The Search Engine Optimization Guide: “The Description Meta Tag”

Dec 4, 2013 by

The Search Engine Optimization Guide: “The Description Meta Tag”

The Description Meta Tag provides summaries for each page. “A page’s description tag gives Google and other search engines a summary of what the page is about. Whereas a page’s title may be a few words or a phrase, a page’s description tag might be a sentence or two or a short paragraph.”*

“Google Webmaster Tools provides a handy content analysis section that’ll tell you about any description meta tags that are either too short, long, or duplicated too many times (the same information is also shown for tags). Like the tag, the description meta tag is placed within the tag of your HTML document.”*

Description meta tags are not a Google Ranking Factor, Google announced in September of 2009 that neither meta descriptions nor meta keywords factor into Google’s ranking algorithms for web search. Google uses meta descriptions to return results when searchers use advanced search operators to match meta tag content, as well as to pull preview snippets on search result pages.

The tag should accurately summarize the page’s content. Adding description tags to each of your pages is always a good practice in case Google cannot find a good selection of text to use in the snippet. Google might use a portion from the text of the document instead of the description tag if it is a better match, so there is no guarantee that the meta tag will be used. The meta description should employ the keywords intelligently, but also create a compelling description that a searcher will want to click.

The words in the snippet are in Bold when they appear in the user’s query results. This makes it easier for the user to determine if what she is looking for is on the page and where. Meta descriptions can be any length, but search engines generally truncate snippets longer than 160 characters. It is best to keep descriptions between 150 and 160 characters.

Try to avoid writing a description tag that has no relation to the content on the page. For example, using generic descriptions like “This is a web page” or “Page about baseball cards”. The description should contain more than just the keywords, it should include a descriptive relationship of the keywords on the page.

Just like title tags, you should use unique descriptions for each page. A different description for each page helps both users and Google, especially in searches where users may bring up multiple pages on your site. When choosing the meta description consider social sharing sites like Facebook commonly use a page’s description tag when the page is shared on their sites. Without the meta description tag, social sharing sites may just use the first text they can find. Depending on the first text on your page, this might not create a good user experience for users encountering your content via social sharing.

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