Making The Most of Meta Descriptions

meta description on search engine results pageThere is an ongoing debate as to whether search engines use keywords in meta descriptions to rank a web page. One thing is certain though, Google sometimes (but not always) uses the description as a snippet when it presents search results to a user on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Generally if the user is searching for a URL this is the case.

The main point here is that you are in control of what your meta description states and a well crafted statement about the page can increase your clickthrough rate.

Writing a Meta Description

When writing the description it is helpful to think in terms of advertising. What is the user looking for and what will compel him or her to choose your site over the numerous others that will be displayed?  A short and snappy summary of the page with your prominent keywords (they will be in bold text) near the beginning of the description will catch a users eye.

The description should be no longer than 155 characters or you stand the chance of having the message truncated. The meta description allows you to provide the search engine with a meaningful description of your page when they are unable to automatically create one from the page content.

In the SERPs

Meta descriptions are often used when the search engine displays extended site links. It is very important therefore to write a separate and distinct meta description for each and every page on your website. Extended site links are highly keyword dependent, so to benefit most from your meta descriptions your site must have a uniform purpose and your keywords must reflect this purpose. The use of these keywords at the beginning of your meta description will increase the odds that the search engine will use the meta description as a snippet.

Social Media Usage

Meta descriptions are especially important in social media marketing such as Facebook and Google+. If there is no meta description the search engine will usually default to the first sentence used in the article and this will not properly convey what the whole article is about. The majority of marketers on social networks overlook this fact and by creating the meta description you will enjoy a competitive advantage over your competition.

Indexation

A meta description in general is one of several meta elements that provide search engines with information that helps the algorithm index and categorize the page. They are not visible to the user as they are part of the HTML document. In the 1990′s they were essential to search engines in ranking a page but as webmasters learned ways to gain an advantage through keyword stuffing and other black hat SEO techniques search engines gradually started looking to other criterion in search technology.

Today meta elements have a far less effect on determining ranking of any given page as search engine robots have become more refined in sniffing out spamdexing and keyword stuffing.

The search engines of today use a variety of criterion to establish page rank such as:

  • Freshness
  • Quantity and quality of content
  • Number of links from related websites
  • Technical precision of source code
  • Click-throughs
  • Page views
  • Relevance
  • Uniqueness

The search algorithms of today are constantly changing and evolving but this does not mean you should disregard older aspects of page development. At the very least a well written meta description will be a sign of quality and technical precision in the eyes of search providers. These two criteria do play a part in ranking and will set you apart from those who are looking for the fast track to the top.

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  • January 8th, 2012 at 2:46 am Owen Johnson said:

    Wes,

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve successfully used the meta description for many years (yes, folks, it’s something that’s been important for a long time) but I never thought about placement of the keywords in it. I might want to re-write some descriptions for my pages that don’t rank as well as others.

    One more thing search engines use to determine ranking is longevity: How long has the site been online? I know this doesn’t help anyone who’s trying to get their relatively new site ranked, but if you ever consider buying a site/domain, it’s something to look at.

    Owen

  • January 9th, 2012 at 11:32 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hey Owen,
    Yeah, I make it a habit of including my keywords near the beginning of the meta-description of a page. I don’t worry about getting them all in there, but at least 1 or 2 main keyword phrases or variants thereof.

  • January 11th, 2012 at 1:00 am earch Engine Optimization Rankings said:

    This tip is very effective for Meta Description which I was looking for.

  • January 12th, 2012 at 2:05 pm Gil Pauley said:

    Wesley, as usual an informative article. I have Meta descriptions and Meta keywords for both our main website and our blog with a few variations of each which I use exclusively when I submit these to a directory for listing. I try to send in a few listings to new directories every other month or so. I think being listed in directories has helped us be ranked well. I vary my general descriptions quite a lot, but I usually use the same few variations of the Meta descriptions and of the Meta key words. I stay away from directories that have a lot of drug listings in their health section–which is my main method of quality control for this type of link.

  • January 12th, 2012 at 6:41 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hey Gil,
    Great job – it’s definitely important use variants of your description when creating company profiles on third-party websites.

  • January 15th, 2012 at 12:07 pm Wine Food said:

    The section on meta descriptions and site links is something I am learning more about.

  • February 4th, 2012 at 8:51 pm Jeremy Ruggles said:

    Hey Gil,

    You are right about meta descriptions. People will argue over the importance of different aspects of on page optimization all day long, but in the end it is you who has control over what is on your page… It is up to Google to decide how they use they content on your site. So, would it not be a good idea to make your meta description both SEO friendly and reader friendly?

    Sounds simple enough to me.

    Take Care,

    ~Jeremy

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