Everything You Need To Know About Meta Description Tags

The Meta Description tag is a concise summary of page’s content to describe the current web page. They are used by search engines for displaying little snippets of text on the search engine results page (SERP), which in turn makes easier for readers to choose what they intend to.

Best Meta description usage examples

From the above example, it shows that the reader searched for ‘Nokia Lumia 920 review’ and the link which topped in the search results gives them a little description about what all the important aspects are covered in the review, the site communication with the reader is substantial and it successfully turned into click rate with the help of search engine.

Importance of Meta Description

It is important to have meta descriptions for every web page, since they can help to grow the user click rate. They are basically served as a short text “advertisement” to click on your pages in the search results, which means the description has to be very unique and useful to the reader. If the user doesn’t find interesting, then she may prefer to skip the link.

While writing meta descriptions, one must not forget to include targeted keywords in their descriptions, not for ranking purpose but rather Google to pick up on your keywords and highlight them, which in case increases the visibility and click-through rate of your site.

The pages without meta description could still display near the top of the results, which shows the content from your page, quite unclear to the user since it lacks the gist of the page and she may end up without clicking the links. So, it is always a good practice to write meta descriptions to every page than losing the user click rate. For instance,

Google using meta description from content snippets

Page Content

Meta description from content example

When we checked the source code, there was no meta description in it. So, Google actually pulled the part of the main content to display it as a web page description, which is not concise to read it.

Code To Add Meta Description

<meta name=”description” content =”The meta descriptions are written here and they provide succinct content to the readers.”>

What is the Optimal or Recommended Length of Meta Description?

There is no restriction or limit for writing meta descriptions, one can write longer descriptions keeping in mind the most important part or content is included under 150-160 characters. Since, search engines had started to cut off descriptions after their declared limit characters and rest of it is replaced with “……” . For instance,

  • Google cuts off descriptions after 155-160 characters.
  • MSN cuts off descriptions after 175-180 characters.
  • Yahoo cuts off descriptions after 160-165 characters.
  • Bing cuts off descriptions after 200-210 characters.

So, eventually it indicates that the optimum length of meta description should be 160 characters, including spaces and punctuation.

Do Meta Descriptions have Impact on Search Rankings?

Generally, many may think that meta description tags can help to grow their search ranking but unfortunately it doesn’t happen so. Since, Google announced in 2009 that meta descriptions and meta keywords are no more factor for Google’s ranking algorithms for web search and the same goes with Yahoo and Bing too. Indeed, they are just used to return the results to match meta tag content and to pull preview snippets on search results which affects the click-through rate.

What are the Best Practices to Optimize Meta Description Tags?

  • Keep the description short and simple.
  • Ensure that every page has a unique meta description since content growth is aggressively uprising and keeping track of every content’s title, meta description size, duplication, usage etc is quite troublesome to manage. But then with the use of some productive seo tools like SearchEnabler can save us some trouble, it crawls weekly and locates the issues related to it and provides better recommendation for improving rankings.
  • identifying duplicate meta descriptions from website

  • Great meta description means great ads. As the above example explains, how it entices to the reader with the informative and promising description, it eventually induces him to click on the link.
  • Compelling meta description serves as ads

  • Provide high quality description.
  • High quality meta description

  • Avoid repeating the page title information as it adds no value.
  • Avoid title as meta description

  • Same description over multiple pages should be avoided.
  • Content should be honest because company reputation is counted on it.
  • Add relevant keywords to the description.

How Google Selects Page Descriptions To be Displayed in SERPs

Some people strongly believe, that their job is to add meta description and search engines pull those default meta description tag and display it in their search results, which is not always the case.

1. Using ODP for Description

Search engines, sometimes pull default meta description tags and sometimes they don’t rather they create their own snippet and display in their search results. For instance, the one source which Google uses to generate a snippet is the Open Directory Project (ODP), if you have a listing in ODP then Google might use that as description to display in Search Engine Result Pages (SERP).

2. Matching Text from Content

When we searched the site name by its URL (www.redmondpie.com) in Google, it displayed home page content in the search results where by neglecting the default meta description.

ODP -DMOZ used as Meta description in SERPS

If you don’t want Google to use Open Directory Project then you can simply include “noodp” tag in your page. <meta name=”robots” content=”noodp”>

And when we searched the same URL in Bing

Meta description in Bing SERPS

we found that it concatenated the default Meta description tag with the first few lines of home page content. So, basically what search engines shows in the above example for the search query doesn’t necessarily exclaim to be the true keyword search.

3. Usage of Meta Description Tag When Matched With Search Query

From the source code, we found out that this was the default meta description of the URL (www.redmondpie.com)

<meta name="description" content="Covering Microsoft, Google, Apple and the web!" />

When the search query matches with the meta description tag then Goggle pulls default meta description and highlight the keywords of search query. As you can see below,

Keyword based meta description matching

Meta Description with Social Media

Meta Descriptions are also very useful when sharing pages with social networking sites like Facebook, Google + or youtube because the same meta descriptions are displayed when the pages are shared. So, it is good practice to create a good meta description for pages because it eventually have a good impact when the pages are shared or else Google creates ineffective snippets where it reduces the click through rate. For example, Google Webmaster Blog

Google search result for meta description
Google search result for “Importance of meta description”

This page has no meta description and Google created the snippet for which it grabbed the content from the comment posted by the reader. If Google had at least used the first paragraph content as default then it would have made the better meta description.

Meta description from comment post
“First paragraph of the post”

When the same post was shared on the Google plus, it used the same meta description which doesn’t add value to the description. So, the users with social accounts are less likely to share the link because the meta description is not helpful to the reader. If you want people to share your post then make it easy for them and place your relevant links in the post and importantly describe what the post is about in first few lines with covering essential keyword phrases.

meta description in social networks
Showing the same unreliable meta description when shared with Google Plus.

So, we strongly recommend you to write a compelling meta description tag on every article though it takes some time but with little efforts it gives you better click through rates.

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