Important 2018 update
Extract from Moz.com article (see link to article at bottom of this post) “How Long Should Your Meta Description Be? (2018 Edition)”
“Summary: The end of November 2017 saw a spike in the average length of SERP (search engine results pages) snippets. Across 10K keywords (90K results), we found a definite increase but many oddities, such as video snippets. Our data suggests that many snippets are exceeding 300 characters, and going into 2018 we recommend a new meta description limit of 300 characters.”
Meta description tags: how to optimise them for maximum benefit
The meta description tag is a very simple yet powerful weapon in the SEO arsenal which is all too often neglected. It’s time to dust it down, put it to work and steal a march over your competitors in the race to maximise “click-through rate”, which I’ll explain later.
Why use meta description tags?
Just take a look at the fictional search results in the graphic above (click on the picture for a bigger image). If you had just typed the phrase “kitchen design” into Google’s search box, which one of these two links would you choose? The first example shows what might possibly happen to a site that has no meta description tags present. The second is what might be displayed where the meta description tag has (a) been entered and (b) used by Google (it isn’t always) in these search results. The graphic is only a mock-up of an extract of a search results screen but I’ll draw on a real example, to illustrate some other points, by referring to a business that designs, supplies and installs designer kitchens.
What are meta description tags?
Meta description tags are not a visible part of the content on your web page. They are a small piece of code that helps search engines interpret the content of your website page and present it in their results pages in the best way for your audience, when done correctly. You can see the code for this tag, assuming you have one, by displaying the source code for your website (navigate to your web page > then right click > view page source).
How does Google use the meta description tag?
Google may sometimes include the text in your meta description tag as the 2nd and 3rd line of the summary that shows for your website in Google’s search results. May. For some search results it will be used and for others it won’t but for as long as it may be used, or is likely to be used, it is worth paying close attenton to so that you control, as far as possible, what result shows up for your website.
Another important point to remember is that if any words entered by the surfer in their search query also exist in the meta description tag they will appear in the results in bold (in cases where Google uses the tag), making them stand out and catch the surfer’s eye. By placing your main keywords at the beginning of the tag, your keywords could not only be shown in bold but might also be in the most prominent position.
Google’s Matt Cutts has stated unequivocally on his blog (about the irrelevance of meta keywords tags) that the meta description tag does not affect your Google ranking i.e. in which position your site appears in the results. Only what may appear. Click on the picture below for a bigger image.
Why does Google not always use the meta description tag?
I can’t answer that definitively. However, it seems that if the content of the tag is not closely related to the search query, then it is less likely to be used. That would of course make sense on grounds of relevancy.
What happens when Google doesn’t use the tag?
In the absence of a meta description tag, what sometimes happens is that Google may search for snippets of content on the web page which are a good match for the search query and present those as the 2nd or 3rd line for your results summary. Google may use a single snippet of text or end up using several small snippets separated by dots. This is where it can get a bit risky for you and where you may end up with a result like the one shown at the top of the article. It could of course be worse.
Where do I begin?
You can see the content that Google holds for pages of your website by typing “site:www.yourdomain.com” into Google’s search box (replacing “yourdomain.com” with your own website address). You will normally be able to see, at a glance, if there is meaningful content in place in the 2nd and 3rd row of each summary. Sometimes the tags may be present but have no textual content in them and in many cases the meta tags are absent altogether, as was the case with Exact Kitchens.
Also, be sure to look at Google Webmaster Tools (sign up if you’re not already verified) under “HTML suggestions” because this will tell you whether your meta description tags are too short, missing altogether or duplicated (the same on more than one of your own pages). It won’t hurt your rankings in any of these cases – it’s just a missed advertising opportunity.
Meta description tags represent free advertising space
Remember these are the ‘organic’ aka ‘natural’ search results so this is free advertising space. It is a valuable opportunity to place a compelling message on the page maybe even a call to action and increase the likelihood of somebody clicking on your website link because it catches their eye and provides a useful clue as to what they’ll find there. This helps to increase click-through rate which is the number of times that your link is actually clicked on expressed as a proportion or percentage of the total number of times your website summary appears in the results.
The example below is an actual search results page (in google.co.uk) for a search on beckermann kitchens.
You can see how the keywords are shown in bold in 3 out of 4 lines of the summary (room for improvement!), comprising the page title tag, the meta description tag and the url. If you look at the result 2 positions further down (www.beckermann-kitchens.co.uk) their result, despite having the keyword domain name, does not have an optimised page title tag or meta description tag and the home page is all flash. I’m in no doubt about which one gets my attention and click.
7 rules of thumb for meta description tags
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