The meta description tag is ~160 character snippet, that is displayed in the SERPs by the search engines to describe the content of a page. Search engines display the meta description that was used by the Webmaster, when the user’s query is contained in it.
When there is no match, they choose to create a meta description based on the content on the page and what they already know about the page. Even though the Meta Description does not influence ranking anymore, it is a great opportunity to advertise what the page is about in order to increase CTRs and receive more traffic from the search engines.
What is a Meta Description?
The Meta Description tags, while they are not a ranking factor anymore, they certainly can increase your website’s traffic from Google and other major search engines as they serve as advertisement to the searchers and let them know exactly what your page is about.
The main purpose of a Meta Description is to get a visitor from Google to click to your link to visit your web site. In order to do that, you should employ keywords intelligently, but also try to create a compelling message for the searchers to click. Furthermore, each meta description should be unique across your web site and also no longer than 158 characters.
Even though search engines do not use the text contained in a Meta Description as a ranking signal, there is an indirect benefit, as Google takes into consideration the click-through-rate (CTR) to your page, to determine if it is a good result or not. If more people click to your result than the expected, It means that your result is a good match for the user’s query and then Google move’s it up. This is why optimising your meta descriptions and page titles is a very important task.
<meta name=”description” content=”This is an example of a meta description. This will often show up in search results.”>
Can Pages Still Rank High Without a Meta Description?
Yes. Google can extract information for a page from the textual elements of the page to create its own snippets if you have not added a Meta Description. However, if you like to have higher click-through rates it is suggested to optimise the Meta Description for the pages that you have not added one and especially for the pages that rank high in the SERPs.
NOTE: Google tells you in 2016 to use a meta description on pages rather than leave it out, so I would listen to them on this point.
Can You Control What Message Appears in The Google Search Snippet?
Search engines have become a lot smarter than they used to be in detecting spam. They are always looking to discover new ways to detect any manipulation in the SERPs. Bing has publicly stated that it uses metadata to detect any way of SERP manipulation, so when you optimise your meta descriptions you always need to be careful. Putting the keyword in the meta description in low-quality pages will not make a big difference, so it is really worth considering what approach you should take.
Always cater for the user’s’ informational needs and try to make your message as clear, relevant and informative as possible. This way you will have some semblance of cooperation from Google, Yahoo and Bing. Optimise everything else on the page and leave the meta description at the end. There are a lot more important on-page factors that can improve a page’s organic traffic to a great extent.
Does Google Use The Meta Description When Ranking A Page?
If the keyword is only present in the meta description and not in the body of the page, than Google ignores it, when it comes to ranking the page. Bing takes a similar approach to Google. Yahoo also does not seem to be returning a page when the keyword only appears in the Meta Description.
What Are The Characteristics of A Good Meta Description?
Keep it between 135 to 158 characters: There is not an ideal length for a Meta Description, as there is also no warranty that Google will display the whole meta description in the SERPs. Depending on the page, Google might choose to include additional information such as date (article), number of products (ecommerce web sites) and in certain cases it might even choose to display 250 characters.
Use active voice: Generally, whenever possible, try to use active voice and not passive. A Meta Description that uses passive voice often uses more words, can be vague and does not help communicate your message effectively. On the contrary, active voice clearly identifies the action and who is performing it. The usage of active voice helps add a sense of urgency to your writing while at the same time it is making it more direct, confident and concise. You readers will find it easier to understand and follow your message.
Call to action: Using a “call to action” in your meta description will help your prospects focus on your website, increase your click-through rates and also measure your sites success. In order to use call to actions successfully, you will need to also i) communicate the benefits of responding ii) offer incentives iii) use active urgent language iv) experiment with uppercase and lowercase v) use special characters if possible to capture user’s attention.
Structured content: Google, Yahoo and Bing have created a specific vocabulary that can be used to help search engines understand your content better. By adding Schema markup to your HTML improves the way your page displays in the SERPs, making it more attractive to the users. Alternative, you could use rich snippets.
Match the content: Your Meta Description should always match the content on the page. If it does not describe the content on the page then Google and other major search engines will not choose to display it.
Contain the focus keyword: Even though it does not make a difference in terms of rankings anymore, using your main keyword phrase in the meta description, will not hurt your page. If the user’s query matches the the search phrase included in the meta description, than Google will be more inclined to use your meta description highlight it in the search results.
Must be unique: In order for your meta description to have an impact on your web sites CRTs, it has to be unique across your web site and also not similar to any other on the web. If you would like not to write a Meta Description for each page, you can simply leave it empty and let Google decide what to display.