Back in 2007, the world of online marketing was told the following by Google:
“It’s worth noting that while accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, they won't affect your ranking within search results”
Unfortunately, that was it for the poor meta description. Many online marketers out there took Google at their word and put the humble meta tag on the back burner to gather dust and gradually be forgotten. So much so that, if you were to do a quick search through various websites now, it wouldn’t take you too long find that some meta descriptions are;
- Simply the same text copied from whatever content is on the actual web page itself
- Truncated, meaning things are cut off half way through. Which, by the way, we find really annoying because… (!)
- Only used to provide the odd call-to-action amongst rather non-informative text, or
- They’re missing altogether and instead the search engine has used whatever content they can find on a page which, in some cases (particularly with product pages), makes no sense whatsoever
But we’re going to let you in on a little secret. Meta descriptions are not used as a ranking factor, but they could help to improve your SEO.
We can hear the cries now! “But Vibe, that makes no sense”, “Google has told us they won’t help”, “What you’ve just said is an oxymoron”. But we promise, if you read that sentence carefully, it does make sense.
No, Google will not judge where to place your website by looking at your meta description. So in that sense, it’s not used as a ranking factor.
However, Google has said for a long while now that the click through rate of a website will be taken into consideration when deciding on ranking positions. The reason for this is that, if Google can see a website is getting click, upon click, upon click and users are spending quite a bit of time exploring the site, they will assume this is a popular website and so, to keep people happy, Google will begin to make the site easier to find, i.e. by placing it in a more visible position in the results pages.
I know it’s a point we’re constantly banging on about but it’s vital to remember, Google wants to provide their users with a good experience. They’re continually devising ways of giving the user what they want as the last thing Google wants is to lose people to other search engines, such as a Yahoo! and Bing. So, to make sure people can find that really popular website that everybody seems to be clicking on regularly, they will place it higher in the search results.
Ok, so where does the meta description come into all this? Well, take a look again at what Google says in the quote above – “…while accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough…”. Couple this with the fact that we know click through rate is considered a ranking factor and what do we have…?
Meta descriptions can improve click through rates…
Click through rates are used as a ranking factor…
Meta descriptions are indirect ranking factors!
Improve your meta descriptions
So armed with this knowledge, it’s time to get to work. Firstly, take the time to pull down a list of all the meta descriptions on your website. The best way to get a list is by downloading a tool called Screaming Frog, entering your website address and letting the tool crawl your website, pulling down a variety of data (including your meta descriptions) in the process.
Once you’ve got this information in handy spreadsheet form, take the time to review each one. Yes, it’s likely to be a rather tedious job and, if you have a large website, it will probably take a long time to complete. But it’s a job that needs to be done if you want to improve your online visibility.
So when you’re reviewing your meta descriptions, ask yourself the following:
- Do they all exist? You’d be amazed at how many web pages out there simply aren’t using the meta description tag at all
- Is the same description being used on another web page? Google hates duplicate content and it doesn’t make for a good user experience either. So make sure each page has a unique description
- Is it a reasonable length? We recommend descriptions between 140-155 characters
- Are there any typing or grammatical errors?
- If you feel it’s needed, is there a call-to-action? There’s no problem with adding a call-to-action as long as it’s coupled with something useful and informative for the reader. But you don’t have to have one for every description; only if you feel it’s needed
- Ask yourself honestly, would you click on it if you were a potential client or customer?
To find out more about what a meta description is and how to write a great one, take a look at one of our older blog posts.
So to sum up, writing compelling and accurate meta descriptions will not only set you apart from your competition but it could also be what causes a potential client or customer to click through to your site and make an enquiry or a purchase. And if Google can see this starting to happen more regularly, you may begin to see an improvement in your search engine positioning. So blow the dust off your old meta descriptions, get creative and use them as your secret weapon to help your website win in the game of online marketing.