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Have you written off the description meta tag?

The description meta tag is a frequently misunderstood aspect of your website, so it’s worth an update on its use and importance. Some people will tell you that this hidden piece of data is no longer of any value, but they’re ahead of the game. It is true that the content of the description meta tag doesn’t appear to have SEO value any longer, but it can still play a role with the search engines, and an important one at that.

The thing to remember is that position in the search engine results isn’t everything. The way the result reads is important too. If you can get a really good-looking result like we’ve managed to get for our site for one specific search (below), then it’s much more attractive for search engine users to click on. If the search engines then see a lower-ranked search picking up more clicks than some of those above it, they’ll start to push the result up the list.

Now, how have we got such a good looking result? The title part is easy, it’s just a question of including the search term you’re aiming to rank for, and ensuring it’s no more than about 60 characters. For the two lines underneath, we’ve managed to get Google to use our description meta tag, and that’s the real key to the neatness. Like the title, the description meta tag includes our targeted search term (“Google AdWords”) and is a good length (no more than about 160 characters).

However, on another search term which is very important to us (“Google AdWords industrial companies”), our current experimentation isn’t working well at all:

The title is slightly too long (and is being truncated), and our description meta tag isn’t relevant enough to the search, so Google is taking some text from the page, which (while not disastrous) isn’t entirely satisfactory. So we have some more work to do.

I’d suggest then that you look in your site analytics at the searches which are bringing you some traffic at the moment, key them into Google, and see what the result looks like (presumably you’ll be near the top). If the title and the two lines underneath don’t form a really attractive whole, try rewriting them, putting the search term in both the page’s title tag and description meta tag, and getting the lengths right. Make a note in your diary to check back in a few days’ time, and keep modifying what you see until you’ve got something which you really think would attract people. You can’t force the search engines to use your description meta tag, but you can encourage them to (by having the right content in it), and that’ll nearly always give a neater result than some random text from the page which a machine thinks is more appropriate.

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