Although a quality meta description might not directly raise your site's rankings, it does play an important role in attracting well-qualified traffic. Read on to learn about what Google has established as the practices for this subject. Success with SEO means more than just improving rankings for websites. Brands must also encourage qualified traffic to click through to the website and engage with the material. When prospective readers enter a query in a search engine, the list of results on the SERP will include page titles as well as a brief snippet below. This snippet provides a summary of the content and how the material on that web page might be relevant to the entered query. Google uses these snippets as an opportunity to provide users with a "snapshot" of what they will read. The same way people like to read the back of books to get a summary before they open to the first page, people prefer to have an idea of the value the website will have for them before they click. From an SEO perspective, a quality meta description below your SERP listing will encourage people to click and thus boost traffic as well as engagement. This can then improve rankings and improve your overall strategy. In June of 2017 Google announced on its blog that there would be some changes in how they generate these snippets, while also reminding webmasters what they look for in the snippets. Here is what we wanted to highlight for our community about this announcement.
How did Google determine the snippet in the past?
In its blog post, Google detailed how it used to typically determine the snippets for websites. Ideally, they would use the content on the page, but sometimes the material on the website was not sufficient to show the page’s relevance. For example, a company website homepage might align well with the user’s intentions, but if the homepage itself consists of mostly images and links, there might not be sufficient original content to create a helpful snippet. In this situation, Google would look at the meta description. Since many webmasters neglect their meta descriptions, however, if this summary was missing, then Google would look at the DMOZ listings - also known as The Open Directory Project. The descriptions on DMOZ were often better quality than even the meta descriptions submitted by site owners themselves. Now, however, the DMOZ has closed, which means that Google will no longer be calling upon these listings. Without this safety net, brands will need to pay even more attention to their meta descriptions. Not only do they need to create such a summary for every web page, but they must also need to be attentive to the quality of what they create.
What does Google want to see in a quality meta description?
As you begin the process of creating meta descriptions for new content, or if you want to review those for your existing pages, consider the recommendations and suggestions that Google has made.
- Accuracy and quality. The primary concern for a quality meta description should always be accuracy. The summary will correctly describe the content and provide motivation for users to click on this particular link. Keep in mind that just like the rest of your content, keyword stuffing or using only lists of keywords provides little context or helpful information for the user, thus creating a poor user experience and will not encourage clicks. Meta descriptions should not be spammy and should be snippets of high-quality content.
- Character limits. Google does not set character limits for the meta descriptions, but it does limit the number of characters displayed to users on the SERP. In late 2017, Google started using up to 320 characters in the snippets on the SERPs. See our recent blog on the description length change. Put the most important text near the beginning of the description tag
- Consistency and originality. Since meta descriptions do not always get displayed to users, site owners have the tendency to overlook their importance. Particularly now since the DMOZ will no longer have a role in the process, brands should make sure that every page has a unique, quality meta description, particularly for pages that have no text on them. The same description should not be used across multiple pages of the website. Each page of content offers something different for the user, and thus the meta description should be similarly unique and articulate what makes the page important and relevant.
- Use a call-to-action. Think of the meta description as the body copy in an your search ad. Describe what the page has to offer and then use action language words, like "Learn how to...", "Discover how to...," "Read about...," "Take advantage...," "Sign up for a free trial...".
- Robots directives when needed. Since the DMOZ is no longer be operational, the NOODP robots directive won't be used any more. Google does, however, still allow site owners to use the “nosnippet” robots directive if they want to prevent the search engine from displaying any type of snippet in the SERP. This would make the result just show the title. The snippets that appear beneath your website links on the SERP play an important role in generating attention and traffic for your website. They demonstrate to prospective readers your relevance. Given Google’s changes in their processes for creating these snippets, site owners now need to pay even closer attention to their meta descriptions, ensuring that not only do they create the snippet, but that it is high quality and ready to persuade readers to click. Although meta descriptions do not impact rankings directly, they do impact clicks, traffic, and engagement, all of which does. We recommend that all members of our community take the time to review their meta description summaries in wake of this recent post from Google.