One of the tricks to WordPress SEO is understanding that it’s not all about rankings. Sure, high rankings for your target keywords are awesome, and they definitely produce great returns, but lower rankings aren’t bad all the time either. If we think about a search engine results page (SERP) as a billboard for our content, then sure, position matters, but so does the content of our billboard.
And that’s exactly what we can do using the META description tag. We can actually control what gets displayed in our little spot of SERP real estate, therefore utilizing a tremendous opportunity to convert that space into traffic.
Have you ever been linked to from another blog? Don’t you sometimes wish you could have had some say as to what was said in the blog post that linked to you? It’s the same concept with using the META description to control the content that describes the page in a SERP.
Anatomy of a Search Engine Results Page
Search Engines, like Google, tend to display search results in a very standard format. Usually the TITLE of the post or page is the link that actually takes you to the post, and under that link is a description of the site linked to. Under that, you usually find the URL of the page as well. Here is an image that illustrates my point:
We Can Manipulate All Three Parts
What most people fail to realize is:
- Each one of these places can be manipulated by YOU!
- Failing to manually manipulate them means you aren’t taking advantage of free ad space from the search engine!
Because search engines are the primary traffic source for most good websites (websites that have good SEO, at least), we can’t undervalue potential clicks to our content. If people just scan past our page on the SERP, then we wasted our time getting it ranked! You need to pull them in! And the way you so that is by manipulating the content of your result in the SERP.
How To Manipulate Our Result Listing
Since there are three parts to every result listing, there are three parts that we need to manipulate. Fortunately for you, I’ve already taught you how to manipulate the TITLE and the URL in this series. In order to manipulate what the title looks like, you need to optimize your TITLE tag. And in order to manipulate the URL, you need to be sure you’re optimizing your permalinks.
But, here’s how you change what the result page uses as the description for your content.
Essentially, you’re going to want to be ranking for three types of content — your homepage, your single posts, and your static pages. So, we need to determine what the best strategy for displaying the most accurate, relevant description for our content within the META tag, which looks something like this:
<meta name="description" content="The Description of your content" />
This tag should go somewhere between the <head></head> tags in the header.php file of your WordPress theme. But out dilemma is, how do we populate the “content” section of the META description dynamically based on what content we’re viewing? Simple — we use a combination of conditional tags and a custom loop to pull either the sites tagline (if we’re on the homepage) or the excerpt (if we’re in a single post or static page).
The final result will look something like this:
<?php if (is_single() || is_page() ) : if ( have_posts() ) : while ( have_posts() ) : the_post(); ?> <meta name="description" content="<?php the_excerpt_rss(); ?>" /> <?php endwhile; endif; elseif(is_home()) : ?> <meta name="description" content="<?php bloginfo('description'); ?>" /> <?php endif; ?>
In plain English: if we are viewing a single post or static page, then use the_excerpt_rss as the description for that post or page. The reason we use the_excerpt_rss is because it strips out all formatting tags, something that isn’t useful when not displaying the text. But, if we are on the homepage, then we need to use the blog’s tagline (the bloginfo(‘description’) outputs the tagline of the blog).
So, by displaying this META description both conditionally and dynamically, we have way more control over what the search engine results page displays as the description of our homepage, static pages, and single posts.
Even More Control
Usually, most bloggers don’t take advantage of the use of the “optional excerpt” section of their Write Post panel. But if you want to exercise even more control over what gets displayed on the SERP for content, then you need to be filling this section out. If it’s blank, your post description will just be the first X amount of words in your post. But sometimes those words don’t do a very good job of selling your content. In this instance, do something like this:
Now that I have an optional excerpt filled in for that post, let’s see how that post looks on a Search Engine Results Page:
So, now you know how I use search engines to generate the majority of my traffic. I don’t use the optional excerpt all the time — not by a long shot. But whenever I feel like the post needs a good desctiption, and the first few words just don’t cut it, using this method is absolutely perfect!
Check back next time to see how we use a very similar method to generate META keywords for our content.