Do Meta Descriptions Matter Anymore?

Young woman sits at desk optimizing a website on her laptop.
You may have heard that Google does not use the information in meta description tags for ranking. That leaves many to wonder: Why bother?

Well, meta descriptions do still matter despite what you may have heard, and I’ll explain why.

(If you need a refresher on meta tags, check out our article: What Are Meta Tags and Why Are They Important to SEO? If you’re ready to dive into this topic, keep reading …)

In this article:

What Does Google Say About Meta Descriptions?

In a help article, Google says it does not use the information in meta description tags to rank content:

“Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don’t use the description meta tag in our ranking.”

I find this difficult to believe. The meta description tag along with the title tag is designed to be among the first content that a search engine spider encounters on a webpage.

And it is this content that gives the search engine its first understanding of what the page is about.

In fact, in another Google help file, Google reiterates how meta tags work:

“meta tags are HTML tags used to provide additional information about a page to search engines and other clients.”

Add to that the fact that Google discusses best practices for creating quality meta descriptions, including the following advice:

  • Create unique descriptions for each page
  • Use quality descriptions
  • Include relevant information about the content in the description

Plus, Google also has this to say:

“ … 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.”

So it’s safe to say that Google thinks meta descriptions are valuable. Personally, I think that if it appears on a Google search result page it is important to Google because it impacts the quality of search results.

And remember — a relevant, well-written meta description can still influence how your webpage is displayed and can potentially increase the likelihood of attracting clicks from users.

Google Rewrites Meta Descriptions

There is another issue with meta descriptions: Google may not use the description you create to display in the search results.

As a reminder, the title tag and meta description tag render as a webpage’s listing in the search results, like so:

Google search engine results listing for homepage, including title and description.
Search engine results listing for the homepage, including title and description.

Google explains in its SEO Starter Guide that their autogenerated snippets will usually happen more often than not:

“Occasionally the snippet [in the search results] may be sourced from the contents of the meta description tag, which is typically a succinct, one- or two-sentence summary of the page. A good meta description is short, unique to one particular page, and includes the most relevant points of the page.”

One study by Portent in 2020 shows that Google rewrites meta descriptions on the first page 71% of the time for mobile search results and 68% of the time for desktop.

So if Google thinks meta descriptions are so important, why do they rewrite them and why should you create them? I’ll answer that next.

Why Would Google Rewrite Your Meta Descriptions?

You decided to write meta descriptions for your content but Google rewrote your descriptions for their search results page. Why?

There are a handful of reasons why Google might rewrite your meta description:

  • Google tends to rewrite meta descriptions that lack the most relevant keywords (aka search query) in the description. If Google crawls your page and discovers that the most relevant query is missing from your pre-written meta description, then it’s likely to rewrite it. After all, Google cares most about search.
  • Google may rewrite meta descriptions for long-tail keyword searches. If a user searches for a long-tail keyword and your page is relevant but your meta description doesn’t have that long-tail keyword, you’ll probably end up with a rewritten snippet.
  • You wrote a meta description that is too short or not descriptive enough. Google doesn’t like it when meta descriptions are too short or not descriptive enough.

Why Meta Descriptions Still Matter

If you’re confused about the importance of meta descriptions at this point, I don’t blame you.

Why go through all the time and effort of getting them right if Google says that a) it won’t use it to rank the webpage and b) it might rewrite it anyway?

We advise all our clients to have unique, keyword-rich meta descriptions on every web page, because:

  • It helps search engines determine what the page is about. Even if Google doesn’t “use the description meta tag in our ranking” and rewrites the description for the search results page, it still uses the original information to understand what the page is about. Put another way: The index still has the meta description tag — the search result text is just selected on the fly when the search result is rendered. To put this into perspective, Google could create many different descriptions for the same webpage depending on the query.
  • It serves as the first impression of your website from the search results. You know what you want your search listing to look like. So it’s a good practice to have your page descriptions how you like them. Like, maybe, including a call to action? Google will not rewrite it every time, and when it doesn’t, your perfectly crafted description shows up. Plus, there are some things you can do to control your snippet, which I’ll discuss later.

What If You Don’t Want Google Messing with Your Meta Descriptions?

There is an extra step you can take to help preserve the meta descriptions you create.

In 2019, Google announced new tags that allow website publishers to have more control over their snippets in the search results.

From that page, Google says:

“Google automatically generates previews in a way intended to help a user understand why the results shown are relevant to their search and why the user would want to visit the linked pages. However, we recognize that site owners may wish to independently adjust the extent of their preview content in search results. To make it easier for individual websites to define how much or which text should be available for snippeting and the extent to which other media should be included in their previews, we’re now introducing several new settings for webmasters.”

One option lets you control which parts of the page are eligible to be shown in the snippet; this feature is called “data-nosnippet”.

There are certain situations where you may want to use the data-nosnippet attribute. It could be effective when:

  • You have a video on the page that you don’t want to include in the search results.
  • You have text that’s auto-generated using a script that you don’t want shown in the search results.
  • You have login forms or other types of information that’s sensitive.
  • You’re in a situation where you don’t want your phone number or email address showing up in the SERPs.
  • You have duplicate product descriptions that you don’t want Google to show in the SERPs.

By controlling the information that Google crawls, it’s possible that you can control more of your brand image, and you can also prevent irrelevant information from showing up in the SERPs.

The following Google help documentation includes in-depth implementation instructions for using data-nosnippet.

Control Your Own Destiny with Meta Descriptions

Decoding Googlespeak is not always easy. My advice is to continue to create original and compelling meta descriptions for every webpage because:

  • Google believes that well-crafted meta descriptions are important.
  • Meta descriptions help Google understand what the page is about.
  • Google wants to be able to consider all options before it uses its autogenerated text.
  • You need control over what the description says in the absence of Google rewriting it.

So do meta descriptions matter anymore? The answer is a resounding yes!

FAQ: Why do meta descriptions still matter despite claims that Google doesn’t use them for ranking?

Meta descriptions remain a controversial aspect of search engine optimization, especially as Google claims not to utilize meta descriptions for ranking purposes.

I can assert with confidence, however, that meta descriptions remain significant elements for content creators and website owners alike. Let’s delve into why meta descriptions continue to matter and how they contribute to a successful SEO strategy.

Google has publicly declared that meta descriptions do not contribute to ranking factors; however, this does not diminish their importance when it comes to SEO.

Meta descriptions play an essential role in providing search engines with succinct summaries about the content of a webpage and helping them understand its relevance; although their effects might not directly have an effect on rankings they do have an indirect influence on click-through rates and user engagement thereby indirectly impacting a site’s performance.

Google’s decision to disregard meta descriptions for ranking does not negate their importance as an essential tool for captivating search engine users.

When a user performs a search, the search results page displays a snippet of text from the meta description, acting as a preview of what the webpage offers.

Crafting compelling meta descriptions that align with users’ queries can significantly impact click-through rates and attract relevant traffic to your site. Despite Google rewriting meta descriptions, having well-crafted originals increases the likelihood of your preferred text appearing in the search results.

Furthermore, meta descriptions provide website owners with an opportunity to control the narrative and make a strong first impression.

By carefully crafting unique and keyword-rich meta descriptions for each webpage, you can convey the essence of your content effectively. This initial interaction between the user and your website can influence their decision to click through or explore further, making meta descriptions a powerful tool for engaging your target audience.

By incorporating relevant keywords, providing a glimpse into the content and even including a call to action, you can optimize your meta descriptions to drive higher click-through rates and increase traffic in the absence of a snippet.

Despite claims that Google does not use meta descriptions for ranking purposes, they remain a crucial element of a comprehensive SEO strategy.

While they may not directly impact rankings, meta descriptions contribute to a search engine’s understanding of a page for ranking purposes. When your meta descriptions are used as a snippet, you can increase user engagement and click-through rates.

By crafting unique, keyword-rich meta descriptions that align with users’ queries, website owners can control the narrative, make a strong first impression and ultimately attract more relevant traffic.

Step-by-step Procedure for Implementing Compelling Meta Descriptions

  1. Perform a thorough audit of your website’s existing meta descriptions.
  2. Identify pages that lack meta descriptions or have poorly crafted ones.
  3. Conduct keyword research to understand relevant search terms for each webpage.
  4. Create a template for meta descriptions that aligns with your branding and messaging.
  5. Craft unique and compelling meta descriptions for each webpage, incorporating relevant keywords.
  6. Ensure that each meta description accurately represents the content of the corresponding page.
  7. Optimize the length of meta descriptions to fit within the recommended character limit (usually around 155-160 characters).
  8. Avoid using duplicate meta descriptions across multiple pages.
  9. Leverage the power of action-oriented language and compelling calls to action within meta descriptions.
  10. Conduct A/B testing to measure the effectiveness of different meta descriptions.
  11. Monitor click-through rates and user engagement metrics to evaluate the impact of optimized meta descriptions.
  12. Continuously analyze and refine meta descriptions based on user behavior and search trends.
  13. Keep an eye on competitors’ meta descriptions and strive to differentiate your content.
  14. Regularly update meta descriptions to align with any changes in your webpages’ content.
  15. Consider localized meta descriptions for geographically targeted search results.
  16. Implement structured data markup, such as, to provide additional context to search engines.
  17. Use dynamic meta tags if your website has dynamically generated content.
  18. Ensure mobile responsiveness for meta descriptions to cater to mobile users’ browsing habits.
  19. Regularly monitor search engine guidelines and updates regarding meta descriptions.
  20. Stay up to date with industry best practices and emerging trends to refine your meta description strategy.

By following these detailed steps, you can fully implement the importance of meta descriptions in your SEO strategy and optimize your website’s visibility and user engagement.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (2)
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent SEO posts is better than the last!
Bruce Clay on April 3, 2024
How Can I Improve My Website Rankings Through SEO?
Bruce Clay on April 2, 2024
What Is SEO?
Bruce Clay on March 28, 2024
Google’s Explosive March Updates: What I Think

2 Replies to “Do Meta Descriptions Matter Anymore?”

Trial and error is your best friend for successful Search Engine Optimization. If you notice Google changing your meta descriptions in search results, pay attention to the changes they’ve made, see what you can learn from it, and adjust moving forward. At the same time, if you see Google consistently displaying the meta description you’ve written, take that as some assurance that you’re doing something right. At the end of the day, think of it as a learning opportunity, and a chance to work with Google’s algorithm changes, rather than trying to push against it. And remember, high-quality content written for the user first is always best practice.

I’d propose Google doesn’t “directly” use the wording of the meta tag in ranking, but if they get you the click, then it IS having an influence on Navboost and Glue, which we know DOES have an influence on ranking.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Serving North America based in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Bruce Clay, Inc. | PO Box 1338 | Moorpark CA, 93020
Voice: 1-805-517-1900 | Toll Free: 1-866-517-1900 | Fax: 1-805-517-1919