Here we go again. It looks like it’s time to re-evaluate meta description tags, another standard web element that has been around ever since the beginning of the internet (or it seems that way). Of course we know that the meta keywords tag became useless about 10 years ago, when website owners were obviously keyword stuffing the meta keywords tag with all sorts of keywords. It was obvious to everyone, or obvious to most, that we don’t really need the meta keywords tag. But now the meta description tag? Really?
Is the meta description tag so useless now that we should not be including or writing custom meta description tags for our web pages? Apparently that is the word on the street now, so to speak. And then there’s this, those who say that meta description tags are worthless.
Are meta description tags really worthless? Well, not necessarily. Let’s take an example of a search result for my website, this blog.
In my case, I wrote a custom meta description tag for this page, my home page. I wanted to show EXACTLY what I do to those who are searching for my name. And Google displays that meta description tag in the search results. So, are meta description tags worthless now? No. Absolutely not. You can “control”, in a way, what shows up in the search results. At least for most searches that are related to your brand name. Brand searches like my name, Bill Hartzer (which I would consider a brand). You can control the messaging, and that’s important.
I said, “in a way” that you can control the search result by providing a meta description tag for a page since in most brand searches Google will, in fact, use your meta description tag. And if the keyword that someone searched for shows up in the meta description tag on your page, Google will, in many cases, show your meta description tag. At least that’s what I’ve seen to be the case. But in other cases, in other search queries where your website shows up, Google will pick what they show in the search results. Your meta description tag will not show, something else from the page will show up.
Google decides, using their internal algorithms, what to show in the search results, and how to show it. We’ve known for quite some time that Google will change your title tag whenever they feel it’s appropriate to do so. And, we also know that they’ll change your meta description tag, as well. So, do we really still need meta tags?
So, why now does Matt Cutts from Google come out and release a video that’s related to meta description tags? Right before he goes on vacation?
Well, the timing is not on purpose, I believe. Google hasn’t recently made any major changes to their algorithm on how they deal with meta description tags. At least that’s not what I think. In fact, this video was most likely recorded quite some time ago. Matt is known for setting up a day when he brings in 50+ tshirts into the office and records all those webmaster videos, all at once. So, the video is most likely from quite some time ago, recorded a while back.
In this latest video about meta description tags, we have to be very picky here and listen to exactly what Matt Cutts says in the video.
“Matt said it is better to have unique meta descriptions and even no meta descriptions at all, then to show duplicate meta descriptions across pages”, says Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Land.
I think the key here is that you SHOULD NOT HAVE DUPLICATE meta description tags. It would be better to have NO meta description tags then to have DUPLICATE meta description tags, meaning the same meta description tag on every page on your website.
So, do we need to re-evaluate whether or not we actually use meta description tags? Well, no necessarily.
Consider the time it will take to write custom meta description tags for every page on your site. Then, consider the fact that duplicate meta description tags, the same tag on multiple pages, is bad. In many cases, it would make more sense to just delete all of the duplicate meta description tags (or all meta description tags) than to keep the same tag on every page. If you have a large site, it might not make sense to write a custom tag for every page. It might take a lot of man hours to do that if you have thousands of pages on the site.
The worst scenario would be duplicate meta tags on all pages of the site (or on multiple pages).
Then, “less worse” would be no meta description tags.
Then, ideally, a custom meta description tag for each page.
Frankly, I would choose the most important pages on your site and custom write a meta description tag that will draw the user in, and cause them to want to click on your search result to come to your site.
Longer Meta Description Tags
Google is now giving us even more characters in the search results, so we can write longer meta description tags now (as of May 2017).
Don’t go back and rewrite all of your meta description tags. If you’re editing the page for other reasons, consider revising the meta description tag. New pages should get natural sounding meta description tags, up to 300 characters in length. Write well, don’t stuff keywords. Quite often, less is more.