Meta Descriptions and SEO

A web page’s meta description is text used to provide a brief summary of that page’s content. It appears in search engines’ results lists and next to links to that page, and is therefore the first thing a potential visitor to your site will see. It is also visible to search engine crawlers.

The importance of meta descriptions in search engine optimisation (SEO) is a hotly debated topic, but it is generally believed that they do not directly affect a website’s position in search engine results. However, they should not be disregarded because they play a very important role in affecting user behaviour.

Why does user behaviour matter to SEO?

The 2011 Panda update has changed the way that Google sorts its search results. In a bid to improve the quality of its results, it now factors in heavily the way that people respond to a website. One way that they judge these reactions is the click-through rate from your search engine listing – this shows people are seeing your link in the results and wanting to know more, and therefore suggests that your site is relevant to the keyword term they searched for.

What is a good meta description?

You need to have strong meta descriptions for your web pages. Keep them to 155 characters or less, to ensure that they fit onto the page, and use them to summarise that page and entice visitors to click through to your website. You should see that description as a short advert for your site – what might encourage customers to choose your link? Perhaps you could include an offer or deal, or tell everyone what your unique selling point is.

Do keywords matter in meta descriptions?

It is important to include your main keyword in your description. This is because when a term is searched on Google, it is then highlighted in the results. This allows users to see at a glance which links are relevant to their search term. It is also another way of confirming to the search engines that your page is relevant to the keyword.

How important are meta descriptions?

Of course, getting the other SEO factors right, such as good keyword use, structure and original content, is still very important in the optimisation of your website, and your link needs to be appearing in search results in order to get your description seen and achieve a good click-through rate. But by ensuring that you have a strong meta description to match your other content, you can demonstrate your web page’s relevance and appeal, and therefore improve both its visitor count and its search engine ranking.