Search Engine Optimization Tip #2: The Meta Description Tag

Recently I decided to start compiling a series of search engine optimization tips. Each search engine optimization tip will be very specific, should not take a long time to fix (or to check to see if you are following the search engine optimization best practices), and will be rather “short and sweet” and directly to the point.

For this second search engine optimization tip, I thought I would talk about your web page’s meta description tag.

There are several reasons why you need to pay attention to your meta description tag. One of the most important reasons is that (based on the keyword used in a search query) the meta description can show up in the actual search result. In search engine optimization tip #1 we talked about the title tag showing up in the search results. The meta description tag can also show up in the search results, so writing a good meta description tag is not only good for search engine optimization–it is a way to convince searchers to visit your web site.

Search Engine Optimization Tip - Meta Description Tag In this case, you can see that the meta description tag that was used on the web page shows up in the search results in Google because the keyword phrase I used to search is located in the meta description tag (I searched for “meta description tag”). If you include your keyword phrase then there’s a good chance that it will show up in the search results.

In the sample above, here is what the meta description tag:

Describes the meta description tag and provides tips for search engine optimization with meta description tags.

This meta description tag is well written because it’s fairly short, to-the-point, uniquely describes the content of the page where it’s found, and includes the keyword phrase “meta description tag” and “meta description tags”.

When you write your meta description tag, for search engine optimization purposes it’s good to make sure that you include the keywords that you are targeting on the page. It is important that the meta description be concise and to-the-point. You will want your meta description tag to accurately describe the content of the page where it appears. So, it also must be unique. Don’t use the same meta description tag on every page of your site. After all, each page on your web site is unique, right?

  • You state "In this case, you can see that the meta description tag that was used on the web page shows up in the search results in Google because the keyword phrase I used to search is located in the meta description tag (I searched for "meta description tag")"

    this is not necessarily true. The fact that the phrase is in teh meta description isnt "why" google decided to use that as the snippet. Google decided to use it because it is the phrase it considers the most relevant to your query and teh site.

    It would be just as likely and IMHO a better choice to let Google use a snippet of the actual text on your webpage. Why waste time on a meta description when you can spend time developing catching content? There is no guarentee Goog will use the desc as the snippet and the text itself adds nothing other than the "maybe" factor. Using the phrase in the first sentences of your site is just as likely to result in a quality snippet without wasting time writing content users dont see…

  • Jared, I understand your viewpoint. But I don't understand the concept of "wasting your time" writing a good meta description tag.

    If we leave it up to Google to pick a snippet of text from the page and don't write a great meta description tag then we don't have any control over what is displayed.

    I know it could be a "shot in the dark" as to whether or not they include the meta description tag, but I would at least take a chance that it's included when someone searches.

  • If you define a meta description tag, Google typically overrides your "page snippet" with the meta description value, as Google feels that the meta description value may better describe the page to users.

    The meta description tag does *not* affect result ranking, it only affects appearance.

    In regards to the OP suggesting that you focus more on creating quality content, actually if you just copy some relevant text from your page body and use that as your meta description, then you haven't wasted your time, as you're using existing content.

    It's important to note that when using meta descriptions, they *must* be unique per page. The meta description value can replicate your page content in part, and is a valid approach when you can't/won't summarize the page.

  • Jen

    I recently added a meta description tag, but Google doesn't seem to have caught on. When I perform a search, I still see the same page snippet that was displayed before I added the tag. And idea how long it takes for this to change?

  • I see writing a good meta description (in conjunction with your page title) akin to writing a great envelope teaser when doing direct mail. Its goal is to get someone to click (or open the envelope). Yes maybe it's not used all the time by SEs but why not have it ready for when it is? I wouldn't only rely on snippets that might not sell a larger story.

  • How long does it take to write the tag? One minute?

    I often spend an hour writing an article, so a minute for the tag is not something that I'd be concerned about, "for a minute". 🙂

    Mike