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Do Meta-Descriptions Still Matter?

There was once a time when metas influenced your rank. It was like magic, stuff a few keywords in the meta-description, tags and keywords and boom, you would often see yourself ranking for those terms. Once people began to abuse meta-descriptions, search engines stopped using them as a signal. So why do so many content management systems still have meta-description fields if they don’t help a site’s ranking?

How Meta-Descriptions Are Used Today

Before we begin, it might be helpful to show you an an example of a typical meta-description. Below you will find the meta-descriptions for our homepage:

image

Note the bolded keywords. Google will take the keywords you searched for and bold them.

Do Meta-Descriptions Affect Rankings?

As mentioned earlier in this blog post, meta-descriptions do not have a direct effect on where you rank. What a good meta-description can do is influence clicks. Most searchers do not automatically choose the first result, and I doubt very many people use Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” button. A good meta-description will help sell your webpage as long as it’s relevant to the keyword.

Best Practices for Meta-Descriptions

The following are key-standards for meta-descriptions:

  • They must be unique on every page and use keywords specifically relevant to each page.
  • Keywords should be included, but not too heavily as the meta-description does not boost rankings. The most important keywords should be used near the beginning of the description (preferred but not essential).
  • They should be grammatically correct, with standard sentence structure and punctuation.
  • Write a compelling call-to-action that entices the searcher to click.
  • Do not use unnecessary adjectives or meaningless “filler” (e.g. “and many more,” “etc.,” “such as,” “like.”) the word “Including” is longer but sounds more professional than “like” or “etc.”
  • Less than 160 characters since longer descriptions will be truncated and may look bad.

When Not to Include Meta-Descriptions

If a meta-description isn’t coded into the page Google will take text from the page that it thinks is relevant. In some cases the exclusion of a meta-description can be useful. If your meta-description is irrelevant, Google will display text that it deems more useful for the user. Take the coded meta-description below which was ignored by Google:

image

Below is the actual search result with a different wording. We can see that Google has overridden this meta-description with something it has deemed more relevant to the search; which in this case was “LCD.” Here is what Google displayed instead:

image

It may be advantageous to omit meta-descriptions on product pages that include many different products. Take an example for the search “Sony LCD TV.” If the site omits the generic meta-description Google will select its own snippet of text that’s relevant to the search. In this case the absence of a generic meta-description means the searcher will likely be display text that’s specifically relevant to their search (arguably better than a generic meta-description).

In Conclusion

Meta-descriptions have essentially no impact on search engine rankings or relevancy whatsoever. Officially, Google claims that they ignore them completely with respect to rankings. They do however influence people to click on your site from SERPs.

So yes, meta-descriptions do still matter, but for different reasons than they once did!

Post By Steve Toth (125 Posts)

The internet is the world's largest advertising medium and Steve is fully immersed in it. He began working in social media in 2009 and has managed accounts for everything from major label recording artists to software development firms.

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  • Douglas

    Thanks Steve for the great post on meta descriptions. This gives more insight on how meta description helps in fact and how can we optimize it more effectively.

  • http://techwyse.com/ Steve Toth

    Thanks Douglas. These practices are widely used on all of our sites. Glad you liked them!

  • Dave

    Hey Steve. Since meta descriptions have basically no impact on search engine rankings, does it matter if you take the meta description from copy on the landing page of a website? Would this still be considered duplicate content in the eyes of google? Thanks.

    David

  • http://techwyse.com/ Steve Toth

    Hi Dave,

    Whether or not copying someone else’s meta-tags would be a penalty in Google’s eyes is unknown; but I can’t ever remember hearing a time where plagiarism was considered a best practice.

    In short, I believe that doing so could be flagged as duplicate content. To be safe write your own meta-descriptions!

  • David

    I wasn’t being clear. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean from other websites, I meant pulling the description from content already on MY website. Thanks for the response!

  • http://techwyse.com/ Steve Toth

    Hi David,

    Google doesn’t care about the meta-tags in terms of rank. I would just make sure that the meta-tags reflect the content that’s on your website or else you’ll have a high bounce rate.

  • http://istockphp.com kea

    hi thanks for your info, after changing the meta description in my post the page views are getting low.

  • Steve Toth

    Well, have you tried changing them back? Remember, metas only impact clickability, not direct rankings.

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