Meta descriptions can help show up in search results and social media, motivating people to click through and visit your site.
They can help search engines like Google understand what the web page is about as well.
If you audit the site with one of the many SEO tools, you may find a flag or warning about missing or duplicate meta descriptions.
This may indicate that you need to ensure that each page has a unique meta description, as part of your SEO strategy.
But are meta descriptions a factor in Google’s search ranking algorithm?
Claim: Meta descriptions as a ranking factor
The idea here is that if you write an optimized meta description, it will help you rank higher in Google search results.
Since we’re talking about a field with somewhat limited space, the conventional wisdom is that you should use your target keyword phrase in your meta description as an SEO best practice.
Yoast is one of the ultimate experts when it comes to meta descriptions.
At the time of publication, the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin was in use 7.9 million websites.
And this is what happens Yoast recommends As far as meta descriptions go:
- Keep it up to 155 characters long.
- Use your keyword focus.
- Make sure it matches the content of the page.
If and how often you use the focused keyword in your meta description as part of an SEO assessment provided by Yoast:
All of this seems to indicate that meta description optimization is essential to SEO.
But does Google actually use it to determine your ranking?
Evidence for meta descriptions as a ranking factor
in Video Posted on Google Search Central in August 2020 Google search attorney Martin Splitt said about meta descriptions:
“Please don’t forget to add them to your mobile pages. They are very important for Googlebot as well.”
Almost immediately, an SEO specialist tweet split He asks for any additional details.
Splitt responded that the meta description and page title not only provide searchers with a first impression, but also:
“… Google search helps you get a short summary of what you consider important about a page.”
Now, this has attracted a little attention.
The common belief among SEO professionals is that meta descriptions have lost any ranking value they may have had a long time ago.
As Ann Donnelly wrote in 2011,
“Most of us know that while search engines no longer consider meta description in their ranking factors, this element of your page is still important in driving traffic to your site.”
Could it be that Google after all this time is actually using meta descriptions as a ranking factor?
Evidence against meta descriptions as a ranking factor
It was John Mueller Quick to explain:
Now, there is a healthy suspicion among SEO professionals that perhaps Google is not completely honest and open about ranking factors. You may have chosen not to take Mueller at his word.
However, meta descriptions as a ranking signal do not stand up to it.
First, it is very easy to manipulate. Just put the keywords you want to rank for there and voila!
An instant signal to Google that you should rank for this keyword phrase.
This was really the belief system back in 2005-2008 or so when I was writing for sites like About.com, Demand Media, and Suite101.com.
Back then, on-page optimization was quite formulaic and you could change the keywords in the title, meta description, sub-headings, etc., and see the ranking change dramatically.
This is exactly why the meta description loses any value as a ranking signal.
2009 Matt Cutts Explained The reason meta keywords were removed from the algorithm sheds some light on their thinking about meta descriptions at the time, too:
About a decade ago, search engines judged pages based solely on the content of web pages, not any so-called ‘off-page’ factors such as links pointing to a web page.
…because meta tags were so often misused, many years ago Google started deprecating meta tags.
Although we sometimes use the descriptive meta tag for the snippets we display, We still don’t use the descriptive meta tag in our ranking. “
Even today, the meta description you set for that page may not appear in search results.
Indeed, A.J 2018 experience The Yoast team found that Google “often” comes up with its own description to use in a search snippet.
There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why Google finds some of the meta descriptions provided to be inadequate either.
Michel Hegemans noted:
“It doesn’t matter whether we create long or short meta descriptions and whether the description is written with a high or low keyword density.”
They also found that in two-thirds of cases, Google used content from the first paragraph on the page to populate the search snippet.
Recently, Portent found that Google rewrote meta descriptions more than 70% of the time.
Meta descriptions as a ranking factor: our judgment
The meta description is not used by Google as an indication of search ranking and has not been used since sometime between 1999 and 2003-04.
This does not mean that they are not an important component of your SEO strategy.
Direct benefits of meta descriptions can include:
- Improve click-through rates from search results.
- Help differentiate your content from competitors in SERPs.
- Curiosity and engagement of searchers, compelling them to check you out.
- Brand exposure.
Indirectly, additional user behavior signals generated by more – and more engaged – site visitors can boost your SEO.
But meta descriptions by themselves are not a ranking factor and have not been for a long time.
See Brian Harnish’s SEO Best Practices: How to Create Great Meta Descriptions for helpful tips.
Featured Image: Paolo Bobetta/Search Engine Magazine