There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to meta descriptions and SEO. Do they affect search engine rankings? Is it worth spending the time to write a good meta description?
Well, in theory, meta descriptions do not affect SEO. This is an official statement from Google, released in 2009. However, since meta descriptions show in the search engine results, they can affect CTRs (click through rates), which are linked to SEO & rankings. So, in practice, meta descriptions might have an impact on SEO.
Things are a lot more complicated than that. In order to better understand the topic, I recommend you to continue reading this article. It will explain everything you need to know about the importance of meta description tags.
Before we start, let’s make it clear for everyone what a meta description is.
HTML runs with tags. A tag is a set of characters that result in a command. In web development, these tags specify to the browser how elements should be structured on a web page.
The tag is a tag that contains data about the web page itself. It’s the data behind the data, just like in metaphysics. In our case, the meta description provides a summary of what the page is about. The users read it to figure out what they’re about to click on.
Google uses the meta descriptions (along with the title tag and the URL) to come up with search results on its pages. You can usually recognize the meta description by taking a look at a web page’s search result. Here’s a branded search for the keyword “cognitiveSEO”:
If the meta description tag is missing, Google will just pick a piece of content from your page, which it thinks is the most relevant for the user.
I have a good example from no other than Wikipedia, the 5th most popular website on the planet. I’m not sure if it’s missing on this page only or if it’s a general thing, but… well, the meta description tag isn’t there.
But how do I know there’s no meta description tag? Well, the correct way of checking a meta description tag is to look into the source code of a web page. You can do this by hitting CTRL + U in Chrome, or by right-clicking the web page and selecting View Page Source.
Then, just use the find function (CLTR + F) to search for . If you get the result, it’s there and you can view it. You can also see if it matches the one on the search results. If it’s not there… well… it’s not there.
As you can see, in Wikipedia’s case, it’s not there. You can also search for variations, such as “description” or “
Even if the meta description tag is missing, Google does display something pretty relevant in the search results.
It’s actually a phrase taken from the content of the page. In this case, it’s actually the first paragraph. You can view it in one of the images above.
Although widely believed so, Google doesn’t always pick the meta description tag to display it in the search. Even if the meta description tag is there, Google can still alter the text shown in the results pages. In fact, Google always chooses to pick what it wants. For example, if I add another keyword found in the homepage, Google will alter the text in the results to also show parts from that text.
Sometimes, if Google thinks the description is completely irrelevant for the article, it will ignore it completely and pick something else. Having control over what shows in the search engine results is very useful. You should craft your meta description well, so that Google picks that instead of anything else.
We’ll talk about how to write good meta descriptions for SEO soon in the article, so keep reading.