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When (& when not) to write meta descriptions

When (& when not) to write meta descriptions

A lot of old-school SEO discussions were spent on meta descriptions – length, content, keyword usage and more.

Now the question is – are meta descriptions still important? And does changing your meta descriptions affect SEO?

You have run a site review with a crawl using your preferred SEO tool. Everything worked well, but then you become aware that hundreds, thousands or millions of pages on that site are missing meta descriptions.

Are you panicking?

You can tell your manager that you need to spend the next month writing 155 character descriptions for each web page on the site. But is it really the best use of your time?

Some web pages just do not need a meta description. Here’s why.

5 reasons why you might not want to write that meta description

Google is constantly testing and changing the way search results are displayed

The limit for displaying meta descriptions has changed several times. From ~ 150-165 characters, up to 260-275 characters, then down to 165 characters. Across the SEO industry, best practices for how long meta descriptions should last have evolved.

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These changes resulted in many results that were optimized for the previously shorter version that looked sub-optimal. So when people changed meta descriptions to the new length, yes … Google changed it back.

It takes considerable time to optimize around these changes, and most sites would have fared better during this test period with no meta description rather than one that was too long or too short.

Organizations have limited resources

Although Google recommends that you “make sure every page on your site has a meta description”, they also say that using the tag to create search results pages is easy at best.

“Google sometimes uses the description tag from a page to generate a search results snippet if we believe it provides users with a more accurate description than would be possible solely on the content of the page. “

The “sometimes” that does a lot of work.

Is your time better spent optimizing meta descriptions that are only occasionally used by search engines – or optimizing the content that is always used by search engines and users?

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Meta descriptions are the kind of thing to focus on selectively. Sometimes it also means selectively ignoring them.

Google usually writes its own description snippet

Google almost always writes its own description snippet, even if you provide a meta description.

A Yoast study comparing before and after Google’s description length change showed that in two-thirds of cases, Google used words from the first section of content on the page to create a description of the snippet.

Your time may be better spent optimizing the first paragraph instead of optimizing meta description codes if the goal is to influence the description.

Forcing Google to create descriptive snippets is often a good thing

Your meta description, transformed into the words included in the excerpt on the SERP, has as much chance of driving a visitor away as it welcomes them.

Google’s John Mueller has said that one of the reasons they rewrite meta descriptions is that they want to match the search query exactly with the page.

The more you say in the excerpt, the greater the chance of reducing the mystery of what lies behind the click, for good, but often for worse.

For example, many blog posts rely on a wide range of long-tail keywords and answer many very different questions within the content of a single post.

Let’s say you write an article about apples where you also have a good description of oranges. Your meta description is about apples – and users searching for information about oranges assume that your site does not have this information.

By having a static description, the search results snippet is less likely to contain the keywords that the searcher used. This may be less relevant than the Google-generated snippet.

Not all pages matter equally to SEO

Large sites often have thousands or millions of pages that will never lead to significant amounts of natural search traffic. Think about your privacy policy – how many organic visitors do you get there?

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It is a waste of time to manually – or even programmatically – maintain meta descriptions on web pages that do not have the potential to rank.

Do not let your consultant or your tool fool you; you do not need a meta description on each page or even close to each page.

Remember that all content requires future maintenance. It would be far better to have any meta description than a bad or outdated one.

When revising your site for meta descriptions, distinguish between the pages that need and do not need them, and maintain only those that are needed.

So when do you need a meta description?

4 times when you absolutely should give a meta description

Homepage

Your website is probably your most critical web page, so the website deserves a good meta description.

Many websites are navigational, have more images and design elements and smaller section text compared to other pages on the site, which means that the need for a meta description increases. The less text on a page, the more likely it is to need a meta description.

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If you manage the website for a well-known brand, the meta description on the website provides a chance to influence the perception of the company directly on the search results page.

Product and category pages

If your site exists to help your organization sell, your product and category pages are probably the most critical pages on your site to serve potential interests at a late stage.

These are the most important pages to get right. These are definitely worth spending your time fine-tuning as much as possible.

Content viewed on Google

If your site has 2,000 old blog posts, but only the top 10% drive significant search traffic, then focus your efforts on those.

Improving the meta description of old content that is not ranked (and will never be ranked in its current state) does not improve your traffic or your site at all – although your SEO tool might tell you otherwise !.

Improve descriptions for pages that have significant display volume.

Pages found in natural search but lack text content

Many web pages that serve embedded videos, widgets, and apps lack descriptive text that Google can use for the description.

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Similarly, Google has nothing to deduct for resource pages and other pages that are basically just a list of links, to create an optimal description.

In these cases, a website needs to provide a meta description that search engines can use.

Again, the golden rule is: The smaller the text on a page, the more important a meta description becomes.

Know when to ignore alarms, best practices and guidelines

In a perfect world, where an SEO professional has as many team members as necessary to craft meta descriptions and change them across a sea of ​​pages, when Google’s hat falls, all web pages should have meta descriptions.

However, we are all limited by time and have to choose which tactic is worth it. It is important to reconsider whether these best practices are worth investing in time.

That’s controversial, but true. If you do not want to rank with a page, meta descriptions are simply not worth maintaining.

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It may be better for you to encourage Google to prepare descriptive snippets.

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