The Meta Description Tag
The keywords and phrases you use in your Meta description tag do not impact the search engine ranking of your website, but this tag may still be handy in your overall SEO and social media marketing campaigns.
What’s the Meta Description Tag?
It’s a snippet of HTML code that belongs to the web page segment. It is typically placed after the Title tag and before the Meta keyword tag (if you use one), although the order is not relevant.
The right syntax for this HTML tag is:
If you are using a Content Management System (CMS), search for a field to fill out called Meta Description, or maybe just “Description.”
A number of years ago, the details in the Meta description may allow a page to rank highly for the terms that were contained inside it. Today, neither Google, Bing, nor Yahoo! are using it as a rating signal.
In other words, whether or not you use your keyword phrases in your Meta description tag, the position of your page in the search engine results will not be affected. So in terms of rankings, you might easily leave it all out.
Why Should You?
There are 3 main methods in which Meta descriptions are used today that make them an important part of your SEO and your overall online marketing strategy:
- They can be used as a summary (or part of a description) of your website if it appears in the search results.
- They are also used as part of your page description when Google displays “extended site links” for your site.
- They are also used as default definitions in social media marketing links such as Facebook and Google+.
Let’s look at each one in more detail.
1. Meta Descriptions in the Search Results
People always assume that whatever they put in their Meta description tag default description is what search engines use as clickable link to their site in the search results. Though this is often true, it’s not always true.
Currently, if you are searching for a site using its URL (e.g. www.highrankings.com) Google prefers to use the first 20 to 25 words of your Meta description as the default in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) description. However, if you have a listing on DMOZ, also known as the Open Directory Project (ODP), and do not use the “noodp” tag, it may default to that description instead. (For instance search on Google for www.techynista.com)
Bing and Yahoo, on the other hand, do not always switch to the Meta description tag for URL searches. Often they do so and sometimes they don’t. The search for www.techynista.com at Bing or Yahoo! reveals the contents of my home page as a summary rather than the contents of my Meta description tag.
Of course real people don’t normally search for a site by URL, so what search engines show for certain types of search queries isn’t as important as looking for true keywords. So don’t get hung up on what you see when you are searching your site by its URL or when you are searching “site:command” to see if your pages are indexed.
Instead go to your favorite web analytics software and find the keyword phrases that are getting you the most traffic. Then see what your definition looks like when you type the keywords in Google.
And you will be shocked! What you will find is that the summary of your search results will be different for each search query! You can see any combination of the following:
- Your entire Meta description tag text as a full description (usually if it is highly significant and contains no more than 25 words).
- A full sentence from your Meta description tag, but not the full Meta description (if it includes more than one sentence).
- Text from one part of your Meta description mixed together with text from another part of it if it is more than 25 words long).
- Some text from your description of the Meta mashed together with some text from the website.
- Some text on your page has been compressed from some other text on your page (nothing in the Meta description).
Most of the other circumstances that could cause Google not to use the text of your Meta description may include:
- The information in the Meta description tag was not unique to the page on which it was written.
- The search query used some of the words that were not in the Meta description, but those (or some) words were used in the contents of the page. This involves terms that Google finds to be somewhat interchangeable, such as “copy” and “copywriting” or “SEO” and “search engine optimization.”
But even the above rules are not hard and quick. Google does not always use all or part of the Meta description even though it includes the exact search term – particularly if the search query is also contained within the content of the page. Only claim that there are no rough and quick rules on when Google can reveal it and when they won’t.
My advice is to always use keywords on every webpages where you (or hope to get) search engine visitors. Make them very specific to the website they are on, by explaining what someone can find by clicking through the search results page, while also using variations in your targeted keywords.
2. Meta Descriptions and Extended Sitelinks
These days, when you create the so-called “extended links to your site, Google always uses the first few words of your Meta description tag. But this too is not stone and relies heavily on keywords. Based on the terms used by a Google search engine, you will see different site links and various explanations.
3. Meta Descriptions and Social Media Marketing
Ever wonder why some Facebook links have fantastic descriptions and others don’t seem to make any sense? It’s because some site owners have taken the time to write a summary of the article and place it into their Meta description tag, and some have not. If your article has a Meta description, Facebook and Google+ will default to that when you post a link on your profile or “Page.” If there’s no Meta description, you will usually see the first sentence or two from the page being used as the default.
Although anyone can edit the definition that Facebook defaults to, some people can’t. And at this time on Google+, you can’t even change the default title. You can keep it as it is, or you can uninstall it altogether. Faced with it — the first word of an article is most of the time not a clear summary of the rest. It shouldn’t be because this isn’t the first sentence!
Therefore, I strongly advise you to always write a convincing 1-or 2-sentence summary for all of your articles and blog content that can be shared through social media, and place it in your Meta description tag. This will give you a huge boost over your competitors, who have not yet figured out your content on the social media, because people will hear about this article before they click on it. This will make you even more available to users.
Overall, you get a little more control over what people will see when they click on your website by the Meta description tag. The more it’s persuasive, the more you will see clicks. It definitely pays for a couple of minutes to build interesting, keyword-rich tags to show what users can find when they arrive at your website. Your Meta description tags will help with this!
Techynista is a Digital Marketing and SEO Blog in Nigeria. Follow us on Twitter @Techynista