Description Tags Revisited

Posted in Search & Social

I recently have been answering a spate of SEO questions about meta description tags, so without further ado, let's get into it!


1. Is the Meta Description Tag a ranking factor?

This is kind of a trick question, but strictly speaking: NO. Inserting keywords in a meta description tag will won't make you rank higher for that keyword.

2. Why should I even bother with it then?

*The description tag lets you control what your website looks like in search engine results. * In the above example, we see why the description tag for FINE Design Group is essential for branding. Just because a website positions higher doesn't mean users might not click on your listing first if you have a better-written tag. Also - there's debate that engines also measure Click-Through-Rate (CTR). It obviously behooves your site to have a good CTR, no matter if it's an organic or paid listing.

  1. Is there a character limit for a description tag?

People obsess about character limits and I've never really seen the point. Just limit to 1-2 sentences about the page subject and why the user should care. Like a colleague of mine says: if you can't summarize a page in a sentence or two, then "that's dumb". Think 150 characters or so - but again, don't freak out if you go a tad over or a tad under.

  1. How much of my description tag will engines display?

Most search engines display just a* short snippet. I won't bother writing about exact character display limits since this seems to change from day to day: instead, I'm more interested about how they choose text. Sometimes they may select text from the beginning of your tag, sometimes from the end. Sometimes, engines might ignore the description completely if onpage text matches better! As always, *keywords in the tag are bolded** that match the user's query.

  1. If keywords don't increase rankings, then do I even need to include them?

Sure! The main reason for including keywords is, as mentioned above, they're bolded if they match the search query. Keywords only need to be mentioned once - don't waste precious space repeating them. Also, don't make your tag a string of keywords either, or that will just look plain silly.

6. Can I re-use description tags on different pages?

Avoid duplicate tags at all costs. This basically sends a signal to engines saying, "Hey, these pages have exactly the same content! So maybe just ignore one of them?" Some of you may be aware that duplicate meta descriptions also show up as errors within Google Webmaster Tools. So if you don't have time for custom descriptions, then omit them entirely and let the onpage text do the job.

7. I really don't have time to write description tags for every page on my site. Should I extract them from onpage text?

You could, but there's not much point to this. Omitting descriptions and letting engines extract from onpage text on their own is an almost identical solution.

8. Any other tips about what to include?

Description tags are your opportunity to differentiate and encourage click-through. So do that! Action words are great, as is posing a question. Use language that highlights the uniqueness of your products or services: what makes you better; why users should care. Ask yourself what language would make YOU click through to the site... and put that in the description tag.

Hope this info helps! Write in with additional questions and we can always add them to the FAQs as well.Written by Sarah Mackenzie.

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