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Google updates guidance on meta descriptions

Key examples given of the four most common mistakes site owners make with their meta descriptions, and how to correct them for better clickthrough rates.

The SERPs are littered with weak meta descriptions. With that in mind, Google has updated its guidance on what a good (and bad) meta description looks like, and provided some key examples.

Quick refresher: meta descriptions are the short bits of text displayed in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) below a meta title. They can significantly affect click-through rates, and crafting compelling meta descriptions is therefore key. They look like this (highlighted in red):

You can find out more in our complete guide to meta tags. It's worth noting that Google reserves the right to rewrite meta descriptions if it so chooses (i.e. you cannot "force" a specific meta description to be displayed in search results).

So what are these updated examples that Google gives? It identifies four common types of “bad” meta descriptions:

  • Lists of keywords (like this one for a sewing goods retailer: “Sewing supplies, yarn, colored pencils, sewing machines, threads, bobbins, needles.”)

  • Identical description for every article (like this one from a local newspaper: “Local news in Whoville, delivered to your doorstep. Find out what happened today.”)

  • Doesn’t summarize the page (like this one: ““Eggs are a source of joy in everyone’s life. When I was a small child, I remember picking eggs from the hen house and bringing them to the kitchen.”)

  • Too short (like this one from an online retailer: “Mechanical pencil.”)

And four common types of “better” meta descriptions are also indicated in the updated guidance:

  • Explains what a shop sells, where and when (like this: ““Get everything you need to sew your next garment. Open Monday-Friday 8-5pm, located in the Fashion District.”)

  • Uses a snippet from a specific news article (like this: “Upsetting the small town of Whoville, a local elderly man steals everyone’s presents the night before an important event.”)

  • Summarizes the whole page (like this: “Learn how to cook eggs with this complete guide in 1 hour or less. We cover all the methods, including: over-easy, sunny side up, boiled, and poached.”)

  • Specific and detailed (like this: “Self-sharpening mechanical pencil that autocorrects your penmanship. Includes 2B auto-replenishing lead. Available in both Vintage Pink and Schoolbus Yellow.”)

“Make sure your descriptions are truly descriptive,” says Google. “Because meta descriptions aren’t displayed in the pages the user sees, it’s easy to let this content slide. But high-quality descriptions can be displayed in Google’s search results, and can go a long way to improving the quality and quantity of your search traffic.”

You can find Google’s complete, updated guidance on meta descriptions here.

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Published on Nov 9, 2022 by Jamie Beach