Don’t you long for the days of SEO simplicity? Just a few short years ago, you would write a tag set (title tag and meta description tag) and they would actually be used by Google and other engines. Gone are the days of such certainty.
As of late 2009 or early 2010, Google officially announced that it no longer uses the meta description tag for ranking purposes. They stated, “Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don’t use the description meta tag in our ranking.” While they probably always reserved the right to change the tag, there was little to no evidence that they ever actually did in years gone by.
Bing takes a similar approach to the description tag. Their Webmaster Blog reports, “While search engines reserve the right to use a variety of inputs for filling out site description snippets in their SERPs, webmasters who provide unique, concise, compelling, and keyword-laden descriptions in their <meta> tag’s description attribute help guide the development of their websites’ SERP captions.”
If there is no certainty that your meta description tag will be used, why go to the trouble of creating one? There is one primary reason: control.
No, you won’t have total control, but both Google and Bing state that if your description is well written (not just stuffed full of keywords) and is useful to the searcher, it will most likely be included in the SERPs. This gives you a better shot of having your preferred message shown in front of prospects instead of some arbitrary snippet, or worse, the DMOZ listing.
Both engines state that DMOZ and the copy from your page are possible description-replacement sources. DMOZ listings, however, are horribly ordinary and lack any type of appeal. While using a snippet of copy from your web page might sound like a suitable alternative, it would greatly depend on which snippet the engine selected.
Help Ensure Your Description Tag is Used
Bing’s criteria for your description tag are as follows:
You can help Bing create a high-quality caption by adding a meta description to all of your pages (though we can’t guarantee that we’ll pick it) and by making sure that there’s ample descriptive content on your page. It’s also best if the meta description says something specific about the page itself, rather than being the same for every page on your site.
Make sure your descriptions are truly descriptive. Because the meta descriptions aren’t displayed in the pages the user sees, it’s easy to let this content slide. But high-quality descriptions can be displayed in Google’s search results, and can go a long way to improving the quality and quantity of your search traffic.
If you dig deeper, you’ll find that both engines have pretty much the same recommendations regarding meta description tags:
- Keep the visible content around 150 characters.
- The tag should be descriptive, enticing and detailed.
- Write an original tag for each web page.
I’ll add my own suggestions to the list as well:
- Lead searchers to your site by using engaging copy in your tags.
- Offer benefits or otherwise answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”
- Write your description tag as if it were a pay-per-click ad.
In other words, write for the humans first.
Since the description tag won’t help boost your search engine rankings, you are free to concentrate on those that matter most – customers. And when you put site visitors first, they typically reward you with loyalty and repeat business.
Check out my Amazon Kindle ebook – SEO Copywriting Flow: Creating a Steady Stream of Rankings & Conversion – for more info on setting up a profitable flow of traffic.