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: How can I effectively use meta descriptions for better SEO results?

Even though Google says meta descriptions are not a ranking factor, they are still a useful tool in improving your SEO results.

Meta descriptions provide search engines with a concise summary of a web page’s content. Search engines display them in the form of text snippets, essentially acting as a preview of what’s to come.

Well-written descriptions must be compelling and relevant to user queries to entice people to click to your page. This means that meta descriptions are important drivers for attracting organic traffic and improving click-through rates.

Let’s explore why meta descriptions are important drivers of organic traffic and improved click-through rates, plus how you can use them effectively to improve your SEO results.

Understanding meta descriptions and SEO: Meta descriptions are HTML attributes that provide users and search engines with brief summaries of web page content. They are displayed underneath the title and URL in SERP listings. While meta descriptions are not a direct ranking factor, they can influence user engagement and click-through rates. A well-written meta description can entice users to click on your listing, benefiting your SEO by showing search engines that your page is relevant to users’ queries.

The role of keywords in meta descriptions: Including keywords into your meta descriptions makes them relevant to search queries. The more relevant your descriptions, the better your chances are of users clicking through to your page. But don’t just stuff all your keywords into the description — you need a good balance of keywords and readability. Too many keywords may prevent people from visiting your page.

Writing compelling meta descriptions: Compelling meta descriptions provide clarity, engagement and a call-to-action (CTA). Your description should clearly describe what the page’s content is about, should engage the reader with messaging that resonates with them, and should encourage them to take action and click through to your site. Make sure your meta descriptions accomplish all of these things.

Length and specifications: Your meta descriptions should ideally be around 160 characters. Any more than that and they will start to cut off when displayed in the SERPs. Keep your descriptions within the limit so that they are entirely visible.

Impact on user experience: A successful meta description sets the right expectations for what visitors will find on the page. Descriptions that are concise and relevant can reduce bounce rates and improve the overall perception of your website. Visitors are likely to return to your site when you give them a pleasant user experience.

SEO best practices: Meta descriptions should be unique for every page. Duplicate descriptions can confuse users and search engines, hurting your SEO efforts. It may be helpful to develop a meta description template. Templates can save time and provide consistency with brand messaging, but just make sure you edit each description to match your page content.

Analytical approaches to meta descriptions: Track the performance of your meta descriptions by using tools like Google Search Console. GSC can show you which descriptions are getting more clicks and which ones need to be improved.

Problem and solution: Problem: You’re ranking well, but your click-through rates are low. Solution: Your meta descriptions aren’t relevant or engaging enough for users to visit your site. Revise your descriptions and include keywords if possible to better match user intent.

Adjusting small elements such as meta descriptions can lead to big improvements in SEO performance.

Step-by-Step Procedure:

  1. Audit all of your webpages to find out which ones are missing meta descriptions and which ones need to be rewritten.
  2. Review all your existing meta descriptions to ensure they are engaging and relevant.
  3. Do keyword research to find the primary keywords for each page.
  4. Write a clear and concise description that includes the primary keyword.
  5. Include a compelling call-to-action that will encourage users to click to your page.
  6. Keep the meta description character count around 160.
  7. Use active voice for a strong presence.
  8. Implement any new or updated descriptions throughout your site.
  9. A/B test different versions of your meta description. Compare them to find out which ones perform best.
  10. Repeat the review process periodically.
  11. Stay informed of the latest SEO trends that affect meta descriptions.
  12. Train your team on SEO best practices and meta descriptions.
  13. Develop ways to gain feedback for ongoing improvement.
  14. Document changes and impacts for case studies.
  15. Monitor how well meta descriptions are performing using tools like Google Search Console.
  16. Adjust based on analytics to improve click-through rates.
  17. Use SEO tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs or SEOToolSet® to get a deeper analysis of your performance.
  18. Share successful strategies with your company.
  19. Educate your writers and content creators on the value of meta descriptions and why they must be done right.
  20. Review the competitors’ meta tactics and use them as inspiration to improve your own strategy.
  21. Develop a checklist for meta description optimization.
  22. Standardize meta description practices across your website.
  23. Ensure meta descriptions are optimized for mobile to display properly in SERPs.

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)
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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.


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