The latest on Meta descriptions from the Google Webmaster Central Blog can be read here: Importance of content and meta descriptions, DMOZ, NOODP Tag.
At teclan we have always recommended to our Digital Marketing clients they have good content on a web page and have optimised Meta descriptions for that page. Google’s latest Blog post about Meta descriptions supports this view 100%
The more descriptive and relevant a search result snippet is, the more likely that people will click through and be satisfied with the page they land on. Historically, snippets originated from three places:
- The content of the page
- The Meta description
- DMOZ listings
The content of the page is an obvious choice for result snippets, and the content that can be extracted is often the most relevant to people’s queries.
What does Google do when there is no content or not good enough or relevant content on a page? In such cases when a page doesn’t have much textual content for a search result, then Google (or other Search Engines) look for the Meta description for that page. This should be a short blurb in a few words that describes accurately and precisely the content of the page.
Finally, when a page doesn’t have much textual content for snippet generation and the Meta description is missing, is unrelated to the page, or is low quality, Google was using DMOZ, also known as The Open Directory Project.
For over 10 years, Google relied on DMOZ for snippets because the quality of the DMOZ snippets were often of much higher quality than those provided by webmasters in their Meta descriptions, or were more descriptive than what was provided on the page. With DMOZ now closed, Google have stopped using its listings for snippeting, so it’s a lot more important that webmasters provide good Meta descriptions if adding more content to the page is not an option.
What makes a good Meta description?
Good Meta descriptions are short blurbs that describe accurately the content of the page. They are like a pitch that convinces the user that the page is exactly what they’re looking for. Remember to make sure that both your desktop and your mobile pages include both a title and a Meta description.
What are the most common problems with Meta descriptions?
Because Meta descriptions are usually visible only to Search Engines and other software, webmasters sometimes forget about them, leaving them completely empty. It’s also common, for the same reason, that the same Meta description is used across multiple (and sometimes many) pages. On the flip side, it’s also relatively common that the description is completely off-topic, low quality or outright spammy. These issues tarnish our users’ search experience, so we prefer to ignore such Meta descriptions.
Is there a character limit for Meta descriptions?
There’s no limit on how long a meta description can be, but the search result snippets are truncated as needed, typically to fit the device width.
What will happen with the “NOODP” robots directive?
With DMOZ (ODP) closed, we stopped relying on its data and thus the NOODP directive is already no-op.
Can I prevent Google from using the page contents as a snippet?
You can prevent Google from generating snippets altogether by specifying the “nosnippet” robots directive. There’s no way to prevent using page contents as a snippet while allowing other sources.
So now it is more than ever important to have not only good content on a page, but also a well optimised Meta description. This will not only help the page to improve its organic visibility, but a good search result snippet, be it from the content or the Meta description will improve the Click Through Rate to the page. Better Click Through Rate means more traffic which will hopefully drive your conversion goals up.
Here are some guidelines for creating a good Meta description:
- Make sure that every page on your site has a Meta description.
- Differentiate the descriptions for different pages. Avoid duplication of the Meta descriptions on different pages. Ideally, every page should have unique and relevant Meta descriptions.
- 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 structured data about the page. For example, the following Meta description provides detailed information about a book:
<meta name="Description" content="Author: A.N. Author, Illustrator: P. Picture, Category: Books, Price: $17.99, Length: 784 pages">
In this example, information is clearly tagged and separated.
- Use quality descriptions. Make sure your descriptions are truly descriptive. High-quality descriptions can be displayed in Google’s search results and can go a long way to improving the quality and quantity of your search traffic.