Meta Description


A Meta Description is a short description text which should describe the content of a HTML document for search engines. Meta-Descriptions are part of the meta data of web documents and are noted as meta tag in a HTML document’s head section. Google, as well as other search engines, can use meta descriptions with the Meta Title for the Snippet. Although the meta description has no direct influence on the ranking of an article or a website, a good meta description can ensure a better CTR in the SERPs. For a long time, the maximum recommended length for the meta description was 160 characters. In the meantime, however, adjustments have been made to the search engine algorithms. This results in description lengths that vary depending on the structure and specification of the website.

General information[edit]

Meta descriptions are displayed every time a user launches a search request and consequently looks at the search engine result pages. Beneath the blue-colored link, a short description text is displayed as a snippet in order to draw attention to the content and to prompt users to click on it – if a meta description is provided. If this is not the case, the first lines of the start of the text or other available content, e.g. directories, are displayed (cf. NOODP). Even when a description is saved in the source code, there is no guarantee that the Snippet will be used by google.

Google on meta descriptions[edit]

Google's Gary Illyes committed to optimizing snippets in a post from June in Google's webmaster Central Blog. [1] In it, he states that Google does not necessarily adhere to a stored description, but also searches for suitable content elements on the website for the snippet. Until the web directory DMOZ was discontinued in the first quarter of 2017, Google took over the descriptions of directory editors if the snippets were of poor quality or the text content in the article was too small. These were often more meaningful than those created by the webmasters. Google points out in the same article that the discontinuation of the portal makes it all the more important for website operators to write good meta-descriptions.

MetaDescription.png

Length and content of a meta description[edit]

Meta Descriptions should not exceed 160 characters, including spaces. In 2017, the maximum number was increased to 320 characters for a short time. In the months around the turn of the year 2017/18, more and more longer descriptions appeared in the SERPs. However, not all descriptions were displayed completely. Via Twitter, Google webmaster John Müller stated that the length of a meta description was never officially set by Google. [2] In May 2018, Danny Sullivan, consultant at Google, announced the recent reduction of the maximum description length to 160 characters. [3]

If meta descriptions exceed the optimal character length, the rest is replaced by "...", i.e. the description is truncated. This has no direct influence on Google's ranking and rating, but the snippet becomes less appealing for users. The purpose of meta descriptions is to give the user an indication of the content of the URL. This is why you often find a direct customer approach, a call-to-action, or short keywords that advertise the content of the URL. A user-friendly description usually includes the keyword of the article, but can also include emojis or other unicodes like check marks.

Unicodes are special characters. These have a different effect on the length of the meta description than regular characters. A symbol consists of a large number of characters. In the snippet, however, the number of characters, not the number of symbols resulting from them, serves as the basis for calculating the description length. A Unicode does not extend a description by one character, but by at least five. For the user, the use of symbols is more appealing, but Google cannot display all of them. Unicodes therefore have both advantages and disadvantages for the meta description.

The optimal meta description[edit]

Since the meta description is one of the first elements of a website that users see, website operators should pay attention to them.

  • Character length: The optimal meta description has a maximum length of 160 characters, including spaces. To be completely certain that the snippet will be displayed in full, it should contain between 150 and 155 characters. For online shops or articles where a publication date is automatically displayed in the snippet, the maximum number of words may decrease [4].
  • Call-to-Action: The meta description should contain a prompt for the user. Set pieces such as "click here" or "buy now" can, for example, encourage you to click on the snippet.
  • Contents: The description should contain the central keyword or variants of the landing page. Since Google always highlights the keyword in the snippet with bold, the description becomes more conspicuous when the search term is included. Also possible are short testimonials of satisfied customers, or special characters after unicode in the meta description. They also increase attention. Very popular, for example, are check marks.


How Meta Descriptions are integrated[edit]

The Meta Description can be saved in a website’s head section. In doing so, the HTML syntax and the search engine criteria should be kept in mind.

An example:

<head><meta name="description" content="The meta description should describe the content of the document."></head>

The attributes ‘name’ and ‘content’ are obligatory. After opening a meta tag, it needs to be closed again.

In practice, meta descriptions can not be directly integrated into source code. The established content management system provides suitable possibilities in Backend. Or, various plugins can be integrated to make this easier.

Rich snippets[edit]

Rich Snippets are produced by Google using structured data. They belong directly to the meta description, but can be expanded on in the search snippet. Rich Snippets contain for example prices, ratings or event details. Webmasters and SEOs should always consider this possibility when they work with meta descriptions. This area belongs to the so-called "Snippet-optimization" in the scope of OnPage optimization.


Relevance for SEO[edit]

As meta descriptions were frequently used for keyword stuffing in the past, Google reacted with changing their algorithms. Since then, meta descriptions no longer affect the ranking of websites, but merely serve as snippets for users [5]. They are optional, and their impact on the SERPs is controversial among experts. They can however influence the click through rate and traffic of a website, as the short text serves as indication of a website’s content for users, and they consequently click on the URL if the content appears to be of interest for them. SEOs therefore recommend including meta descriptions in onpage optimization.

When writing meta descriptions, it is important to ensure that they describe the content properly. This can be done individually for each web page. At least for a web project’s main pages, it is recommended to provide a meta description. Aside from the title, which is relevant for rankings, the meta description is the first element of a website that a user sees when they use a search engine.

References[edit]

  1. Better snippets for your users webmaster-en.googleblog.com. Accessed on November 2, 2018
  2. John Müller's tweet to description length Twitter. Accessed on November 2, 2018
  3. Danny Sullivan's Tweet to Description Length Twitter. Retrieved on 02.11.2018
  4. Ideal Meta-Description Length Sistrix. Accessed on November 2, 2018
  5. Metadescription Moz.com. Accessed on 01/16/2014

Web Links[edit]