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Meta Descriptions and Meta Tags: Are they Useful?

Meta descriptions are a 160-character snippet used to summarize website content. Search engines help visitors to know what a page is about before they click on it on the search results. In this post, we will look at:

  • How search engines use meta descriptions.
  • What SEO experts are saying about meta descriptions.
  • Whether they are relevant today or not.

How Search Engines Use Meta Descriptions

The best examples of meta descriptions and their use by search engines come from the search engines themselves. First, let’s take a look at Google’s own meta description.

Search the world’s information, including web pages, images, videos and more. Google has many special features to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.

Google’s meta description

This is exactly 159 characters, including spaces. This is how Google’s meta description appears in the first three search engines.

Worth noting is that Google doesn’t show up in the results when you type in the term “search engine”. It is clear that they intentionally omitted their description. While they admit that they don’t always use meta-descriptions as part of their ranking algorithm, they do support meta-descriptions and include them as snippets in search results.

Do Meta Tags Help in SEO?

They do but not always. Meta tags can potentially help your SEO rankings but there are some that are no longer used.

If you want to know if a particular page uses meta tags, simply right-click anywhere on the page and select View Page Source.

Chrome will open a new tab (Firefox will pop up). At the top or “top” of the page, you will spot the meta tags.

In search engine optimization, we often pay more attention to one aspect of optimization than to another. Link building is often touted as “the most important thing for optimization”.

In fact, as Google’s John Mueller reminds us, there isn’t a single important thing – no trick to get cosmically high positions out of your hat. Instead, we need to focus on a comprehensive SEO strategy.

Part of this strategy is the use of HTML meta tags – an important component of SEO success. The task of meta tags is to communicate with the search engines. These help them to understand:

  • What your page is about.
  • How to read it.
  • Who should see it.

3 Reasons Why You Should Use Meta Descriptions

Most SEOs may ask the question, “If the ranking algorithm doesn’t take meta descriptions into account, why should I use them?” The answer is simple. Stop perceiving it as a ranking factor and think of it as essential for conversion. Here are some great reasons to consider meta descriptions on all your website pages.

Reason 1: Bolded Keywords in Search Results

Even if the keyword used in the meta description doesn’t help in search rankings, it can still help grab the search engine’s attention. When someone searches for a specific keyword or phrase, it will appear in bold in the search results wherever it appears. So, if you are targeting this keyword, you want it to stand out.

It shows why your main keyword phrase should be in your SEO title and meta description! You don’t want to be the only result on this list that doesn’t include keywords in bold for this search. Use keywords in the meta description of every page on your website, even if it is a WooCommerce thank you page. So, also make sure that your meta description uses the keywords you are targeting and that it is written in a way that will entice users to click on that result.

Reason 2: Top Social Networks Use It

When you share a page on social media such as Facebook or LinkedIn, each website displays either a meta description or the first or second sentence of the post depending on the description. The meta description is usually displayed in full, and the first or second sentence of your post is truncated with ellipses […]. While you can edit the description for Facebook and LinkedIn, not everyone that shares your Page will.

This means that if your first or second sentence on a page is not clearly summarized, people who see your post may be missing out on the main thing. If you want your page reposts to get the most clicks on social media, consider creating a strong meta description that will generate clicks as if you were doing it for search results.

Related post: Relevant Content: How to Personalize it for Success

Reason 3: Social Bookmarking Networks Use It

Many social bookmarking networks also use meta descriptions as the page description on their network.

Some examples of networks containing meta descriptions are Digg, BizSugar, and My SEO Community. Almost every bookmarking / voting social network based on the Pligg CMS system uses a meta description first. While you can edit descriptions on these networks, you cannot expect others submitting your pages to do so. If you don’t need to edit descriptions, submitting your own pages will save you a bit of work.

Wrapping up

The value of meta descriptions is often overlooked by the fact that you can create your description as a call to action. The way you phrase your descriptions can improve or spoil your search results. Add words to describe the value. Give search engines a compelling reason to click on your result.

If you have landing pages with decent organic traffic, you should test different variations of the meta description to see if you can increase your click-through rates. Try out different description lengths, phrases and keyword placements.

Finally, you want to avoid duplicate meta descriptions whenever possible.

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