Last year, I wrote an article where I really dug into meta descriptions and tried to find a clue as to how meta descriptions are generated by Google.
I found slightly different patterns between various types of websites, such as e-commerce sites, blogs, news and company services.
Here are the take home messages: :
- If a visitor is searching keywords that you have included in your meta description, Google will use your description in the SERP snippet.
- If you have the keywords in the page content but not in the meta description, Google probably won’t use your meta tag description and will generate it from the content.
How is Google showing meta descriptions?
Recently, my assumptions mentioned above changed. I’ve noticed that meta descriptions in Google snippets are often completely different from the on-page meta tags.
Searching for keywords “meta description length”:
I got back this snippet:
This is the meta tag on the Moz site:
Meta description are HTML attributes that provide concise summaries of web pages. Meta description can be any length, but Google generally truncates snippet 300 characters (this limit increased in December 2017). Meta description tags, while not tied to search engine rankings can have a positive effect on click through rates to a pate.”>
Google evaluated by itself that the user is searching for information about length, hence it showed information with the number of characters. The whole meta description was rewritten, even if we can see searched keywords in the meta tag.
My second search was “books Harry Potter”:
Welcome to the world of Harry Potter. A world full of wizards, magic, and, of course, dragons. Explore the entire series of Harry Potter books and audio books, as well as colouring books, box sets and collectibles.”>
Google chooses one part of the meta tag and rewrites the other part; Google deleted the marketing filling around it.
Here a third and last example about “redirect loop”:
The snippet on Google:
The meta tag:
Learn, how to solve “This Webpage has a Redirect Loop” error & fix it. Solve and bypass web page redirect loop issue – step by step guide for a solution.”>
The meta description is again completely different. Even if the length is under 920 px, that is within the current meta description length limit, even if the keyword “redirect loop” is used in the meta tag twice.
Should you bother with creating a meta description?
The answer is both: Yes and no.
Why not bother?
You would go nuts in creating it for an entire website and, what is more important, Google might even ignore it in the majority of cases.
Google, as a constantly developing UI, knows better what is on your page, and it also tries to understand if your meta description is relevant enough to the search query. If it is not, well, you know the outcome.
To me, it seems like Google is really working hard on providing the best information on the first search engine results page. Recently, Google has finished testing the meta description length. It went from 920 pixels to 1750 pixels. This length was kept for half a year. Now it’s going back to 920px again. My assumption is that this is not their final step, and we can expect another new update soon.
As Lanny Sullivan sais, “Length varies based on what our systems deem to be useful.” This can be applied also to generating meta description in general.
The meta description together with title tags can be a very strong factor in persuading users on Google to click through to your site.
How to create meta descriptions for Google?
Tons of articles are out there for you to read on this topic. I like this one particularly, because it says what not do to when creating a meta description.
But here are some general rules that usually don’t change:
- Meta description length is less than 920 pixels on desktops and 680px on mobile devices. Any description shorter than this should be fine for search engines.
- You should use your targeting keywords in meta tags. However, using them might help, or it might not.
If you focus on the right length and usage of important keywords, there is quite a big chance that Google will show your meta description. But there’s no guarantee.
You can check the right length in the meta description checker tool, which is updated after every change on Google.
More important is not HOW but WHERE to create descriptions on a site.
I divide websites into two categories, and I have slightly different advice for both of them:
- Blogs, News, Company service
Pages of e-commerce sites usually contain very well-optimized titles, headings and internal linking, but also lack of coherent text. That’s why Google might prefer to choose a meta description you wrote in meta tag instead of generating it from very little content on a page.
Each page is specifically optimized for a few main keywords, so it’s much easier to choose targeted keywords and use them also in the meta description.
You should create original meta descriptions for all important landing pages that bring organic traffic to your site, such as homepage, various categories and subcategories.
Blogs, News, Company service
Even if you include the most search keywords in the meta tag, it’s very likely that Google will ignore it. With this type of websites, visitors are often coming from a search engine using long-tail keywords. And there is no chance you’d cover all of them in a 920-pixels-long meta description.
In this case, you should write an original meta description for a homepage, main categories and subcategories. But feel free to skip pages like blog posts or news.
Choose carefully the pages with high importance and write meta descriptions using targeted keywords for them.
You can use also Open Graph protocol for Facebook. Thanks to these tags, you can define how a shared page of your site should be displayed on Facebook.
And the best thing is that search engines can read this protocol, too. Because of that, Google can use it for creating a snippet on SERPs.
Writing it is not hard at all. You can write it in the HTML code of a page, but the easiest way is using a plugin.
Don’t worry if your meta descriptions are not showing on Google. You can set your mind at ease because you can do very little in order to change it.
Focus on the most important landing pages of your site, carefully create meta descriptions on those, and let Google generate descriptions on pages with little importance for organic traffic.
Barbora works for Spotibo as an SEO specialist and marketer, trying to help users to make on-page web analysis easier and faster. Her biggest passion after SEO is traveling and riding a motorcycle.