How Meta Descriptions Impact SEO

Best Practices
Technical SEO

"Meta description is not that important anymore since Google can retrieve relevant content in the SERP."

We often hear this statement from SEOers, but that simply is not true. Google's Martin Splitt tweeted that meta descriptions offer Google a summary of what's essential about a web page. This tweet could reshape what these SEOers' believe and re-confirm the importance of meta description in on-page SEO.


What's the Meta Description?

The meta description is an HTML attribute (AKA meta tag) that goes the inside the <head> element and provides a brief summary of a web page.

For example:

<meta name="description" content="Google Said Meta Description Provides Content Summary - marketing">

Meta descriptions are often interpreted to have limited SEO value. However, duplicated meta description or missing meta description, for instances, are well-recognized to have a negative SEO effect, hence the ranking in search engine result page (SERP). The conception is coming from the lack of content where Google bot has fewer opportunities to understand your page:

  1. Missing the opportunity to place keywords
  2. Missing the chance in stuffing content 
  3. Might show a blank space in Google or other search engine's SERP

The optimal characters of a meta description extend from under 160 characters to 255 characters. Later on, Google even announced that there's no limit on meta description word counts. However,  Google only shows a maximum of 255 characters, and the system could potentially replace the set meta description with the relevant content somewhere on the page. 

Furthermore, SEOers finds it difficult sometimes to summarise the whole page content in a foot-long sentence. So it often concluded that meta description does not help in ranking but for a better click-through rate (CTR).

With that in mind, how to reconcile those observations about the SEO value of meta descriptions? Martin Splitt said that the meta description (along with the title element) provides Google with a top-level summary of the web page.

"Well, they and the title are making up the first impression of what someone searching sees from your site and helps Google Search to get a short summary of what you consider important about the page."

What's more, he clarified.

"As I said: it helps Google Search better understand what you care about in terms of content for the site, too."

Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, stepped in and confirmed that meta descriptions are not ranking factors.

Meta descriptions can be used for the search result snippet, so if you don't specify anything (on the mobile page, with mobile-first-indexing), we'll have to figure it out ourselves. They're not used for ranking though.

The tweets re-confirm the current understanding of the SEO contribution of meta descriptions. On the other hand, the tweets explain how this element contributes to helping Google understand what a web page is about.

The tweets indicate that the meta description tag plays a similar role to the title tag in terms of summarising the primary content of the page. However, the title tag has traditionally been seen as a ranking factor, but the meta tag has not.  (Note: Google Says There’s No Limit on Title Tag Length. Seventy characters should probably be considered as a soft limit. Source: 1)

In the late August of 2021, Google releases a new system to generating new title in SERPs. Google will rewrite titles based on a number of factors; it considers the main headline on pages, content in other header tags, and content that features prominently. In this update, Google also posts its recommendation on meta description. There's nothing new and fancy but there's one point I find it interesting and refreshing:

Include clearly tagged facts in the description. The meta description doesn't just have to be in sentence format; it's also a great place to include information about the page. For example, news or blog postings can list the author, date of publication, or byline information. This can give potential visitors very relevant information that might not be displayed in the snippet otherwise. Similarly, product pages might have the key bits of information—price, age, manufacturer—scattered throughout a page. A good meta description can bring all this data together. For example, the following meta description provides detailed information about a book.

What else should we pay attention to the meta description

Avoiding meta description rewrites are also recommended. Google will rewrite your meta description if:

  • The relevancy of the meta description is not ideal (i.e. just keywords stuffing).
  • Identical/ duplicated meta descriptions are applied across many pages.
  • The meta description doesn't match what the user is searching for, but other content on the page does.

With that in mind, how can you ensure Google to use your provided meta description? There's a relatively high possibility if they meet these criteria:

  • Unique meta descriptions are written for each page.
  • They're short enough to fit in a search results snippet.. For optimum effectiveness, meta descriptions should be 160-300 characters long.
  • They match what users would generally be looking for when going to that specific page.

Related Article

New System of Generating Titles for Web Pages

Source(12, 3)

Best Practices
Technical SEO
Dean Long | Expert in Growth MarketingDean Long

Dean Long is a Sydney-based performance marketing and communication professional with expertise in paid search, paid social, affiliate, and digital advertising. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Information Systems and Management and is also a distinguished MBA graduate from Western Sydney University.