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:
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:
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:
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).
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!