Using Meta Descriptions

In Improve snippets with a meta description makeover on the Google Webmaster Central blog, an explanation of how Google provides page description information and uses meta descriptions provides valuable information in controlling the appearance of your site’s pages in Google search results. It is encouraging to see this thorough explanation as I have been confused as to the benefit of meta descriptions and the priority one should give to customizing them for each page.

The meta description is one place Google (or any search engine) can get your page snippet — the short text preview Google displays for each web result — from. This is preferable as it gives you control of what is displayed as the page description for search results rather than an extract from your page or other sources.

To summarize, it seems to me the key points for meta descriptions are:

  • Quality meta descriptions without keyword stuffing are more likely to be used as a page description.
  • Provide a different description for each page. Use site level descriptions for the main page and other aggregation pages and page specific descriptions for other pages.
  • Descriptions should be human readable. Use a sentence structure when appropriate, or clearly tagged and separated information for permalink pages such as blog post or product pages.
  • While not addressed in the Google article, it is touched on in the comments. Keep your descriptions short so they are not cut off. It appears descriptions are limited to between 140 and 160 characters. Keep the important information at the beginning of the description if you must exceed the character limit (approximately two lines in Google’s search results). Tweak your descriptions when you see them truncated on Google’s search results to provide the best results.

Considering this information, I need to look at an automated way to insert appropriate meta descriptions on every page. My previous standard was a site level meta description for every page, or just the home page. If I cannot find a satisfactory plugin myself I will add that to the list of development tasks I have. Once developed, this is something I can easily provide to clients to maximize the appropriateness of their meta descriptions in an automated way. This is the type of value-add I like to offer my clients. If only I had more time to focus on these tasks.