Here’s a lesson from SEO 101: When Google makes announcements or recommendations, it’s always best to listen. Believe it or not, Google tries to help Web developers, marketers, and small business owners thrive in their SEO efforts, and that includes all aspects, ranging from site layout to meta descriptions.
Meta descriptions just happen to be the subject of the latest Google proclamation. In a recent announcement, Google indicated some changes to how they generate meta data—and also offers some advice for writing meta descriptions that get results.
What is a Meta Description?
Before we get into that, here’s a quick reminder: The meta description is the text you see accompanying each listing on the Google search engine results page (SERP). When you conduct a search, Google will provide you with a list of links, and under each link, you’ll see some brief text that explains what the site is about. That’s Google’s way of helping users determine which of those links are most relevant to their interests.
Having a good meta description is important—but you don’t have to take our word for it. Here’s what Google says in its latest announcement: “Good meta descriptions are short blurbs that describe accurately the content of the page. They are like a pitch that convince the user that the page is exactly what they’re looking for.”
Short version: You want Google to display a really compelling meta description for your site—one that will convince people to click the link and read your content.
How Google Determines the Meta Description
So how does Google generate meta descriptions? According to the new announcement, Google’s algorithms will first scan the site itself and try to extract content that fits the search query—in other words, seeking something relevant to whatever search terms the user entered.
If Google’s bots cannot find a good passage to extract, though, they will display the meta description you wrote yourself. Of course, it’s vital to make sure that you’ve got some good, engaging text for Google to use. Google has helpfully shared some pointers on how to make your meta descriptions compelling.
What Not to Do with Your Meta Descriptions
Specifically, Google notes that meta descriptions fail for a few different reasons. One reason is that there simply isn’t one; when you forget to manually write a meta description, you’re sacrificing a key SEO opportunity.
Other common errors include using the same meta description for every page of your site; writing meta descriptions that are off-topic; or making meta descriptions that are spammy rather than informative.
One more thing: Word count. Technically, there’s no limit on your meta description, as Google will display as many characters as will fit on the device in question. Our rule of thumb is 150 characters or so, which will generally prevent your meta description from being cut off due to screen limitations.