The keywords and phrases you use in your Meta description
tag may not affect your page's ranking in the search engines, but this tag
can still come in handy in your overall SEO and social media marketing
What Is the Meta Description Tag?
It's a snippet of HTML code that belongs inside the <Head> </Head> section
of a web page. It is usually placed after the Title tag and before the Meta
keywords tag (if you use one), although the order is not important.
The proper syntax for this HTML tag is:
<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="Your descriptive sentence or two goes
If you're using a content management system (CMS), look for a field to fill
out that's called Meta Description, or possibly just "Description."
Many years ago, the information contained in a Meta description could
slightly help a page rank highly for the words that were contained within
it. Today, neither Google, Bing, nor Yahoo! use it as a ranking signal.
In other words, whether you use your important keyword phrases in your Meta
description tag or not, the position of your page in the search engine
results will not be affected. So in terms of rankings, you could easily
leave it out altogether.
But should you?
There are 3 important ways that Meta descriptions are being used today that
make them an important part of your SEO and overall online marketing
They can be used as the description (or part of the description) of your
page if it shows up in the search results.
They are often used as part of the descriptive information for your pages
when Google shows "extended sitelinks" for your site.
They are often used as the default description in social media marketing
links such as Facebook and Google+.
Let's look at each of these in more detail.
1. Meta Descriptions in the Search Results
People often think that whatever they put in their Meta description tag will
be the default description that the search engines use under the clickable
link to their site in the search results. While this is sometimes true, it's
not always the case.
Currently, if you're searching for a site by its URL (for example
www.highrankings.com) Google tends to use the first 20 to 25 words of your
Meta description as the default description in the search engine result
pages (SERP). However, if you have a listing at DMOZ, also known as the Open
Directory Project (ODP) and are not using the "noodp" tag, they may default
to that description instead. (Do a search at Google for www.amazon.com to
see an example.)
Bing and Yahoo!, on the other hand, don't always default to the Meta
description tag for URL searches. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they
don't. A search for www.highrankings.com at Bing or Yahoo! shows content
from my home page as the description rather than the contents of my Meta
Of course, real people aren't typically searching for a site by URL, so what
the search engines show for those types of search queries is not as
important as a true keyword search. So don't get hung up on what you see
when you search for your site by its URL or if you're doing a "site:command"
search to see how they're indexing your pages.
Instead, go to your favorite web analytics program and find the keyword
phrases that are currently bringing you the most traffic. Then see what your
description looks like at Google when you type in those keywords.
And surprise! What you'll find is that your search results description will
be different for every search query! You may see any combination of the
Your entire Meta description tag text as the complete
description (typically if it's highly relevant and contains no more than 25
A full sentence pulled from your Meta description tag, but not the entire
Meta description (if it contains more than one sentence).
Text from one part of your Meta description mashed together with text
from another part of it (if it's more than 25 words long).
Some text from your Meta description mashed together with some text from the
Some text from your page mashed together from some other text from your
page (nothing from the Meta description).
Some of the circumstances that cause Google to not use text from your Meta
description may include:
The information in the Meta description tag was not specific to the page
it was on.
The search query used some words that were not in the Meta description,
but those words (or some of them) were used in the page content. This
includes words that Google considers somewhat synonymous, such as "copy" and
"copywriting" or "SEO" and "search engine optimization."
But even the above are not hard and fast rules. Google doesn't always use
all or part of the Meta description even when the exact search phrase was
contained within it – especially if the search query is also contained
within the content of the page. Suffice it to say that there are no hard and
fast rules for when Google will show it and when they won't.
My recommendation is to always use description tags on any pages where you
get search engine visitors (or hope to get them). Make them very specific to
the page they're on by describing what someone will find when they click
through to the page from the search results, while also using variations of
your targeted keywords.
Because Google will show only show around 20 to 25 words as your
description, many SEOs recommend that you limit this tag to a certain number
of characters. In reality, however, you're not limited to any specific
number. Your Meta description tag can be as long as you want it to be
because Google will pull out the relevant parts of it and make their own
For instance, if you're optimizing a page for 3 different keyword phrases,
you could write a 3-sentence Meta description tag, with each sentence
focusing on a different phrase. You could probably even insert more than 3
phrases in those sentences if you're a good wordsmith. The idea, however, is
not to stuff this tag full of keywords, but to write each sentence to be a
compelling marketing statement – a statement that naturally uses the
keywords people might be typing into Google to find your site.
2. Meta Descriptions and Extended Site links
These days, Google often uses the first few words from your Meta description
tag when they create the "extended site links" for your website. But this
too is not set in stone and is highly keyword dependent. You'll see
different site links and different descriptions showing up depending on the
words a searcher used at Google.
As an example, if you do a search for "High Rankings" at Google, you'll see
my site links for that search query.
At this moment, Google is showing my home page as the top result with 6
inner pages beneath:
- Forum home page: Description is from DMOZ/ODP. This page has the
generic Meta description that is on every page of the forum.
- Link building forum home page: Description is content pulled from the
page that uses the words "High Rankings" in it.
- SEO articles page: First part of Meta description.
- Newsletter home page: First part of Meta description.
- SEO/SEM resources page: First part of Meta description.
- SEO classes page: First part of Meta description.
For the most part, they're using the first part of the Meta description
as the sitelink snippet, but not always. You may have noticed that I
optimized those Meta description sitelink snippets that are showing by front
loading them so that the first 5-7 words or so are a short description of
what the page is all about.
But here's the rub. Do a Google search for "Jill Whalen SEO." You should
still see sitelinks, and you'll even see some of the same ones as with the
previous query, but some of the descriptions are different:
While the forum home page shows in both, this
time Google has pulled text from the page rather than using the DMOZ/ODP
description. This is likely because this search query had the word "SEO" in
it while the other one didn't. The SEO articles page also shows up here, and
it is using the same Meta description snippet as the High Rankings query.
The other sitelinks are different from before, with 3 out of 4 using the
As you can see, while you do have some control over your sitelink
descriptions via your Meta description tag, Google might not always use them
(just as Google does with their regular search results). Your best chance of
having them show is to use, close to the beginning of your description tags,
the words that you know pull up sitelinks. Also, be as descriptive as
possible within the first 5 to 7 words.
3. Meta Descriptions and Social Media Marketing
Ever wonder why some Facebook links have great descriptions and others don't
seem to make any sense? It's because some site owners have taken the time to
write a summary of the article and place it into their Meta description tag,
and some have not. If your article has a Meta description, Facebook and
Google+ will default to that when you share a link on your profile or
"Page." If there's no Meta description, you'll usually see the first
sentence or so from the page being used as the default.
While anyone can edit the description that Facebook defaults to, most people
don't. And at this time on Google+ you can't even edit the default
description. You can either leave it as is or delete it all together. Let's
face it -- most of the time the first sentence of an article is not a good
description of the rest of it. It's not supposed to be, because that's not
what a first sentence is for!
Therefore, I strongly advise you to always write a compelling 1- or
2-sentence description for all of your articles and blog content that may be
shared via social media, and place it into your Meta description tag. This
will give you a big jump on your competitors who haven't figured this out
yet, making your social media content much more clickable because people
will know what the article is actually about before they click on it.
Overall, the Meta description tag gives you a little bit more control over
what people might see before they click over to your site. The more
compelling it is, the more clickthroughs you should see. If your Meta
description tags can help with that, then it's certainly worth the few
minutes of time it takes to create interesting, keyword-rich tags that sum
up what users will find when they arrive!