Monday, October 17, 2022

Meta. It’s a buzzword these days, and it is easy to see why. Merriam-Webster defines it in an informal sense as “showing or suggesting an explicit awareness of itself or oneself as a member of its category: cleverly self-referential.”  

But what about meta descriptions? What do those mean for my University of Iowa website and why should I care? 

What are meta descriptions?

When you’re building your website, every page of your site has content that is valuable to your user. As your users are navigating or searching for specific content on your site, it helps if a search engine can direct your user to where you want them to go. 

That is where meta descriptions come in. Meta descriptions are descriptions of your content. They let search engines know what your page is about and make it easier for users searching for information about your department to find their way back to your University of Iowa website. They are often used by search engines as the text displayed in search results. A well-crafted meta-description can mean the difference between your search result getting skipped by a potential visitor vs. getting clicked and bringing the visitor to your web page. 

Screen capture of meta description
Example of a meta description.

Writing a good meta description 

Writing a good meta description doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Think of it as a short summary on what content the page contains.  

Every SiteNow v3 site comes with a field to place a meta description. On a basic page it is called “Content Description”, for an article it is called "Article Summary" and for a person it is called "Short Biography." 

To write a good description we recommend: 

  1. Keep the description brief 
    Meta descriptions should not be paragraphs of information. They should be a brief summary of what content is on that specific page. For example, if you are writing a page about academics or areas of study, your meta description could be “The University of Iowa offers over 200 fields of study and 100+ graduate, doctoral, and professional programs.” Having trouble? This guide is a great way to make sure you are writing meta descriptions of an acceptable length. 
  2. Use key words 
    Does your page have key phrases or calls-to-action that you want your user to see in their search engine? Make sure to include those in your meta description. Words like “apply,” “course information,” “areas of study,” “research,” “donate”, or specific degree are all examples of terms and phrases to highlight as you write your description.   
  3. Write descriptions for every page on your SiteNow site 
    Meta descriptions should ideally be completed for every page on your SiteNow site. This allows a search engine to scan every page of your site and understand the content contained on those pages. Most importantly, this allows the user to see the information they looking for contained within that specific page on your site. 

Why should I care?

Meta descriptions are a crucial component of your website. They're how search engines understand and categorize pages while also helping users decide which sites they want to actually visit when evaluating a page full of possibilities in search results.