The following series is pulled from a presentation I gave to a group of beauty bloggers hosted by L'Oreal in New York. Most of the presentation is geared toward how to make a blog more search engine and user-friendly, however I will expand many of the concepts here to include tips and strategies for sites selling products or services across all industries.

Meta Description Tag

Meta Description Tag

One of the big misconceptions about SEO is that everything we do is designed to increase search engine rankings. This isn't (or shouldn't be) true, and there is no simpler example of that then the Meta Description tag. Even though this description tag doesn't weigh all that heavily into the search engine ranking algorithms, it is still a very powerful part of an effective optimization campaign.

Like the Title Tag, the Meta Description tag will often show up in the search results. Generally what you see in the SERPs is the clickable title link and then the description tag or page snippet just below it. If the description is pulled in to the results, it becomes a very important part of helping entice visitors to click on the link into your site.

Description

If your description tag fails to properly or adequately tell your visitors whats on the page then it's likely they'll click on another result.

The reason why many people don't put much stock into the description tag is because they are stuck on the belief that people click on rankings, not on search results. This isn't true. Sure, more people click on sites that rank higher, but only if those sites also have compelling titles and descriptions, which is often not the case. Few people blindly click links without first vetting them, and those that do often find themselves disappointed if they do.

Those who take the time to look through the search results, reading titles and descriptions to find the site that is most likely to give them what they are looking for, are more likely to be a targeted visitor one they land on your site.

If you're like me then you read descriptions before the title tags in the search results. I figure it's easy to stuff the main keywords in the title, but the description is more likely to have some of the longer tail phrases that I'm looking for. If the title matches my search broadly, the description should match much more specifically. If it doesn't then I'm probably looking at the wrong result.

The general rule is that you want each of your description tags to be unique. The description should b e a 20-40 word summary of what the visitor will expect to find on that page, and that page only. Descriptions for each page should be unique from the next. Make sure you summarize the page in a unique way, using primary and secondary keywords while making it compelling to searchers.

You don't always want or need a description tag on every page. There are some instances when you would be better served not having a description at all. For me, the general rule is if you're targeting broader keywords, use the description tag. If you're targeting long-tail keywords then don't.

The reasoning here is that if you're going after long-tail phrases on an article page or blog post, then there are simply too many variations to attempt to work them into a 40-word description. On the other hand, if those long-tail words are in the content, without the description tag, the search engine will import snippets from the page based on the search. This increases your likelihood of getting actual keywords into the description content below the clickable link in the search results.

Meta Keywords Tag

Meta Keyword TagThe only thing there is to say about the Meta Keyword tag is that there isn't much to say about it. The search engines don't put much, if any, stock in it and your visitors don't see it. By all measures its invisible.

But that doesn't keep people from asking, Do I use commas or spaces? Do I use phrases or words? How long should the keyword tag be?

The answer is: It doesn't matter. If you are going to take the time to add the meta keywords tag to your pages then I suggest this: don't waste your valuable time worrying about the "right" way to write it. Throw a few keywords in there and walk away. Don't worry about formatting, spacing, commas, length or anything like that. Keep is short, sweet and move on.

Missed a part of this series?
Part 1: Everything You Need To Know About SEO
Part 2: Everything You Need To Know About Title Tags
Part 3: Everything You Need To Know About Meta Description and Keyword Tags
Part 4: Everything You Need To Know About Heading Tags and Alt Attributes
Part 5: Everything You Need To Know About Domain Names
Part 6: Everything You Need To Know About Search Engine Friendly URLs & Broken Links
Part 7: Everything You Need To Know About Site Architecture and Internal Linking
Part 8: Everything You Need To Know About Keywords
Part 9: Everything You Need To Know About Keyword Core Terms
Part 10: Everything You Need To Know About Keyword Qualifiers
Part 11: Everything You Need To Know About SEO Copywriting
Part 12: Everything You Need To Know About Page Content
Part 13: Everything You Need To Know About Links
Part 14: Everything You Need To Know About Link Anatomy
Part 15: Everything You Need To Know About Linking






Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.





Comments(21)

Great tutorial! Many times I take meta tags for granted anymore and figure wordpress and other applications will automatically do this. However for my static pages I tend to forget about it so thank you for the refresher.

An interesting series of SEO articles. Part 4 Everything you need to know about content next?

For the Description I say the length should be, 150 characters including spaces - but is that getting too picky?

You're right about the keywords, I'd just say commas and no spaces and use The most important words no more. Move on :)

Good article. I totally agree that a lot of people believe, wrongly, that ranking high takes care of click throughs. The description tag is a great way to control what you display on the serps, and whats great about it is that you can use more of a call to action type piece of text.
@Ian I always make sure my description tags are 150 characters as that tends to be the limit on the SERPs
Regarding the kweyword tag, I tend to use this mainly as a form of taxonomy. It provides me with a quick method of checking what each theme a page is about when I scan the site on a spreadsheet. I never bother with capitalisation, where spaces should go and commas. As a general rule of thumb I don't spend more the 5 mins on the keyword tag.

Eddy

Nice explanation. Thanks Stoney.

There's one more point about the 20-40 long meta description: apart from describing what the page content is specifically about, it would urge more click-through if you incorporate a "Call to Action" in it.

Then, more people will be likely to click on your title.

Rahman, what kind of call to action do you generally use in a meta description? I'm not sure I've seen that done.

Hi!

Interesting post but I don't agree with your view of keywords. Not totally at least. Keywords can be a way of administrate the internal search engine. The search engine product I use professionally can be fine tuned through keywords (and lots of other ways.)

Jes

Jesper, you are absolutely right, but that falls outside the scope of what I'm talking about. I approached this solely from an external search engine angle and those who worry about it for naught. But for internal search, yes, a lot of care should be taken with the tag if it is being used for it. Though any tag (even a made-up one) could be used to pull internal search keywords.

I thought that it had been generally agreed (and confirmed by Matt Cutts at Google?), that the META keyword tags are ignored by Google in page ranking.

So i think its more important to think about how the meta keywords tag can negatively effect your site, rather than if spaces or commas should be used, in that it gives your competitors (or anyone competitively analyzing your site) a good indication of what keywords your optimizing for. Granted its obvious anyway by seeing how you have optimized your url, title, content etc but i think anything, no matter how minor, you can keep to yourself has to be an advantage

Stoney, I've explained it in my recent post as it's one of the goals one can achieve using a powerful meta description. In a nutshell, it gives more reason to the searchers to click on the linked title and visit the resulted page. Find out more here:

http://www.site-booster.com/blog/2010/01/5-steps-toward-powerful-meta-description/

Great wrap up on why the description tag should not be neglected. My clients simply don't understand why all these tags may not be long and involved, but they still add some weight and importance in the overall search process.

Hi, I've just come across your Blog through Technorati. I am in the process myself of trying to optimise my website, as well as my blog, and I just wanted to say that this was extremely helpful. I, no doubt like many others, presumed that the Meta Description was another space to put Keywords, but i'm just off to change them now !!

In a moment of sales dropoff-induced weakness, I signed on with a popular SEO company about a year ago for help, getting a package of backlinks and 5 page SEO. A huge red flag went up when they asked me to change the page title to just keywords, the description tag to something that wasn't what I was optimizing for, and gave me a keywords meta tag a mile long. I'd been reading you long enough to know that all of those were sleazy, and not what I wanted for a consumer experience, anyway. But, they were the "pros," right?

They kept promising me they'd "hit it out of the park," but nothing. I was embarrassed when my results showed up on the pages--even I wouldn't have clicked on my own link after reading that. Thankfully, I came to my senses and undid everything they told me to do. At least when I showed up on page 2 or at the bottom of page 1, I could respect myself.

That is really a nice explaination.
What happens if meta descriptions are repeated in some of the web pages?

Thanks in advance
Ashish

Duplicating descriptions isn't recommended but a little bit won't hurt.

Great post! Really the only tags I use are the title and description. I'm pretty sure google, yahoo, bing just ignored the keyword tag. But on the other hand, I think that some of the small search engines still might put a little stock in the keyword tag.

Once again, great post!

Good information and thanks for reminding me of the importance of getting this right. I will review very soon (not enough hours in my days and evenings!) I remember it been said at a B2B training session, that each page should be treated as an individual website. This is so true and sits in line with what you are saying here.

Thanks

Doesn't the position of the keyword in your page title or description affect relevance too?

@copywriter - yes that can make a slight difference. I suggest putting keywords near the front if possible.

Hi, Now I am in the process myself of trying to optimise my website, as well as my blog,
but I heard that meta tags are less important now a days in search engines.this concept is really helpfull for me.

Stoney,

It is a compelling article. I am surprised to recall that most SEO trainings and conferences I attended over the years did not emphasize on the Description tag much. However it is now very obvious to me the Description tag can be so powerful in promoting the site and getting a real clickthrough.

In most trainings (and conferences) people preached that Description tag is important for getting a higher ranking. Therefore most people repeat key-phrases in the Description tag too. Now my question is, Is Description tag completely irrelevant (or slightly relevant) for ranking? Please advise. Thanks again.

I believe the description meta tag is slightly relevant for rankings, but mostly relevant for clickthroughs.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > SEO 101 - Part 3: Everything You Need to Know About Meta Description and Keyword Tags