Meta description elements have many uses and can be constructed in several ways.
First and foremost, a good meta description entices the user to click.
It does that both by the fact that it contains enticing, well readable text and the keyword or keyphrase, as that becomes bold in the search results.
Our view on that meta description really hasn’t changed that much over the years.
Way back in 2011, Joost wrote about attending an SMX panel titled “What’s really important for technical SEO?”.
In it was Jonathan Hochman. Jonathan touched on one of our pet peeves: he mentioned retro-fitting an old CMS to have meta descriptions, by auto-generating the meta description using the first 150 characters of each article.
We’re no fans of that solution.
As a matter of fact, it was one of the features in All in One SEO that Joost hated so much he decided to start building something better, being the very basis for our current Yoast SEO plugin.
Most of the time, the first paragraph of an article is an introduction leading towards the conclusion in the article.
It doesn’t contain a summary of the article or a trigger to continue to read.
At Yoast, we agreed on making that first paragraph into a combined intro and summary.
Our SEO analysis will tell you if the focus keyword you picked is in that first paragraph.
We really feel that the first paragraph of any article should be on-topic.
If you don’t make sure it is, the first 150 characters of your first paragraph are most probably not usable as a meta description.
It will most probably not even contain the focus keyword for your post.
That means you won’t get a bold for that term in the search result pages, nor would it be enticing to click on.
The reason we dislike this “auto-generation” idea so much, especially for content sites, is that it makes people think that SEO is something you can do on auto-pilot.
You simply can not.
For sure, a good SEO plugin can help you take care of the technical boundaries that might exist.
But creating link worthy content is the process that will help you get rankings, all the time.
Auto-generating a meta description has never served any purpose to anyone just yet.
One might argue that while auto-generating meta descriptions isn’t the best practice for SEO, it might help your social efforts.
On the other hand, for social media goes the same as for meta descriptions.
Poor snippets would get you low click-throughs too.
Using the first 150 characters as the description for your Facebook post is probably not the best practice either.
You should really write a decent description and/or excerpt for your posts, all the time.
It will help both your mentions in Google and on social media.