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Ogilvy on Meta Descriptions

I know that David Ogilvy, the father of advertising, wasn’t around to talk about meta descriptions. But since I commonly refer to content summaries as “ad copy for your blog posts,” it’s worthwhile to consider how Ogilvy’s sound advice on advertising copy applies to writing meta descriptions. It turns out Ogilvy knew quite a lot about writing that we can apply to all types of promotional copy. 

Focus on the Sale

“Your role is to sell, don’t let anything distract you from the sole purpose of advertising.” 

The purpose of a meta description is to sell your content. You want people to read the headline, pause long enough to read the meta description, and for the two of them combined to make them want to click. Your meta description is your ad copy. If you don’t sell your content, you lose your chance of further engagement with your reader.

Make Your Headline Count

“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

As I wrote above, your headline makes potential readers stop, your meta description ropes them in. Do not underestimate the value of writing click-worthy headlines. Write and rewrite them until you’re sure they’ll stop the scroll.

Sell What You Create

“In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

It makes no difference how amazing your content is if your meta description doesn’t sell it. Many people just copy and paste part of their post into the meta description box or let them autofill. These methods are not the way to sell what you worked so hard to write.

Write Something Unique

“If you have all the research, all the ground rules, all the directives, all the data — it doesn’t mean the ad is written. Then you’ve got to close the door and write something — that is the moment of truth which we all try to postpone as long as possible.”

The reason people likely use the simple methods mentioned in the last point for writing meta descriptions because they don’t know how to write them. What is supposed to go there? Since they don’t know the answer to that question, they do whatever is easiest and move on to tasks they think are more important. But they miss out on essential promotion of their content when they do it that way.

To write a meta description:

  • Be Concise. Meta descriptions that get the best Google search results are 120-156 characters. So keep yours in the sweet zone.
  • Use Active Voice. Active voice is engaging. Think: “Why am I inviting this reader to visit this post?” Write that in the most active way possible.
  • Include Your Keyword. While meta descriptions are to attract readers, you also want Google to like them. Use your keywords in the summary to get better Google search results.
  • Be Specific. Be as specific as you can about what your post offers. You want to minimize the risk, even if it’s just a little bit of time, of clicking on your post.
  • Match Up. Be sure the information in your meta description matches that in your blog post. You don’t want to confuse or contradict things you wrote in the post.
  • Be Unique. While you want your meta description to match your blog post’s content, you don’t want to repeat parts of your post. You also shouldn’t copy meta descriptions from one post to another just because the posts have similar topics. The description is its own piece of writing. Treat it as such.
  • Include a Call-to-Action. Tell the reader what you want them to do next, even if it’s just to click and read. Consider including phrases like “learn more” or “read more,” if you have space. 
Lindsey Miller and her team at Content Journey

Don’t Overwrite

“If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.”

The best way to get someone to click on your post is for your meta description to tell them how the post answers their question or meets their needs. Speak to them the way you would if you were selling them the post as a product. Read this because… then rewrite your reasoning to make it less demanding and more convincing. 

Write to the Reader

“Do not … address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.”

Speak to each individual in your target audience who is reading your meta description — and no one else. Your meta description isn’t for selling your content to the masses. It’s for promoting it to the people you wrote the post for — your target audience. Meet them on their computer. Write directly to them.

Know Your Differentiator

“There isn’t any significant difference between the various brands of whiskey or cigarettes or beer. They are all about the same. And so are the cake mixes and the detergents, and the margarines. The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit.”

It’s unlikely that your content addresses a topic that no one has ever written about before. The difference is the brand’s personality and how you show it through your writing. This personality also should show through the meta description. I know it’s challenging to show character when writing a few sentences, but it’s your job to try. And, like with most things, the more you do it, the easier it will get. 

Don’t Settle

“You should never settle, and you should always aim high.”

If you’re not convinced that your meta description will make your ideal customers stop, click, and read, then keep tweaking it. Don’t settle for good enough. When you settle for a weak meta description, you tell your audience that they are important enough for hard work. You also tell your writer (or yourself) that your brand isn’t worth it either. 

Let Us Help

Just like with the advertising Ogilvy referenced in these quotes, selling through meta descriptions is challenging work. Our team at Content Journey is happy to write your meta descriptions and the rest of your website’s content for you. Book a call today for a free, information-only discussion about how our team can help you on your content journey.

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