The value of meta descriptions has long been debated. While many see them merely as useful information for users with questionable influence on search rankings, others insist they play a critical role in search engine results.
Whatever your own opinions are about meta descriptions, the keywords used in them, and how they affect rankings, you’ll likely have noticed that the way they display in SERPs is drastically changing.
In the past we’ve often seen search engines ignore meta descriptions in favor of copy from sites like DMOZ and Wikipedia or on-page content from the page itself. We all play by Google’s rules, and not having complete control over SERPs descriptions is one that we know all too well by now.
Recently, Google appears to be further shaking things up by using a hybrid of the meta description and on-page content in search results. This wouldn’t be particularly groundbreaking if it weren’t for the fact that the search engine recently started displaying extra-long hybrid descriptions in SERPs, seemingly at random.
In the past we were confined to two lines of actual description, but lately descriptions as long as four lines have begun popping up.
Initial findings show that these four lines consist primarily of the meta description first and then content pulled from somewhere on the page. And it’s not always the first sentence, as you might expect.
An example of this can be seen when I searched for the term: maine outdoor adventure trip for kids. Outdoors.org showed a four line, 325 character description that consists of their meta description displayed first, followed by content pulled from the middle of the page.
Google’s choice to award this site with a longer description seems relatively arbitrary considering several factors:
- While outdoors.org does have a high domain authority at 72, others ranking on the same page have higher domain authorities, yet are not receiving this extra real estate.
- The site’s text/html ratio is solid at 17.5% but again others with two line descriptions are even higher.
- The outdoors.org page does seem to have words both in its meta description and on-page content that match up with our search inquiry, but then again, others sites on the first page match nicely as well.
Outdoors.org isn’t a one-off either. One other website on the first page was awarded a four line description. This site however has a much lower domain authority at 27, lower text/html percentage, and less matching to the search inquiry within its meta description and on-page content.
Is this a further step towards replacing meta descriptions with actual content in SERPs descriptions? Will meta descriptions still have an effect on rankings even if they’re not being used in SERPs? What can a site owner or marketer do to achieve these longer descriptions?
Like so many other aspects of Google’s rankings and search presence, we are left with a good deal of homework in order to find the answers to these questions.
Until the unlikely event that Google comes out with a straightforward explanation, we must A/B test, closely monitor our SERPs displays, and further analyze the pages where these longer descriptions appear.