Latest posts by Jay Dillon (see all)
- Which Social Media Platform Is Best For Your Business? (FB, Twitter, IG?) - February 8, 2016
- The Role of Social Media Manager in 2016 - February 1, 2016
- Why Placing Ads In Blogs Can Be A Negative - January 4, 2016
Almost a year ago I wrote an article explaining the importance and success components of meta tags. Have things shifted a bit since that article was published? Yes.
This article will fill you in on the relevance of meta tags for digital marketing in 2015, as well as how to best write meta tags for best results.
Most site review services today include a lack of meta tags as part of their reports on crawl issues to be fixed, so despite the little thought that’s given to metas nowadays, they’re still an issue. But is it worth taking the time to correct any meta tag issues on your website? Let’s find out…
First, let’s define meta descriptions as they are used today. Descriptions are there to provide a concise and engaging summary of the content on a web page.
Meta descriptions are mainly used by search engines as that snippet of text that accompanies results on search engine result pages (SERPs). Let’s look at some samples of current metas displayed by Google’s search engine:
Let’s be clear about the real function of a meta description for your page. As you can see from the above examples, their main purpose is to get the visitor in Google to click your link. Meaning, meta descriptions are there to generate clickthroughs from SERPS. For SEO, metas hold little value. Not to say zero value, because meta descriptions may still influence bounce rates if they don’t match the text on your page, and click through rates may well also be a ranking factor.
The real “shift” here lies in how to best write meta tags that will get displayed on SERPS. So how can one get it right the first time? This is the most straightforward, golden advice given by Google for e-commerce sites:
“Include clearly tagged facts in the description. The meta description doesn’t just have to be in sentence format; it’s also a great place to include structured data about the page. For example, news or blog postings can list the author, date of publication, or byline information. This can give potential visitors very relevant information that might not be displayed in the snippet otherwise. Similarly, product pages might have the key bits of information—price, age, manufacturer—scattered throughout a page. A good meta description can bring all this data together. For example, the following meta description provides detailed information about a book.”
Keep in mind that back in September of 2009 Google announced that neither meta descriptions nor meta keywords factor into their ranking algorithms for web search. Meta descriptions are used by Google to return results when searchers use advanced search operators to match meta tag content and to pull preview snippets on search result pages. Although it’s important to note that meta descriptions do not to influence Google’s ranking algorithms for normal web search, keep in mind that they’re still there to generate clickthroughs in SERPS.
Meta data can help describe any page in a more convenient machine-readable format, more suited to search engines, but they tend to fall easily under spam (because they are so easy to manipulate) and are limited when it comes to ranking pages on the web.
Google may use meta data, amongst many other signals, to classify pages, or display information about a page in serps. Nevertheless, Google will ultimately pick its own preferred SERP listing for display purposes, based on elements that can still be completely influenced by whoever made the page.
So how can you write the best meta descriptions that Google won’t replace?
I decided to go beyond quoting Google and put together a list of the top tips for a meta descriptions and how to best write one in today’s digital marketing scope:
- Make sure your meta is around 130-160 characters. There’s no official number range that is right but this usually gives Google enough to add to your search (ex, adding a date to an article which will reduce the number of characters, better if you include it yourself). There are also online tools that will show you the length of your meta title and description.
- Should include a CTA. Ex: Learn more, Try free trial, Enjoy limited discount, Rea now, Find out why, etc.
- It should match content on the page. This is very important because the way Google works now is thatit ignores or penalises sites that trick the visitor into clicking on a site. Therefore, the display content of a page must match the meta description and definitely include the focus keyword. If the search keyword matches text in the meta description, Google might be more inclined to use it and bold the keyword in search results.
- Don’t duplicate for all pages. If the content of each page is unique, then you shouldn’t have a problem matching that to a more summarised version (including a call to action, date or price) for users to easily identify with the content of the page. If your meta is just a duplicate then the user experience in Google will be less because all pages will appear to have different titles but it will seem the same as all descriptions are the same. If you have way too many pages to work with then the best thing would be to leave the meta description empty and have Google generate a snippet of content from the page containing the focus keyword of that page.
- Avoid and be careful when using stars or other special characters to try to draw attention because if you stick out with original content different from what is on your display page, you’ll realise that’s not what Google wants. Stand out with your call to action instead.
The Big Final Question Is:
Does Google really want you to keep creating meta tags?
After reading this statement from their blog, I would say yes. Google states the following:
“The description attribute within the <meta> tag is a good way to provide a concise, human-readable summary of each page’s content. Google will sometimes use the meta description of a page in search results snippets, if we think it gives users a more accurate description than would be possible purely from the on-page content. Accurate meta descriptions can help improve your clickthrough.
Include clearly tagged facts in the description. The meta description doesn’t just have to be in sentence format; it’s also a great place to include structured data about the page. For example, news or blog postings can list the author, date of publication, or byline information. This can give potential visitors very relevant information that might not be displayed in the snippet otherwise. Similarly, product pages might have the key bits of information—price, age, manufacturer—scattered throughout a page. A good meta description can bring all this data together.
Finally, make sure your descriptions are truly descriptive. Because the meta descriptions aren’t displayed in the pages the user sees, it’s easy to let this content slide. But 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.”
The bottom line is that meta tags should be accurate, relevant, descriptive and effectively reflect the topic or content on a page. When creating your meta tags, always keep in mind the topic and user experience. If you’re able to satisfy both with your metadata then you are on your way to a solid reputation in the eyes of Google and really any major search engine out there. If you’re writing up your meta tags in a useful, descriptive manner then it is very unlikely that any major search engine site will penalise you.
As a digital marketer, your approach towards meta descriptions today might be of a medium to low priority and that’s essentially where meta tags stand in 2015. They’re not useless, but they’re not considered SEO boosters either. Therefore, it is all up to the discretion of the marketer. Given Google’s statement above, however, and the fact meta descriptions are the excerpts used when sharing content on social media, I think it’s worth providing quality descriptive meta tags in 2015.