April 4, 2016: One of the most important (and unglamorous) things that SEOs do is generate Meta Description tags for their clients’ sites. These little tags are critically important for three main reasons:
- They tell search engines what a given web page or resource is about.
- Their content appears on search results pages.
- They give marketers an opportunity to “sell” a bit within their constrained (156 character) canvas.
Early search engines (remember Alta Vista?) used the information in Meta Description tags to rank the relevance of sites, but this hasn’t been true for a long time. Still, you need to know your way around Meta Description tags, because search engines still parse them, and well-written ones will help your site gain traction on the Web. Here, then, are some basic questions about Meta Description tags that often come up concerning them:
Who reads Meta Description Tags?
Both humans and machines (search engines) read Meta Description Tags. While they’re invisible to readers of your web page, humans will see their contents if and when their content appears on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Search engines will analyze their content as well, although as mentioned earlier, will not use their content to determine the relevance of the page to the query executed.
Why do I need them to use them?
Actually, you don’t have to use Meta Description Tags. If you don’t, the search engine will use text extracted from the page to populate the “snippet” presented on the SERP. But you’ll have zero control over this process. Meta Description Tags give you a modicum of control over what’s presented in the snippet, and as a general matter, you should use every lever at your disposal in SEO to get your desired message across. So while you don’t have to use them, it’s usually a mistake not to.
So the Meta Description Tag is there for me to describe my page, right?
Yes, but they’re also an opportunity for you to do some selling. So make them as compelling and as likely to motivate people to visiting your site as you can!
Will they help my rankings?
No. The chronic abuse of Meta Description Tags caused Google and the other engines to abandon them as a ranking factor many years ago. But good, well-written ones will help your CTR (Click-Through-Rate) because people will click on them when they appear on the SERP.
How long can they be?
You only have 156 characters to play with in Meta Description Tags. After that, search engines will truncate (cut off) characters exceeding this limit. Every word counts in a Meta Description Tag, so eliminate any “lazy” words and choose short ones over long ones.
Do my keywords belong in Meta Description Tags?
Yes indeed. By including keywords in your Meta Description Tags, you’ll have an opportunity to have these keywords appear in boldface on the SERP snippet when a user executes a query for which your page or resource is relevant. Don’t attempt to stuff every keyword you’re trying to rank for in your Meta Description Tags: just the important ones.
Is it OK if different pages on my site share the same Meta Description Tag?
Not really. Each and every page on your site should have a unique Meta Description Tag. You won’t be penalized for hosting duplicate Meta Description Tags, but you’ll be losing out on an opportunity to inform the engine about the resource you’re hosting.
Is it possible to mess them up royally?
Oh yes. If you put in special characters in a Meta Description Tag (for example “&” or “*”), you’ll cause the search engine to truncate everything after this symbol. Only use safe alphanumeric characters in a Meta Description Tag! Also, you don’t want to include bad grammar or typos in your Meta Description Tags – remember, people read them as well as search engines!
Will a call to action in my Meta Description Tag be considered spammy?
No. As a rule, it’s a good idea to include a strong call to action in your Meta Description Tag. So include calls to action such as “shop for,” “learn more,” “buy,” “contact us,” etc.
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