What Makes a Good Description Meta-Tag?

There was a time in the not to distant past when the content contained within the Description meta-tag had a direct bearing on rankings for any given page. Getting keywords early in the first sentence counted, and exact-match keyword search phrases targeted to the page content were the norm! Repetition was advised, and branding had not yet been invented…

My, oh my – how things change…

These days, its sometimes better to NOT have a Description meta-tag at all. That would be the case if you’ve a page with a lot of content that is likely to be searched for by varying phrases. If you specify a Description, most search engines will use that verbatim in the SERPs.

However, if you choose NOT to add a Description, Google will extract a relevant section of text from the on-page content to use as the Description. Further, that auto-generated Description will be pertiment to the search phrase used by the searcher. In other words, Google is able to display context-sensitive Descritions based on the searchers query! That’s smart!

In more tightly focused pages, it is most useful to carefully write a “sales pitch” Description, unique to that specific page. The Decription meta-tag has no bearing on search engine optimisation per se, but a well-written and compelling “sales pitch” may encourage the searcher to follow your  link when reading it in the search engine results pages.

A relevant, original and unique Description will be displayed “as is” in the SERPs shown to the searcher, allowing you to control what’s displayed. Therefore, there are at least four common approaches to generating Description metatags;

  1. You do not have one at all, allowing search engines to “auto-generate” one from sections of text occuring within the page. If you’ve got broad coverage of a topic, the snippets shown may vary appropriately according to the search phrase used by the searcher!
  2. You have a “generic” one that is used on every page of the site!  In that instance, you’d be best having none at all.
  3. You take the opportunity to manage exactly what is displayed about the page by manually writing a uniue and engaging Description
  4. You allow your content management system (CMS) to take the first 160 characters of the on-page content and insert it into the Description. That can work very well, provided you take care that the first sentence summarises the page content accurately.

Basically, you really need a unique, concise and accurate summary of the page contents within 150 characters, because that about all Google will show in SERPs results for anygiven page!  Any longer and its going to get truncated or replaced  with somethign Google thinks is better!

Bearing in mind that the searcher reading the SERPs is your target, you need to make them understand that this page contains what they need, and that you have all the answers…

  • Include a variation of the primary keyword phrase early in the Description
  • Make a compelling sales pitch that persuades the viewer that THIS page has what he/she wants
  • Avoid repetition, use a synonym instead.
  • Don’t repeat the “Branding” elements from your Title
  • Don’t use capitals as emphasis
  • Check for punctuation, grammar and spelling errors!
  • If you can, get in a call to action; Contact us for details, Read more etc.

The Importance of the Description Meta-tag

You will often hear or read people saying “Don’t waste your time with the Descriptions, they are not important anymore!”

That’s only true of Descriptions in the context of SEO – apparently, Google no longer counts them among the elements that influence rankings. That said, Google goes on to explain the importance of Descriptions in encouraging higher click-through rates!

Therefore, Descriptions are just as important as ever, but for different reasons!

As outlined previously, there are multiple approaches to handling Descriptions across your website, and it may well be that a combination of options 1, 3 and 4 are the best. For example

  • None on complex multi-faceted pages
  • Manual / custom descriptions on tightly focused pages
  • Auto-generated on posts/pages where you’ve taken pains to write an introductory sentence to the page