It is a matter of deep frustration among marketers – especially, Content Marketers and SEO specialists – that they painstakingly spend hours to get that perfect meta description only to see Google override it mercilessly and pull out random information to display in the snippet. Yet Google recommends writing the description tag as part of your search engine optimization. It’s as though Google wants to ensure that you work hard on every tag but won’t buy your hard work!
As marketers, we think it’s critical that the audience is excited by the snippet to click through to our website. A well written meta-description tag acts as a crucial marketing statement that can get clicks. Even Google appreciates that effort. However, what appears in the snippet greatly depends on the search query as Google’s loyalty lies with its users.
Example of a Google snippet:
So, why won’t Google use our meta description? What do we do to ensure our meta description appears in the SERPs? And is it always possible to make it happen? Is there a magical setting to make Google display the meta description always?
The answer is an annoying no! However, the good news is that we can always improve the chances of Google displaying what we want.
What does Google say?
To understand the probable solution, let us understand how Google makes the decision to display the search results. The following statements are taken from an article on Google Support Forum.
- “…Generation of page titles and descriptions (or “snippets”) is completely automated and takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the web. The goal of the snippet and title is to best represent and describe each result and explain how it relates to the user’s query.”
The content in the snippet depends a lot on the user’s search query.
It also goes to say that Google takes it upon itself to think on behalf of your target audience and so marketers should select a focus keyword which they can bet on.
- “…We use a number of different sources for this information, including descriptive information in the title and meta tags for each page. We may also use publicly available information—for instance, anchor text or listings from the Open Directory Project (DMOZ)…”
Hence, your meta-description is not always displayed. Since this is not in our control, it requires a good amount of effort to influence Google. One needs to create variety of valued, genuine, content focused on the chosen keyword; use social channels and other content marketing strategies to place the content on the internet and link back to your website.
- “…Once we know the user’s query, we can often find alternative text from a page that better explains why that result is relevant…”
Meta tags are static data and doesn’t change with search query. Hence, Google takes alternative text depending on the search query. This is good because the users will only scan through the SERPs looking for their search phrase and other signs of relevant information around their query. If your meta title or description were to be displayed as part of the snippet without the search query, chances are that the user would ignore it.
Solution to improve your chances
Keeping the above in mind, here is our solution to increase the chances of your custom meta description being displayed by the search engines.
1. Select the most relevant keyword for your web page
Finalize the keyword (typically a long-tail keyword). This is a very crucial step. What is the one keyword that you want your page to rank for? It doesn’t work to be greedy here. The more focused you are, the more relevant your web copy will be. Create one web page per keyword and keep your URL and content focused on the chosen keyword.
2. Write a marketing statement around this keyword
Write a 160 character statement including your keyword that will work in your web copy as well as your meta description. Avoid stuffing keywords.
3. Include the statement in your webpage
It is important to include this statement in your web copy. (This is to hint Google that your description is relevant to the web copy and that you are not deceiving the users using an alluring statement with no relevant content to back it up.)
4. Include the meta description in your website
Use the same marketing statement, or a similar one as the meta description in your html code or WordPress SEO pack.
Yes, you cannot do away with adding the description tag! Google recommends you do. A few search engines, like Yahoo, do take your meta description more seriously. It is also important because if the search engines choose to display your meta tags, then its every bit worth it to include it.
5. Select some LSI keywords (Latent Semantic Indexing keywords).
Write one or two more independent marketing statements around LSI keywords which will completely make sense if shown in the snippets. By doing so, you ensure that you provide the search engine with at least one or two more options to pick up what you want your audience to read.
a. It should not look out of place and break the flow in your web copy.
b. These statements should fit all the criteria of a good meta description – within 160 characters, concise, descriptive and customer targeted.
c. Do not overdo it. Nobody wants to get disowned by the search engines!
Google has its way around deceitful businesses who try to trick the bots or the users. Write genuinely good web copy which will provide value to the users. While doing so, include some meaningful relevant marketing statements around the focus keyword which can act as a proxy to your meta descriptions.
d. Each statement should be unique.
6. Prevent search engines from using content from the Open Directory Project (DMOZ).
DMOZ is the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. To prevent the search engines from using this information for the page’s description the following code can be used:
<meta name=”robots” content=”NOODP”>
7. Ensure that each web page has a unique meta description.
With any website it is easy to get tempted to write the same description for multiple pages. For example, the description for the Home page and About Us page can be dauntingly similar. However, it is advisable to have unique keywords and descriptions for each page. It goes to say that if your website has 50 pages then you have 50 unique tags. (However, if the website is large with few hundreds of pages, then the pages with high ROI can be identified and unique description be written for it.)
In conclusion, a meta description is an independent marketing statement in itself, therefore, write an attractive statement in your the web copy and include the focus keyword in it. Then use a very similar statement as the description tag. Write one or two more such statements around your long tail/short tail keywords in the web copy which can act as proxies to your meta description.
We must point out that these suggestions can only improve the chances of your meta description showing up in the Google search snippet but not ensure it. However, we urge you to do everything possible to make it happen, since it does matter.