As early as 2002, the meta description tag (aka meta description) was declared dead. But meta description’s death has been greatly exaggerated, probably because people didn’t really understand its purpose.

So when people ask, even today, “Are meta descriptions still important?” there’s some confusion.

Meta tags, as you probably know, are HTML tags that provide information about the pages they’re encoded on. Unlike other HTML tags, meta description tags have nothing to do with how a page is displayed. Meta descriptions do have to do with what the page is about.

The average user encounters meta descriptions when doing a keyword search.

Meta descriptions are important in key word searches

If you searched on the term “plumbers” in your town (in the case, Williamsburg, VA), you’d get back results that look something like this illustration. These organic (not paid) search results include first the page title (or title meta) and the URL that reflects the keyword you entered, or close to it.

meta description tag

Components of organic search engine results (SERPs)

Yes, SEO specialists believe that Google doesn’t count the keywords in meta description information toward a page’s ranking in Google.

But that doesn’t mean the meta tag is dead or has nothing to do with SEO.

The meta description may not literally be important to SEO, in the sense that it’s not a Google factor in ranking. (And let me admit that few of us know what’s in the infamous Google algorithm that decides page ranking. We just know what apparently works.)

Meta descriptions are often the deciding factor in whether searchers click a link

Yet the meta description is often the deciding factor in whether a someone clicks on one of the ten search engine results on a typical, say, Google results page.

In fact, I contend that the meta description text can be so persuasive that it causes someone to choose one web site over another. If that’s true, then meta copy does affect search engine results because it increases clickthrough.

One codicil … if the meta copy isn’t accurate, a web site can lose a potential “customer” quickly, which could boost its bounce rate. Never a good thing. Therefore, your meta description should be enticing but reflective — not misleading.

At the very least, the meta tag is far from dead. Pay close attention to how you write it and where your key words fall within it.

Too-long-meta-description

A search engine result with a meta description that’s too long. The title tag is too long as well.

And one last meta tag tip. The general suggestion for meta tags is that they not be over 155 characters. However, this determination is just a rule of thumb. In reality, Google uses width, not number of characters, as part of its formula for displaying meta descriptions.

So if you find yourself following all the rules (155 characters, for instance) and see that your meta description is still clipped, it could be because you’re using wider letters (“m” and “w,” for instance). Do a bit of editing to ensure that your full meta description displays clearly.

Are meta description tags still important?

by susan time to read: 2 min
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