A long time ago you could game the search visibility by adding meta keywords and other meta tags to your site. This resulted in using non-relevant keywords in meta tags to gain more visits through searches. In years to come, the search engines became more sophisticated and started to be more vigilant about gaming search results. And in time, the meta tags lost their significance in search rankings.
Though I thought this series had already ended, I had to get back onto it after reading yet another misleading article about search rankings. The article claimed that meta tags affect search ranking, which is not true. Meta tags have no importance in search rankings. For example, Google has announced in 2009 (yes, 7 years ago) they don't use meta tags (including description) in ranking web search results. They do have a place in search results, and I will come back to this in a moment. However, I need to address this again, meta tags are irrelevant for your blog post search ranking. They don't affect how high your blog post ranks in searches. They don't affect if your blog post shows up in different searches. Putting your long tail keywords in your meta tags, such as meta description, is not going to help your site to rank better in search results.
So what are meta tags good for? They can tell search engines, and social media services, about the content of your site. There are tons of different meta tags that can be used for different purposes. These include Open Graph metadata, Twitter Card meta tags, and Dublin Core Metadata Element Set to mention some. In this article I'm concentrating on the SEO related meta tag, meta description.
Meta descriptions are usually used in search engine result pages (also known as SERP). While they don't directly improve the search ranking of your blog posts, meta descriptions can help people making searches to decide if they want to read your blog posts. Meta description is usually shown in search results under the title of your blog post. In that sense, meta description can be used to optimise your blog post for search engines. An important thing to note is search engines may use other parts of your blog post in the search results, if that part better fits the search phrase.
For example, a person is searching "tips for working from home" and your blog post talks about working from home more generally. The part about tips is not included in the meta description. However, there is a tips section in your blog post, in which the search phrase is mentioned. In this case, search engines may ignore the meta description tag of your blog post, and in it's place show a snippet from the part of your post where it talks about tips for working from home. This doesn't mean search engines will do this every time, but it's a possibility. Thus, while meta description can be used to influence the person making a search to click to your blog post, it's not necessarily always used by search engines.
In some cases you might not want to include meta description for your blog post. When you want to make sure the search engines use the relevant text, such as in the previous example, not using meta description is quite advisable. While search engines may override your meta description to show a snippet of a more relevant part of your blog post, they also may not. Not using meta description forces the search engines to to use the keyphrase relevant snippets, rather than the meta description you have provided.
You can see meta description as a search result ad text. It's only function is to allure people to click the link in search results. Of course, keeping the description relevant to the content of your blog post is still very important. Firstly, the search engines may end up ignoring your description altogether, if it doesn't seem relevant. Secondly, if the description doesn't appear relevant to the people making the searches, they may end up ignoring your blog post altogether. As meta description is an ad text, it requires compelling ad copy. The point is to show the relevance of the blog post to the searches you are aiming for.
Make the meta descriptions readable sentences, rather than mindless lists of keywords.
It's very important to avoid duplicate meta descriptions for different blog posts. This means, in case meta description is included, no two or more blog posts should have the same description. This helps people differentiate different pages in search results from each other. As a side note, never duplicate your blog posts, and be careful with reposting them (as is) around to different blogs too. Search engines don't like it when the same content is available in different places, because it's suspicious and spammy. Instead, if you want to revisit a subject you've already covered, try repurposing the content or writing a whole new post. This is what I did when I revisited in 2015 getting rid of spam on Instagram, the subject I already had covered two years earlier.
You may also want to differentiate your meta description from other descriptions in search pages. Multiple search results with the same or very similar description is confusing.
The recommended length of meta description is approximately 150-160 characters. While the meta description can be basically any length, the search engines tend to truncate long descriptions and add three dots (...) in the end. Additionally it's good to note that search engines bold the relevant keywords in the descriptions. Using quotation marks in meta descriptions cut off the text in search results.
In short, meta description or other meta tags have no relevance to search ranking. Meta description can have relevance in SEO, meaning it can be used as a sort of an ad text. It doesn't make your blog posts rank better in search engines. Depending on search queries, it can help people doing searches to choose whether they want to read your blog post or not.
Blog post SEO series
- Targeting long tail keywords
- External and internal links
- Optimising images
- Page speed
- Content matters
- Meta tags
See all the articles in Blog post SEO.