blogger Pro Meta Descriptions

Side note: Isn’t all of this internet marketing/web optimization/SEO/online business stuff so cool? I’m so incredibly grateful to be able to learn, write, and share this with you guys. Thanks for checking out this post and for being a part of Food Blogger Pro (in whatever way that might be).

Let’s jump in.

What is the meta description?

First, the technical explanation:

The meta description is an HTML attribute on a web page that explains what the page is about. In other words, the meta description describes the page.

You can see the meta description HTML code if you look at a website’s source code. It usually looks something like this:

Meta description HTML code

Don’t let the code scare you though.

You’ll never have to do any manually coding when entering a meta description. I just think it’s important to fully understand how this stuff works, which means understanding where it lives on a website.

Here are some examples of where you might find meta descriptions at work.

The meta description for the Pinch of Yum home page on Google:

Pinch of Yum Google search result with meta description outlined in red

The meta description for a Pinch of Yum tomato lasagna florentine on Google:

Pinch of Yum Creamy Tomato Lasagna Florentine Google search result with meta description outlined in red

The meta description for the Pinch of Yum home page on Facebook:

The meta description for the Pinch of Yum home page on Facebook

The meta description for the Pinch of Yum home page on Pinterest:

The meta description for the Pinch of Yum home page on Pinterest

Why is the meta description important?

Before I answer that question isn’t important to address why the meta description is not important.

The meta description doesn’t help you rank higher in search engines.

That’s not a hypothesis. Google actually openly says that they don’t use meta descriptions or keywords in their ranking algorithm.

Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don’t use the description meta tag in our ranking.

From the post Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking on the Google Webmaster blog.

So if the meta description doesn’t improve your rankings then why is it important?

Good question! Thanks for asking. 🙂

See if you can figure out the significance of a strong meta description by looking at this screenshot of a Google search for creamy tomato lasagna florentine.

1st and 2nd Google search results for Creamy Tomato Lasagna Florentine with meta descriptions outlined in red
  1. This Creamy Tomato Lasagna Florentine is so deliciously comforting and simple. Noodles, tomato sauce, and a creamy spinach layer!
  2. 1 box of whole wheat lasagna noodles 2 boneless skinless chicken breast cut into small cubes 1 bag prepared spinach 1 can diced tomatoes(I use the garlic …

Can you see how the first description is just wee bit more enticing? 🙂

There are two primary factors that you need to consider when building traffic from a search engine:

  1. Ranking: Getting your website or blog post to rank high on a search engine results page (i.e. SERPs).
  2. Clicking: Getting people to click on your website or blog post when it appears in a SERP.

The first one doesn’t matter if the second one never happens, and optimizing your meta descriptions is one of the best ways to increase the chances of #2 happening more often.

When you’re working on improving #2 it’s called optimizing your click-through rate, or CTR.

How do I find my meta descriptions?

I’ve been using a browser add-on called SEO Quake to see a quick SEO overview of certain pages (recommended by my SEO Yoda, Casey Markee).

How to Find the Meta Description

A quick tip for finding a website’s meta description by searching through a site’s source code or using the SEO quake browser add-on.

Here’s how to find a page’s meta description using SEO Quake.

1. Click on SEO Quake icon and select Page Info…

SEO quake with 'Page Info' option highlighted in red

2. A new browser tab will open and display relevant SEO information, including the page’s meta description:

SEOquake Page Info result

How do I change my meta description?

We recommend using a plugin called WordPress SEO by Yoast.

This plugin will allow you to update the meta description on individual posts and pages:

Yoast SEO meta description option on WordPress

…as well as your blog’s home page:

Yoast SEO meta description template for homepage option outlined in red

How do I optimize my meta description?

Remember, when optimizing the meta description we’re not trying to influence ranking, we’re trying to influence clicking.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Length between 150 and 160 characters

Try to keep your meta description between 150 and 160 characters. If your meta description is longer than 160 characters then Google will truncate it.

Funny enough, the meta description for the Google home page is a bit too long, and thus Google is truncating its own meta description. Too bad they don’t have any search experts to help them optimize that. 🙂

Screenshot of Google's meta description showing that it's too long

2. Include keywords

When I was in college I did a lot of selling on eBay. One of the options you had when listing an item was to pay an extra fee in order to include bold text in your listing.


Because bold text stands out, and people are more likely to click something that stands out.

The same is true for search results. People are more likely to click on items that include bold text.

If your meta description includes the keywords that the person searched for then they’ll show up in bold.

Creamy Lasagna Florentine meta description on Google with keywords outlined in red

3. Utilize the tools in Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools is an incredible (and free) tool from Google that offers countless ways to analyze, improve, and optimize the SEO related elements on your blog.

Food Blogger Pro members can go through the Google Webmaster Tools Essential Tools – Google Webmaster Tools course to learn about the different features you should be using to optimize your blog’s SEO.

Note: Google Webmaster Tools is now called Google Analytics. You can find our updated course here.

When can I expect my meta description to show up in Google?

Google doesn’t make any promises about actually showing the meta description that you suggest. That’s the thing, it’s a suggestion to Google. Oftentimes Google will decide to show it, but it’s also common for Google to pick a different meta description that they think will work better.

What about you?

Do you make a point of optimizing the meta descriptions on your blog’s pages and posts? If you don’t, why not? Any other meta description tips or tricks that you think we missed? We’d love to hear from you!

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  1. Hi Bjork! As always, I love this post!!! It certainly dispels some myths about Google ranking and reminds us that what’s important is people, not algorithms. Question for ya, how do you and Lindsay get the image to show up in search results? I have a meta description for all of my posts and they are each assigned a featured image, but my search results show up like this without an image.

  2. Great post! I knew that Metas were important and use SEO by Yoast myself, but didn’t know the “why” or what their purpose was. Of course google has to make things complicated by deciding if they want to show what you typed in for the meta description. I wish I could figure out how to make them pick that up more often.

    1. Hey there neighbor! 🙂

      Yeah – Kind of bummer that there’s the whole “Google does what it wants and isn’t consistent” thing. That being said, I’m surprised at how often Google elects to use what you suggest.

  3. What if your main website static pages are for one thing and the blog is for something different? Can you have the two homepage meta tags, one for each? Or does the homepage meta only cover one?

    1. Great question! Each static page should have it’s own meta description and the home page should have it’s own meta description.

  4. This is so super helpful! I always add a meta description to my posts, but never had one for my homepage/website. Thanks for the tutorial.

  5. This is very helpful, thank you! I appreciated the step by step instructions and now the word ‘meta description’ isn’t as scary ha ha.

  6. Okaaay – that all makes sense now. I noticed how you consistently use the same phrases across all platforms to describe POY – I need to get onto my blurb and get consistent too.

    1. Nice catch. 🙂 More than anything it’s a time saving effort in that we don’t have to create a different description for each platform.

  7. I actually have this plugin and use it for all my posts, but didn’t realize I could use it to set my blog meta description too! Thanks for pointing that out!

  8. I didn’t know what Meta Descriptions were til now so I never used them! I will start using them for sure!!! Makes total sense to me 🙂

  9. I recently updated my own meta description and included and entire section in my eBook on how to do so and why you should. Thanks so much for sharing this post. It’s so important to be seen correctly in search engines and this is one of the most common areas that gets overlooked 😉

    – Elle Ay Esse

  10. So happy to find this info Bjork! I have been adding meta descriptions to my posts on my new blog, but hadn’t figured out how to change the actual blog meta description. Crossing fingers it works! thanks again!

  11. hi bjork,

    first of all thank you for all your insights into the world of food blogging! you’ve been a real inspiration to me over the last month (my blog is very much in it’s infancy). i can’t seem to find the ‘Home’ tab that you’ve shown here in Yoast. Is it because I don’t have the Premium version?


    1. nevermind i found it! (embarassed) for anyone else with the same problem, under the ‘Features’ section ‘Advanced settings pages’ was disabled for some reason.