Meta Description - What Google Does With Your Meta Description

The meta description attribute (sometimes called a "tag") is a largely undervalued facet of search engine marketing.

A meta description is an HTML and XHTML element that describes your page to search engines. While the perceived (and real) importance of meta data has depreciated, the attribute still plays a significant role in SEO rankings.

In this article, you'll learn:

  • What "meta description" means, as well as how to view your site's meta description, and how it impacts visitors.
  • Why the term is important to you and to your SEM efforts.
  • How to extract real search value from your meta description.

So What is a Meta Description, Anyway?

As we mentioned above, a meta description is an attribute within a meta tag that helps describe your page to search engines. Your page likely already contains a meta description. You can find it by right clicking on a page, and selecting "view source" or "view page source":

View your page's meta description by right clicking and selecting "view source".

Once you're looking at the page's code, you'll likely see a meta description tag, which will probably look something like this:

<meta name="description" content="Meta descriptions can have a surprisingly large impact on your search marketing campaigns; find out how..." />
<meta name="keywords" content="meta description,google meta description,meta name description" />
<meta name="robots" content="index,follow" />

This information has a few purposes, one of which is to serve as the snippet of text shown to searchers in response to a query, to summarize your page.

So a search for "meta keywords" on Google might elicit a SERP listing like the following:

Meta description tags can be shown in response to searchers' queries, as pictured.

OK, But Why Should I Care? What Does the Meta Description Attribute Have to Do With Me?

Meta description tags can have a significant impact on your search engine optimization efforts has one central value:

Your meta description acts as "organic ad text".

What this means is that when your ad ranks for a keyword, Google and other engines will often show the meta description as a summary of the page.

This makes the meta description as important as ad text.

You can write compelling text here in an effort to raise the click-through rate of your organic search results.

OK, So What's Next: How can I Write Better Meta Descriptions?

The best practices for creating good meta descriptions are a lot like those for writing great ad text:

The good news is, WordStream's ad text tools can offer as much benefit for SEO (writing great meta descriptions) as they do for pay-per-click (creating compelling ads).

Once you've had keywords suggested to you and you've outlined your information architecture and have settled on keyword targets for a page, you can receive intelligent ad text suggestions for a set of keywords:

Obviously we can't just use a list of targeted keywords as our meta description, but in creating meta descriptions, these keywords are a good indicator of what people will be searching for. We can now use the same language as the searcher in crafting our meta description.

Additionally, by using the two description lines, we'll have a succinct, compelling meta description.

Search Engine Marketing