There is a significant amount of uncertainty and confusion surrounding meta descriptions among many SEO and content specialists in the digital marketing world. Do meta descriptions actually affect SERP results?
Well, on paper, a meta description does not directly affect search rankings, as explained in this article released by Google in 2009.
Since meta descriptions show up on the search engine results, they do affect click through rate (CTR) which is something that should concern SEOs.
In real life, meta descriptions can affect search rankings.
Lets answer some quick questions about meta descriptions, the metadata’s red-headed stepchild that no one really likes to talk about.
What is a Meta Description, Anyway?
A meta description is part of the <meta> tags and is a tag that contains data about the web page. In the case of the meta description, it provides a small snippet usually under 160 characters that summarizes the page. It’s like the behind the scenes information. It exists on the site, but you just can’t see it–unless you know where to look!
You can usually see the meta description of a page by looking at the SERP (search engine results pages). Here is a branded search for PCG Digital.
Another way to find the meta description would be to go to the website in question, right click anywhere on the site itself, (not a photo, video, or any media) and select view page source. You will see something similar to this:
It’s easy to find the meta description! Just command+F on a Mac or control+F on Windows (note this was done using Google Chrome).
Now that we understand what a meta description actually is, let’s talk more about its relevance.
Why DON’T Meta Descriptions Matter Anymore?
A long time ago, in a Google far away, meta descriptions did affect SEO directly. Search engines would look through descriptions for keywords and then a page could be boosted by keywords in its meta description. Naturally, some people abused that and started keyword stuffing (no, no!). We all know Google wants everyone to play by the rules, so it changed its algorithm.
Why DO Meta Descriptions Matter at All Now?
Okay, so yeah, meta descriptions don’t change any search engine rankings, but they do in reality help with CTR.
The CTR is the percentage of users that click on your result in search of the total number of users that viewed the result.
But why, or how do meta descriptions affect CTR you may ask? It’s simple! On a SERP you have 3 main elements that create a search result: title tag, URL and description.
If you look at a result on Google for example, a meta description is a large part of the whole search result. As you can see below, the meta description is most of the actual search result.
Even if the title tag is considered the most important meta tag, the description still matters.
Google sometimes bolds important phrases in the meta description, which is eye catching. You then have to read the entire sentence or at least part of it, to make sense of the bolded phrases.
Should I Continue to Use Meta Descriptions on My Site?
The short answer, YES! There could be a litany of factors why some websites are ranked higher than others, but when it is something you can ACTUALLY see in search results, it’s really a no brainer.
Don’t skimp on those meta descriptions when you’re adjusting or adding metadata to your site. It could be the difference between a sale, and a flop.