Google has reiterated on two separate occasions that meta tags and descriptions have no significant impact on the way search engine ranks websites. There are various comprehensive studies and experiments on SEO blogs that Google shows results based on relevant keyword phrases found in a website’s content pertaining to search queries.
With that being said, should you forget about optimizing your meta descriptions?
Overlooking meta tags and descriptions can have a negative impact on your website and the number of clicks it gets based on a very simple, yet key truth: first impressions.
Meta description tags are bits of text embedded into a webpage’s HTML code. It contains a brief description of the page in order to give users a general idea of what the page is about. On the SERP listing, this block of text, typically around 160 characters (or the size of a tweet) is displayed beneath the page’s title and URL. If your meta description goes over this length, it cut off at the limited character and have an ellipse at the end. Therefore, it’s best to keep it short, sweet, and within the character limit.
How Meta Descriptions Influence Search Engine Users
After the title, the meta description is often the next thing people look at in search engine results. Just like how dressing well and conducting yourself appropriately in real life can have a positive effect on the people around you, a good title and well-composed meta descriptions can be the difference between a positive click-through and having your site passed over by the average Joe user.
The average SERP is composed of three parts, and of those three the page description takes up the most space: a full two lines and 160 characters. Think of this space as the perfect opportunity to sell your content to the user – by giving the user a compelling reason to click your link.
An excellent meta description should be descriptive and informative. Chances are, the person searching for the keywords you’re ranking for is looking for more information. You want to leverage your meta description as an elevator pitch that can attract users to click through and go to your website. However, avoid being too “salesy,” as that might turn searchers away from clicking on your result.
Social Media Aspect
Apart from the SERPs, meta descriptions can also become an asset on the social media front. Popular social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn make use of meta descriptions as a quick preview whenever a page is being shared among other people in the network
Whenever a page is being shared, it will use either the meta description or the first two sentences in the main copy as a summarized preview. Often times, the first few sentences in the blog doesn’t accurately depict the message of your webpage. If the introduction on your blog or article doens’t accurately sum the article for meta descriptions, then users might get the wrong idea about what the page is about.
When you’re sharing a link on Facebook, treat it as a landing page for a website. If Facebook pulled in the wrong title for the link, then change it and ensure the keywords are in there. In addition, if the meta description doesn’t encourage readers to click through, make sure you add a strong summary with necessary keywords that will attract readers to click. Please note that Facebook has it’s own search algorithm from search engines, therefore your meta descriptions will not translate to ranking the search engine results pages. The objective of optimizing your meta description here is to encourage and attract users to click through to the website or article you’ve shared.
In addition, social bookmarking networks also make use of a page’s meta descriptions as its summary. Networks like Digg will always make use of the meta description first whenever a page is being shared. While it is possible to change the page’s description on their CMS, you can save yourself a little time by just creating a good meta description that encapsulates your page.
Making Good Use of Your Meta Descriptions
Many webmasters tend to forget that meta descriptions can be considered as a type of content for a good website design and can be used as such. Although it doesn’t necessarily boost you in SEO, it can influence users to click on your link.
Once you’re done with creating your meta description, don’t forget to test it and see how things pan out. This is especially important for your landing pages. Try out different variations of your meta descriptions and see which one works best for you.
In the end, crafting a well-written meta description will definitely benefit your site. While it doesn’t hold as much weight as a search ranking factor, it can still find a lot of mileage by improving your click through rates. By writing a good set of meta descriptions, you can influence search users into clicking your site pages and even possibly score some conversions.