Refreshing Your Knowledge of Meta Descriptions

What lawyers need to know about meta descriptions

Attorneys who care about showing up in search need to understand this technical detail.

Just shy of a decade ago, I ran my own small marketing business. What I wanted to do all day was create marketing plans and content for my customers, but the reality is that when you’re running a small business, being good at your discipline is only part of the job. The rest of the time, I had to build a functional knowledge on a host of other disciplines, from accounting and taxes to sales and payroll.

When I talk to attorneys who would far rather practice law than understand some of the ins and outs of digital marketing, I have a lot of sympathy. I’ve been there. But, for a firm that’s looking to grow and squeeze every marketing advantage, knowing the little things can make all the difference.

When you think about your website, your first consideration should be what it says to potential customers. That’s the big idea. But, you also need to think about what it says to search engines, because there’s all kind of code on your site that users never see. That code, though, is the language you use to speak to the search engines, and without that you may never get those potential customers to your page in the first place.

One area I’d like to cover (once again) with you today is: Meta Descriptions.

What is a meta description?

A meta description is a block of text that search engines can see and use to describe what a given page is about. Meta descriptions don’t really impact where or whether your page shows up for a given keyword – so don’t try and overthink SEO (search engine optimization) when you write them – but they are critically important to search for another reason: they might be your very first impression to clients!

For example, if you do a search for FindLaw’s lawyer marketing services, you might see something that looks like this:

Google SERP for Lawyer Marketing with Meta field highlighted

That snippet below our URL, that’s the meta description we wrote to describe our page and to a broader extent our business. That content doesn’t actually show up when you get to the homepage, it is described entirely to help people and search engines understand who we are, what our page is about, and why you should click through to our site. Like I said, in many cases it’s the first impression, and possibly one of the most important because if it doesn’t connect, then you might never visit the site.

If you don’t create meta descriptions for your page, a search engine will still display some content from your page in its stead. But it might not be the message you’d want, or it might not give a search user a good enough reason to click. In other words, when you don’t create meta descriptions, particularly for the pages that you think are most important for your site, you’re letting Google create your first impression for you.

Meta descriptions aren’t about convincing search engines to display your site. They are about convincing users to make the leap and click the link when your site is displayed in those search results. With that in mind here are three things to keep in mind when you create meta descriptions.

First, the primary role of a meta description is to convert users from the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) to visiting the website.
Most of the time, meta descriptions are displayed in search results under the page title. When viewed through the perspective of an end user, meta descriptions become a conversion tool of sorts. They are the webmaster’s opportunity to help the user understand why he or she should click through and how the page is relevant to their search query. The meta description is often the text a search visitor first sees, and it can set the expectation as to what that user will find when he or she lands on the page. A well-crafted description can encourage users to click while a weak one may do little to inspire traffic to your site.

Second, meta descriptions should be created with the page’s specific audience in mind and with a message to entice that audience to visit the page.
When you understand the previous point, this one becomes obvious. But how to write a meta description that converts is a blend of science and art. Remember, these have to speak to both the search engine and the legal consumer. At the end of this blog post, I’ve included a list of guidelines many of us at FindLaw have found helpful. Just remember this disclaimer: what constitutes a “best practice” on the web can change at any time. The guidelines I’ve included below are accurate as of this writing.

Third, Meta descriptions are not always displayed in a SERP. In some cases, the search engine may choose to show text taken directly from the page.
This is important to attorneys because it’s a safeguard. As I hinted at above, meta descriptions aren’t kryptonite to an otherwise super-webpage. If you are unable to modify or manage you meta descriptions, don’t panic. You do have the option of leaving the meta description blank or simply using the first sentence of your blog or article. These two options are best described as … acceptable. The clear preference for attorneys is to create a unique, click-through focused meta description wherever possible.


General Guidelines for All Pages:

Acceptable Meta Description Formats:

  • Between 25 and 160 characters in length
  • Must be unique, non-templated content
  • Must use alphanumeric characters wherever possible
  • Should contain a message that:
    • Is relevant to the page
    • Sets an expectation of the topic of the page
    • Entices a user to visit that page
  • If for any reason a unique meta description cannot be created for a page, default to leaving the meta description blank
Unacceptable Meta Description Formats:

  • Duplicate/templated descriptions
  • Copy of the <TITLE> tag
  • Descriptions that don’t represent the relevant content on the page
  • Use of special characters in description text: ‘”<>{}[]()
  • Over reliance on language that mirrors older models of on-page calls to action:
    • Ex. to Avoid — Call the Plano, TX, personal injury law firm of Smith, Smith and Smith at XXX-XXX-XXXX for professional legal advice
    • In most cases, calls to action in a meta description should be centered around getting a user to visit the page/site

Specific Guidelines for Noteworthy Pages:

Home Page Specific Best Practices:

  • Encourage click-through of user.
  • Use a branding differentiator or benefit as part of meta description message
  • Between 25 and 160 characters in length
  • Use name of firm and a geographic indicator
  • Use the firm’s local call tracking phone number
    • The phone number can be a separate, individual item and does not require a call instruction
      • Ex: At the Orlando office of the Smith & Smith Law Firm, we make your personal injury case our priority. Visit our site for more information. (999)999-9999
      • If the firm does not have a call tracking number, use their local phone number
Internal On-Site Page Best Practices:

  • Briefly describe what the page is about — set a user’s reasonable expectation
    • Geography, Practice Area or the firm’s name may be used, but are not required
  • Include branding message or benefit of visiting page
  • Emphasize click-through conversions
  • Fewer than 160 characters in length
  • It is advised but not required that the firm’s local call tracking phone number be included
    • Same rule as in previous section — phone number does not require full sentence

 


Sample Meta Descriptions:

Home Page Example:
“At the Orlando office of the Smith & Smith Law Firm, we make your personal injury case our priority. Visit our site for more information. (999)999-9999”

Car Accidents Page Example:
“What you do after a car accident matters. Visit the site of Smith & Smith law firm to find out what you need to do if you’ve been injured. 555-555-5555.”

Family Law Page Example:
“At Smith & Smith we understand how stressful a divorce can be. Visit our site to learn more about how we can help you or call 555-555-5555.”

Informational Page Example:
“You have questions about Bankruptcy. Learn how you can take back control of your financial future. Read our page for more information.”

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