Anybody who has tried to set up a website for traffic are familiar with meta tag descriptions. These have long been significant for optimizing a website for better placement on a search engine results page.
Simply put, this description is a very brief summary of the content of a page to describe what it says. The search engines use this to display a portion of the text on the results page, which allows readers to figure out whether it is a page that they should visit based on their searches.
Are Meta Descriptions Still Necessary?
Over the years, there has been plenty of focus put on this tactic, which include debates on how dense the keywords should be and how long is best to limit these descriptions to. More common questions include whether every single page on a website should have its own unique meta description or not.
Recently, Matt Cutts from Google suggested that website owners should take one of two different approaches: They can either have a unique meta description on every single page on the website or completely omit them altogether. The most important thing to keep in mind is ensuring that no two pages have the exact same meta tag descriptions on them. Fortunately, it is possible to avoid this by using the Webmaster Tools option by Google, which crawls through websites and notifies a user if there are duplicate descriptions on the website.
It is known that Google will automatically generate page descriptions for its own results page when one does not exists. Matt Cutts recommended that webmasters come up with unique descriptions for pages that are most important, such as pages that have high conversion and the home page, in addition to those that do not have appealing descriptions generated.
Here’s the full video:
Importance of Descriptions
It is important to have descriptions for important pages as they assist with user click rate. As previously stated, these are essentially a summary of the page, which means it serves as a bit of an advertisement so they know whether it is something they want to click. While not every single description needs to be unique, the important ones must be so the user will click with interest.
When penning these descriptions, it is important to remember to add the keywords within the descriptions as well. This is not for the purposes of ranking but for Google to read and highlight these keywords during a search, which will then up the visibility as well as the rate of clicks for your website.
Pages that do not have this description can still be put at the top of the results, and then it will show content that is on the page; this is not always clear to the user since it does not have the same gist as the content, causing the user to avoid clicking onto it. Because of this, it is important to write descriptions for pages that are expected to be visited the most.
How to Add Meta Descriptions
In order to add a meta description to your page, you will need to insert the following code within the head tags:
Technically speaking, there is no limit for writing a meta description; it is possible to write lengthy paragraphs for a meta description, but each search engine will cut off the description after a certain number of characters before trailing off with ellipses.
For instance, Google cuts off descriptions after 155 to 160 characters while Yahoo allows upwards of 165 characters. MSN goes further by limiting descriptions to 175 to 180 characters, and Bing goes even farther than that by cutting off the meta descriptions after 200 to 210 characters. With these comparisons in mind, it is best to limit the meta description to 160 characters, which includes not only spaces but punctuation as well.
Meta Descriptions and Search Rankings
There are many who believe that adding the meta description tags has an impact on ranking higher with search engines, but this simply is not the case. This is especially true due to the fact that, in 2009, Google itself announced that the company would no longer factor meta keywords or meta descriptions for the algorithms for ranking on web search, and this is just as true with Bing and Yahoo.
These descriptions now exist to provide some advertisement on what a website is, what the content displays and to provide some snippets as a preview, all of which have an impact on whether or not the user clicks through to the website.
For pages that do require meta descriptions, there are a few guidelines to consider.
For example, it is very important to keep it short and simple since search engines have a character limit. Even the best written meta description will not be very effective if it exceeds the limits and is not displayed on the search engine results page.
Remember that meta descriptions are essentially advertisement, so a great description means writing a great ad. One such description can entice the reader with a description that informs him and promises him reward for entering the website, eventually luring him to click through the link.
Other things to remember include not repeating the title of the page in the description since it provides no value, not simply using the page title as the description, avoiding duplication over multiple pages, using relevant keywords and being honest due to its impact on the company reputation.
Social Media and Meta Descriptions
Having a good meta description is important for those who share pages on Google+, YouTube, Facebook and similar social networking websites. This is because the same description that users see on the search engine results page is what will display on the site when shared. This also serves as good practice to write compelling descriptions for your pages since this eventually has even more of a positive impact on social networking sites.
Google’s Method for Picking Page Descriptions
As good as writing a compelling description to display, it is not always true that Google will simply accept that description and use it on its own for search results. Sometimes, search engines will find its’ default tags for the meta description, and sometimes they do not do this.
In this case, the search engine sometimes makes a snippet of its own and uses that for the search results. For example, Google uses the Open Directory Project in order to generate a snippet for a page. Those who have a listing in the Open Directory Project may then have noticed Google using this method to come up with a meta description.
When searching a website that has an Open Directory Project listing in the Google search engine, you may find that the meta description was neglected, instead displaying content from the home page when searching for the website. Those who prefer this not occur, it is possible to add the following code to the page:
This will force Google to pull the chosen description.