Express Brand Advocacy and Advertise with Meta Descriptions

Note from James - today we have a guest blogger for you. Anthony Pensabene (AKA Content Muse) is a friend of mine and all round good guy whom I met at MozCon in the summer. He asked me to take a look at his latest post and I liked it so much I ended up agreeing to host it here. The topic is a little different to the usual link building stuff you might normally see here but I really like it and I think you guys will too. It ties a basic SEO principle (meta descriptions) into a larger business objective (conversions) – and that kind of stuff gets me interested! So Make Anthony feel at home; say hi to him on Twitter and add your comments below :-). Happy reading…

Readers, what makes your business so special?  How do you express such sentiments to your consumers?

‘Show me the money,’ is an oft-leveraged consumer mantra of mine.  (But Anthony, aren’t you the consumer?  You’re giving the money.)  Yes, I understand; but, more specifically in this case, ‘money’ means show me ‘the special.’

I want brands to show me the ‘special value,’ the distinction of offered goods and services.  A number of verticals include brands offering little distinction regarding products/services.

What’s the ‘x’ factor?  What makes a brand special, standing apart from the competition?

Perhaps it’s the reception of the brand along with respective goods/services.

I’m a marketer.  I started my online career as a PR person.  I ‘get’ the importance of ‘looking good.’  That’s why brands showcase ‘Fastest-Growing’ ratings,

media inclusions,

and feature on-page, self-congratulatory prose.

I’m glad brands are expressing healthy self-esteems; and yes, exposure in particular ratings and media sources make positive impressions on consumers.

However, I look a beyond such ‘trophies,’ understanding some ratings are buy-in; a mention in ‘Forbes’ could be a mere, off-business sentence used in a story by the company CEO; and, on-page, self-congratulations are…just that.  You learn a lot about the disparity between marketing and reality being a PR person.  You learn what is embellished and what is earned.

Assuming these implementations are showcased to influence impressions (and eventual sales), I have a different approach to sell readers today.

Let’s take a theoretical trip back to the basic premise of advertising, which involves making a good impression.

I’m a big endorser of consumer/peer testimonials, using peer tweets as ‘advertisements.’  In short, I’m showcasing past/present impressions (testimonials) to elicit further positive impressions.  It’s serving the same purpose as the examples above, but, from a branding and consumer perspective, better (IMO).

Regarding online search, the journey of getting from ‘point A to point B’ becomes an issue.  In theory, brands want to make a great impression as soon as people are exposed/interact.  Search introduces a period of latency, including queries (the A), SERs, and (assumed) click-through actions (the B).

Before socks are rocked by a brand’s on-page content, searchers are confronted by SERs.

(Oh wait) Weren’t meta descriptions once used to stuff keywords help consumers decide?  Yes, (in theory) they were/are.

I’m currently working with a spa (hot tub) client.  They rank well for related product/geographic terms.  But, I noticed no pages have meta descriptions.  When a user is confronted with the client’s page’s SERs, Google ‘defaults’ the meta descriptions, trying to best address the specific query.

In this specific case, it’s not creating a calamity; but, having zero meta descriptions offers room for marketing improvement.  There are a number of strategies one could implement.  For the purpose of this post, let’s explore advertising/testimonials.

Consider a recent email sent to me by a peer; they inquire about my content provision services and the possibility of me creating “high-end content.”

(Of course, I’m being purposely coy.)  Do I know what clients want?  (Of course…”par excellence”)  Do I know what they want to hear as potential clients?  (I did PR remember?)  Is it for me to say?  (I don’t think so; I don’t know any standing business that speaks subpar about itself, do you?)

I’m not being ‘smart.’  I’m being a savvy marketer.  I’m smart in knowing testimonials of others are way more powerful in making an impact than any self-aggrandizing I can ever take part in, savvy?

So let’s go back to my client’s spa/hot tub site.  Of course, they offer ‘the best’ tubs in the area.  (I don’t have to ask them that.)  But, as a consumer, I am suspicious of the reception of others regarding him, his brand, and offered tubs.

He has implemented bits of customer testimonials here and there upon his site.  I’m pushing for more as his strategist.  One tactic involves better leverage of meta descriptions. (No, it has little to do with keywords and everything to do with making a good impression.)

I conducted a site: search.  This SER reflects a product page, hosting one of his best sellers.  As mentioned, he has no current meta descriptions.  Google’s pulling prose directly from the page as a description:

The model was chosen as ‘spa of the month’ because of its popularity and level of sales.   So…this particular model is ‘popular’ and ‘selling.’  Why not better translate those sentiments to potential customers who are not yet on the site but perusing SERs?

Let’s go back to Google Webmaster sentiments on meta descriptions:

Okay, for one, they suggest every page have a description.  Next, Google suggests each description be unique.  Lastly, Google pretty much says go yahoo in helping the reader!  (ha ha)  How do you yahoo (the reader)?

The owner could insert customer testimonials in meta descriptions.

Wait.  What?  Anthony, you mean use the reception of others to market your service/product?  YES!  If you’re creating/offering things people want, why wouldn’t you?

How about modifying the meta description to read something like this:

Spa of month-2010 Aria. “Dylan and crew rock! I got a great hot tub service and price. Thank you, XYZ Spas!” – Anthony- ( valued customer

What I like about this method is the communion of testimonials with references.  Readers, how many times have you encountered a product page with testimonials from ‘phantom people,’ meaning those you can’t tell are real or conjured?

Bob Dylan has never offered a testimonial of my writing…not yet.  I ‘could’ put such a fib on my site.  Without official word from Bob, readers wouldn’t know for sure.

If I posted a footprint, such as a tweet or Facebook mention, that would be more credible.  Taking it a step further, offering Bob’s Twitter account makes the testimonial a point of reference for consumers as well.

One thing I haven’t done (on my own testimonial page I would encourage clients to do) is offer an address to the original footprint example: ‘expand’ a particular tweet, and then click on its ‘details.’  From there you can either link to the particular tweet’s URL or embed it.)  rather than hosting only (mine only link to the author of quote, not actual quote) textual testimonials.

That way, a browser can actually trace the testimonial back to the real-time source rather than blindly trust the aesthetic markup of a given page.

Readers, it’s likely your business/brand already has a social media account.  Are you keeping track of positive mentions?

[Pro Tip: (Am I a pro? Meh.  It's not for me to say...) 'Favorite' complimentary tweets of others; these tweets can later be used as consumer/peer testimonials).]

So, that’s it, Anthony?

No, readers, I have more thoughts.

Hopefully, you see the benefit of implementing testimonials/references in meta descriptions.  It works well with service and product pages.

Anthony, what about informational pages, such as blogs?  Ah yes, check this out.

John Doherty recently wrote a great post on link building.  I used my Moz toolbar to have a look at the page’s meta description; it presently does not have one.

From Google Webmaster:

Because the meta descriptions aren’t displayed in the pages the user sees, it’s easy to let this content slide. But high-quality descriptions can be displayed in Google’s search results, and can go a long way to improving the quality and quantity of your search traffic”

I just noticed Dan Shure write a WordPress-related post on Evolving SEO.  He notes setting your meta-description settings to auto-fill if you regularly don’t engineer them.

Like my client’s page above, Google will leverage a variety of text serving as the ‘default’ meta description in an attempt to provide the most useful SER based on a query.

Example when I search: John Doherty + link building (for brevity in finding’s sake including) + one element:

So like my client, nothing calamitous due to no meta description.  The SER issues John’s photo, germane terms- ‘linkbuilding’ and ‘search engine optimization,’ then begins picking up on on-page prose (“I see you’re new..”)

If J.D. did want to adhere to Webmaster suggestions, what could he choose as a description?  I’m glad you asked!

As mentioned, the post was good.  Let’s check some people who shared it:

There are a number of tools to leverage; here, let’s use Topsy.  I throw in the post’s URL to see who shared this piece:


Oh snap, crackle, pop!   Jason Acidre (dude is an awesome link builder) shared, liked, and offered kind words on the post.

Hmm, if I was John, I may consider asking Jason if I could use it in the post’s meta description.  Talk about branding!  Readers, wouldn’t you want to associate your link building piece with a top-notch link builder?  I would.

Jason needs no introduction with John’s readers, but I would include Jason’s twitter handle in the description as well, to enforce more trust signals.

Summing Up:

–          Go light on self-aggrandizement and go heavy on actual, consumer testimonials

–          Consider using testimonials of consumers in meta descriptions for product/service pages

–          Optimize testimonials by featuring real-time footprint or a social media address (making it a point of reference)

–          This tactic can also be used for blog posts, roundups, and informational pages

[Tip:  Ask permission first regarding consumer and peer testimonials!  For one, it lets them know you appreciate their appreciation.  Secondly, they may help you (once again) promote the product, service, or respective URL page aligned with their testimonial description.]


  1. avatar
    Caleb September 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    Great article! Never though of, or seen, meta descriptions used this way. Would obviously require a lot of attention to keep up to date, but at the same time would be fantastic for a newsworthy article with relevant keywords.

    • avatar
      Anthony Pensabene September 6, 2012 at 1:13 am #

      Thanks for the read, Caleb. I appreciate getting to write for James and co.

  2. avatar
    Bill Sebald September 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Clever idea. I read an eye-tracking study once (can’t remember where, sorry) that said of all the components of a search result, the description gets the most time of focus. I choose to believe that – especially hopeful for differentiating “transactional” results.

    • avatar
      Anthony Pensabene September 6, 2012 at 1:12 am #

      Thanks, dude – I am now interested in that study. I think this idea can bring together solid marketing elements.

      One, you can begin ‘tracking’ recognition, considering using germane, trusted personalities (modern advertising does this with recognizable celebs; but often there is zero correlation between the two.. example Dan Marino/isotoners in ‘Ace Ventura’. I mean, I get his hands are integral..but too far a field of a stretch.

      Two, you can actually ‘prove’ sources well. Consumers can ‘trace’ testimonials/references in real time. That is extremely important re: branding and rep management.

      PS. I’ll be in your area next week.. “I don’t always venture into the night, but when I do..”

      • avatar
        Gonzalo September 6, 2012 at 9:14 am #

        The study was published in Spanish in 2010 by a Spanish team of researchers, but the main conclusions were summarized in English by Ani López (who by the way I am happy to say is a good friend of mine). You can find it here:

        I you take a look a the conclusions you will see that they really found out that for nearly all types of queries snippets took most of the attention.

        Also, I would like to say that I like the main idea of this post, I don’t know if it can be useful for all types of industries, but I will definitely give it a try on some of my clients websites.

  3. avatar
    Iain September 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    I’m intrigued by this idea. I love the theory and I’m definitely going to have a chat with the guys here about trying it out. It would be interesting to see a wee case study on the descriptions in particular (e.g. how often does Google actually display them, for what terms, are they increasing CTR, etc.).

    Good work. And well done James on carrying content from such a well-respected source.

    • avatar
      Anthony Pensabene September 6, 2012 at 1:05 am #

      Thanks for your read and support, Iain, it’s appreciated. I am definitely going to test this out and hopefully have something valuable to share. You just gave me an idea about who often.. Actually, I think I would try to call attention to the Google team directly (possibly tweet at Cutts) inquiring about best practices re: this specific method..

      Thanks again, dude, cheers

  4. avatar
    Anthony D. Nelson September 6, 2012 at 4:06 am #

    As an e-comm SEO, I think the idea of using a testimonial or a customer review snippet as a meta description is absolutely genius.

    I myself am guilty of not putting in custom meta descriptions for all of my blog posts. Sometimes, you don’t expect them to rank quickly so you put it off… only to forget to ever go back and fill something better in.

    Anthony #1 (I happily accept being #2), your level of content production and value over the past few months has been incredible. And I truly enjoy reading every piece.

  5. avatar
    Moosa Hemani September 6, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    Amazing sir! I literally got a chance to read this calibre of post in months… Thank you sir for sharing this awesome and cleaver idea…

    As Bill said, of all the components of the search results description takes most time to focus then using testimonials (especially for product based websites) will be an epic win and can surly increase the click though rate for the website…

    Amazing stuff again!

  6. avatar
    Wendi September 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    James and Anthony,

    Thanks for sharing such terrific info. Perfect timing too as we’ve been building a new WP site and it will launch (hopefully) today…and I’ve spent the past several days filing in meta all over the place so it makes me happy to know it is still a worthwhile endeavor to make it unique and relevant for each page! I’ll now have to chew on the customer testimonial thought as that’s a terrific lightning bolt of credibility.

    Keep the great content coming – the collective “we” sure appreciate all your efforts.

Leave a Reply