As far back as 2007, Google has maintained its stance that meta descriptions do not impact search engine rankings. Accordingly, people have either neglected the addition of meta descriptions to their web pages or handed the task off to someone low on the totem pole. The thinking here is that if it doesn’t help SEO, why waste the time?
Well, while it is true that meta descriptions won’t necessarily help your site rank, they are in fact important for SEO. While the content in a meta description does not directly factor into Google’s search ranking algorithm, user behavior is a factor that is looked with click-through rate (CTR) being part of the ranking process. And, the meta description just might be the tilting point on whether or not someone clicks through to your site from a search result page. I attempt to explain this here:
Meta Descriptions and the Search Algorithm
In 2007, Google stated, “It’s worth nothing that while accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, they won’t affect your ranking within search results.”
Then, in 2009, the search giant reiterated the point again stating, “Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don’t use the description meta tag in our ranking.”
Okay, we hear you.
So, accordingly, we can safely assume that this is the case. From an algorithmic perspective, it is not necessary to put your most important keywords in the meta description as this will not affect search engine rankings. But, what about this user behavior and click-through rate that I mentioned above?
User Behavior and the Search Algorithm
Google has gone on record and stated that there are over 200 factors involved in ranking a site, and one of these factors just so happens to be “user behavior.” They are actively measuring this behavior within the algorithm and factoring this into search results.
Click-Through Rate and the Algorithmic Ranking Process
Google uses two metrics in search ranking: click-through rate from the search engine results page (SERP) and dwell time. Whether or not a result gets clicked on is one of Google’s first clues about whether a given search result is a correct match to a query. Relevant results will therefore drive more clicks and the meta description can help a user to know whether or not the search result is indeed relevant to their search.
Dwell time is a critical, but often overlooked facet of SEO, and is another user-based metric that Google uses to decide how to rank your site. Dwell time calculates session duration (time on page) and bounce rate (% of visitors who leave website after viewing only one page) into a neat and tidy number that Google factors into its SERPs.
Meta Description and Improving Click-Through Rate
We know that Google considers user behavior, specifically click-through rate, so how can we improve the CTR from the SERP entries? In short, by writing well-crafted meta descriptions. With well-written descriptions that provide the user with the relevant information, you are sure to improve your click-through rate. And, the more people who click on the SERP entry, the better your site will rank in Google.
The average SERP (apart from the Knowledge Graph) consists of three main parts: the page title, the page URL, and the page description. All three of these features inevitably factor into a user’s decision to click through, and of these three, the meta description takes up the most space (a full two lines), has the most information, and thus gets read more often. So, why would you ignore this valuable real estate?
A great meta description, then, does actually have the chance to improve click-through, and therefore, site ranking. So, as you can see, the meta description is an SEO factor after all. Albeit an indirect impact, but an impact nonetheless.
While the semantics are very true in stating that meta descriptions themselves do not directly affect your search ranking, they are still very worthy of your attention in your overall SEO efforts. Don’t neglect them … meta descriptions might be the only thing in the way of a simple search result and a visitor to your site.