Google’s Word on META Descriptions

While pretty helpful as far as search engines go (think: all the gems from Matt Cutts, Webmaster Tools, Analytics, etc.), Google still has a vested interest in keeping its search algorithm and ranking methodology top secret, and while they occasionally do comment on issues raised by SEOs and webmasters, they’re typically pretty taciturn about what does and doesn’t work ranking wise. Thus, it was pretty refreshing to have Google’s Webmaster Blog talk about META Descriptions.

According to Google, “Accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, [but] won’t affect your ranking within search results.” Instead, the point of a properly written META description is to attract people to your website by accurately displaying the contents of the page. They use the example of a dynamically generated eCommerce META description that repeats itself and provides vague information as the kind of entry to avoid. Instead, choose simple language that quickly and accurately defines the content of the page.

All of this reinforces what most of us in the SEO trade have believed for a while, but there were a few interesting things on best practices that are worth noting. First was that displaying the META description is a preference, but by no means a rule. Google explicitly states that a META description will only be used in the search results if it is of “high enough quality.” Failing this, expect to see excerpted text from your website or maybe even a DMOZ entry as the descriptive line for your website.

Another interesting thing to note is that Google sanctions programmatically created descriptions, so long as the results are not “spammy.” This is good news for eCommerce sites, and helps reinforce our position, which is that the challenges eCommerce sites face in organic indexing is only a limitation only to the creativity and SEO savviness of the web developer.

Finally, another “no brainer” that is still often ignored by many web designers, is the need for META descriptions to be different on every page — simple boilerplate descriptions copy/pasted sitewide just aren’t going to do it, and Google will be more likely to ignore your description, or worse, put your site in the supplemental index (unless, of course, you believe it doesn’t exist anymore).

Google neglected touching the topic of length with META descriptions, though 150-160 characters still seems to be the rule of thumb, based on how much text actually appears in the results.

While Google’s post didn’t throw any huge curveballs our way, it’s great to see Google talk shop and give a definite answer to questions SEOs have debated about in the blogosphere for years now.