The meta description tag has recently undergone somewhat of a revival, with search engines often showing this snippet of code as the accompanying description to your website in search engine results. After years in the SEO wilderness, the meta description tag is making a comeback. So what does this mean for your search engine marketing efforts?
The meta description tag is a block of text that goes inside the “head” section of your HTML code, and it is used to give a brief summary of a web page. Although the meta description tag cannot be seen on screen by human visitors, it can be read and accounted for by search engine robots. The description is one of many meta tags that can be used in the mark-up of a page, but only the description and meta keywords (a list of words and phrases that you associate with your website) used to have a bearing on search engine rankings.
The value of meta tags for search rankings was at its peak during the late 90s and early 00s. The words found within the description and keywords tags (amongst other factors) were used by formative search engines to help judge the importance of a website in comparison to the search query. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with most search engine optimisation techniques, flaws were exposed and some SEOs exploited the tags by “keyword stuffing” them or using terms with high traffic but no relevance to the page. As a result, and in contrast of online myth, the importance of the words within in meta tags was nullified.
The emergence of Google as a major competitor in the search engine wars in particular sounded the death knell for meta tags. Google placed more importance on actual page content and link popularity, and for a time was even the only search engine that didn’t pay any attention to the keyword tag. But recently, many webmasters have noticed that the meta description tag is being displayed in Google results, which could possibly hold strong implications for your optimisation approach.
Google only usually displays a snippet of text within the page that matches the user’s query, but as of late the meta description tag has also been displayed. It currently displays the description when all of the search terms can be found in the page’s title tag. That means, if the words “golf equipment for sale online” are all in your title tag, and the user searches for all of those words, the meta description will be displayed. Even if the user searches for “golf equipment”, the description tag will still be displayed. However, if a search term not found in the title tag is used, Google will revert back to displaying part of the body text.
So why is this important?
Knowing the circumstances under which the description tag is shown can give you the edge in getting your page noticed amongst the countless others in the search results.
Even if you appear in the top ten results, you are still in competition with nine other sites for that all important click through. Having a well crafted and targeted description tag could help you influence a higher click through rate than your competitors. Some savvy webmasters have even been known to put their phone number in their description tag to give themselves a head start. Your keywords should definitely be used in a well optimised page, so if you manage to get a top ten ranking for your targeted terms, the description tag could be displayed often.
Although the words in a meta description tag still won’t count towards the ranking of your page, the tag still serves a purpose and is worth putting some consideration and effort into. The text which people see alongside their search results will influence which site they select – remember this when considering your optimisation efforts!