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Optimizing the Meta Description Tag for SEO


What is the Meta Description Tag?

The Meta description tag is used on the search results page to display snippets of information about a specific webpage. It is significant to note that the content of this tag really has no direct influence on your search engine rankings. This was confirmed by Google as far back as 2009 when they stated that Meta descriptions do not factor into ranking algorithms for organic search. Consequently, webmasters have generally chosen to neglect the description tag, leaving them on the back burner.

Today, nothing has really changed with the meta descripion tag as a ranking signal, and the attitude of many webmasters towards the tag has remained the same for the most part. After all, optimizing this tag is not a simple and straightforward task. Why bother going through the trouble of optimizing a tag that’s not going to provide any ranking benefit?

The fact is, even though the description tag may not directly factor into the ranking algorithm, optimized meta description tags are still very important. In fact, a well-written or compelling Meta description tag can make your listing stand out in the search results, and skyrocket your clickthrough rate from the search results page in the process. This makes them an extremely important part of search marketing and for driving targeted traffic to your website.

Note that Google and other search engines enbolden keywords in the description when they match the words used in the search query.

User Behavior

Although the Meta description tag is not factored into Google’s search ranking algorithm, user engagement is factored into the search algorithm. Although there is a lot of dispute about CTR as a ranking factor, there is evidence to suggest that Google looks at click-through rate (CTR) from the SERP in the organic ranking of a website. The more people who click-through from the search results, the better your site will rank on Google.

In any case, the description tag is critically important because it directly influences clickthrough rate from the search results. Google looks at user engagement metrics like CTR, time on site and bounce rate when evaluating the relevance of a particular webpage listing to a search query. Consequently, this can influence your ranking in the search results. This is why what you say in your description tag is critically important.

Search engines often display a very generous 150 characters in the search results. This gives you a lot of space to craft a compelling message that will resonate with your target audience and draw the click.

Advantages of Optimizing the Meta description tag:

  1. It describes your web page: A unique description tag is required for every webpage on your site.The tag should accurately describe the content of the webpage. Misrepresenting the content of a particular page can increase your bounce rate once a user lands on the page and finds out that the page does not provide the answers they are seeking. Note that bounce rate is a strong ranking factor. Furthermore, the search engines will sometimes use the copy in the description tag to increase their understanding of webpage. The description tag also appears when you share the webpage across your social media channels.
  2. It is effectively free advertising: The search engines allow you to craft powerful advertising copy in 150 characters that will be used to entice the searcher to click on your listing. With a succinct and concise description of the products and services you offer, you can attract higher click through rates to the given web page. It is also important to include synonyms and close variants of your target keywords and phrases in the tag keeping user intent in mind. This will ultimately have an impact on your organic search ranking because the search engines tend to demote pages with poor CTR in favor of webpages that appear to be more popular.
  3. It helps with search rankings: If your site gets better CTR for specific search terms than your competitors, it naturally means that searchers find your site more relevant for the search terms which can only be good for your organic search rankings.

Empty Description Tags

Can a description be empty? Yes. The search engines are not going to penalize you for not having a meta description tag. However, this is not recommended. The thing is, if you don’t have a description tag for a webpage, Google would populate the tag with snippets from the webpage which may not have the same effect as it could if you had crafted the tag yourself. This is why it’s so important to optimize the description tag with compelling copy, and include your targeted keywords or phrases in the tag to draw the click from searchers.

Note that Google cuts off the description whenever quotes are used. This is why it is important to remove all non-alpha/numeric characters from Meta descriptions. If the quotes are important, change them to single quotes to prevent truncation.

You can add the description tag in the <head> section of the HTML of the page. However, if you’re using a CMS like WordPress and have installed Yoast, you can simply add it through the the plugin.

Here is an example of a good <meta> description tags:

<meta name=”description” content=”Learn how to develop web applications with ASP. Learn ASP programming quickly with our three part tutorial.” />

Here is an example of bad <meta> description tags:

<meta name=”description” content=”seo, organic seo, seo consultant, small business seo, small business search engine optimization consultant, small business search engine optimization” />

This sort of description is clearly spam, and will attract a search engine penalty.

Writing a Compelling Meta Description Tag: Pointers

 Keep it informative.

Tell the reader what they can expect if they click through to your webpage. Consider starting your description tag with action-oriented words like “Get”, “Discover”, “Learn”, etc. to make it more persuasive and appealing to the reader. Your description needs to be a compelling, accurate, concise and succinct description of what the webpage is about. Let the reader know what’s in it for them. Use power words that will motivate them to want to click through.

Keep it unique.

The description must be written differently for each web page. If the meta description tag is the same on two or more different URLs, the page could be viewed as duplicated content and could be filtered out by the Panda algorithm.

Add schematic mark-up

Adding schema to your description tag can help it stand out from other listings in the search results. For example, five star ratings in the example below, are normally associated with high quality. This will have a powerful effect on the searcher and could entice the searcher to click through.

Adding Schema to the Description Tag can be Powerful

Include your most important keywords.

Although the Meta description tag doesn’t factor in Google’s ranking algorithm, it could influence the searcher to click through if they find its content relevant to what they are looking for. This is why it is always important to include your target keywords because that will increase the relevancy of the description to the search query.

Use the correct length.

It is important to ensure that your Meta description will not be truncated. You can make sure of this by using the right length when crafting your description tags. The correct length for description tags is 300 characters (this limit increased in December 2017).

Do not stuff keywords into the Meta description tag.

Just because Google doesn’t factor the description tag in their ranking algorithm doesn’t mean it will be acceptable to stuff keywords in the tag. Keyword stuffing any of the elements of a webpage is a fast track to a Google penalty. Make sure that the keywords you use are directly relevant to the theme or topic of the webpage, and be sure to include synonyms and close variants of your target keywords to increase readability.