With the advent of WordPress blogs, where search engine optimization (or "SEO") is "done for you," pretty much right out of the box, the lowly–yet once omnipotent–meta tags in your webpages have really taken a backseat.
In fact, a lot of "onpage SEO" has been relegated to second-class citizenry among search engine optimization factors.
That's okay. "Meta" is alright with that. See, she understands that not everything (shudder…) is reliant on SEO. In fact, Google doesn't even consider the meta description field in its search algo anymore.
Did you know that? Google completely ignores meta description and keywords for search.
NOTE: Google supposedly doesn't factor your meta keywords in its search ranking either. More info from Google here.
The Meta Description Is Your Silent Salesperson for Search
With all that said above, you may think that the meta tag doesn't matter. I'm here to tell you that not only does meta matter, it may be your best chance at converting a search consumer into buying customer.
While Google has categorically gone on record (see link above) as placing no importance on the meta tags, description and keywords, Google does use the meta description tag in its search results!
Did you hear me?
Take a look:
See the text underneath the title of the search result? It's the meta description tag!
So what does this mean? Well, the nuts and bolts of it is that Google uses the meta description tag, in the absence of other data, to fill in its search results description of the website. Google will try to put together a description on its own if there is no meta description tag. It typically does so by taking the first 150-160 characters of your content for that page. Take note of that number. It will come in handy in a minute.
However, Google didn't become Google by doing things the hard way. If you are kind enough to supply Google with the Description meta tag, Google will use it!
See how powerful that is? Your meta description tag serves as short sales copy for your website! You get up to 150-160 characters (think twitter plus 10-20 characters) to write a really compelling reason why somebody should choose to visit your site versus some other site–that may even rank higher than yours!
Now, I did say that Google will put its own description together if yours is missing. And that's okay–if you like building websites without traffic.
Seriously, there are some best practices for writing meta description tags. I would venture to state that you should ALWAYS:
- Use them. Create your own. Don't give Google a reason to screw up your sales pitch.
- Keep them under 160 characters. You certainly don't have to use 160 characters to describe your webpage content if 100 characters gets the job done. But don't go over, lest Google cuts off your pitch before you're done giving it.
- For long-tail keywords (LTKW), you can leave off your meta description because the search engines (Google included) always pull the search term the user queried along with surrounding verbiage.
- Quotes (like this — ") cause Google to cut off your meta description at the first instance of said quote. So, if you must use quotes, use single quotes (') versus the typical double quotes (").
The best advice I can offer is this: When you write content, your target keyword phrase should be incorporated in your Title, your Meta description, and the first 160 characters of your content. That way, if you forget to fill in your meta description, your search term will be included in your content and that's what Google and the other SEs will display when a user searches for that keyword term.