Meta description tags get a bad rap. They are often either considered to be more valuable than they really are, or dismissed as near irrelevant. The truth is that the meta description can be useful but it's on the lower rung of importance when it comes to the on-page elements considered by the search engines. So while not a whole lot of time needs to be invested in creating workable description tags, I'll give you a few pointers on what you need to consider.

Why use a meta description tag

Each search engine gives the meta description varying degrees of weight, but overall there is not a whole lot of significance there. Where the meta description is most useful is in the SERPs. For many searches performed the meta description on the page will display just below the clickable title. This gives you a bit of branding and message control.

If you run PPC campaigns then you know the value of a good description on your ads. The meta description is really no different. Natural results are ads too! But in the natural results you get quite a bit more character space than with paid ads. This shows how valuable a good description can be, in conjunction with your title, in creating a compelling natural search ad.

How to use a meta description tag

Well, the construct of the meta description tag is fairly easy. You could probably write it in your sleep.

<meta name="description" content="Place your add description here." />

That's pretty much it. But a few things you need to know. Google will display anywhere from 145-155 characters (including spaces) and around 130 without spaces. Your mileage may very, but anything longer will get cut off. That doesn't mean your description can't be longer than that, just so long as you know anything beyond that won't be visible in the search results.

It doesn't matter where your meta description tag resides in your code, provided that it's in your <head> tag.

And, just like a good ad, it's important to use your keywords in the meta description. Don't stuff the description with keywords, but instead write a compelling sentence or two that reinforces the content of the page.

Finally, make sure all your descriptions are unique from one page to the next. Take the time to write original content, not cutting and pasting to save time. It's probably better to go without a description tag than to use duplicate tags throughout the site.

When use a meta description tag

It's not always necessary to have a meta description tag on every page of your site. In fact, there are some instances when you probably don't want to use a meta description tag.

If you have a very focused page, targeting pretty specific keyword phrases, then write a great description for the page. On the other hand, if you're writing more generalized informative content around a single core term, content that is likely to appear in results for long-tail type keywords, then you may want to leave out your meta description.

Long Tail Keywords and the Meta Description.

The difference here is that if you don't have a meta description tag then the engines will display a snippet of your content. That snippet will be pulled from various parts of the page that use the words used in the actual search. If your page comes up with a long tail search your meta description may not provide the right information, namely the long tail keywords used in the search.

If you omit the description you have a much higher chance that the description that appears in the SERPs will be more relevant to the searcher that used long-tail search phrases. With a more relevant description you have a higher likelihood that the visitor will click through your site.

There really is not much to creating a good description tag. The two keys are writing unique text for each description to create, and knowing when not to use a description tag at all. These two bits of knowledge, implemented effectively, will help you achieve more click-throughs to, and hopefully better conversions on, your site.

June 11, 2008

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.


Thanks ! its a quite extra i learnt about meta tags. But i have one question can i use the same description for link building purpose like directory submission and deep link directory submissions?

Thank you.

The description tag is the only meta tag I really bother with. It really is an ad that you can run. with a good title you can capture attention and with a fitting description convert that into a click through. Description tags are vital for product pages. In the real estate industry you can fit an entire break down of the property as well as price into the description tag. So if your description matches the visitors needs you're pretty much guaranteed a click.

On the other end of the scale, it would be worthwhile to leave out a description on a long news page such as a blog. This is because the search engine will automatically fill in the matching keyword phrase into the description. The problem with this is that once you have the click through the visitor may not immediately know where what they were looking for is and you will lose the visitor.

Good points! Any words of advice on Meta Description tags for ecommerce sites with several 1000s of products?

@Caroline: Well firstly I hope that each page is dynamically created. If this is the case see if you can't form a description from existing dynamic tags. Such as a product title/name, short description and price for starters. Best case scenario is if you can create a description field to start with.

Descriptions don't have to be grammatically correct, you can even break them into different sections. Mine usually look something like this:

House for sale in Suburb, Town | 3 beds, 2 baths and 1 Garage | $1,200,000 | Agents of Choice

All of those are dynamically created by the use of various tags already in existence. Sometimes it's just too difficult to make changes to the existing database so you work with what you've got. But you will know what is best for your products.

Hi seo.sowmya,

Most directories only allow you to submit the home page. So if you're asking if you can use the description of the home page for the directory submission I'd say to go ahead and do so provided that the description is in line with the directory guidelines. Most often though you'll want to change the description a bit so it's a better fit for each particular directory. Cut and Paste is usually a bad idea in marketing. Use what you've got as a starting point and create something unique each place you use it.

Personally I think descriptions work best when they are flowing sentences. But as Robert noted that sometimes you just need to get keywrods in there. My recommendation is to create a flowing sentence where certain elements are dynamically inserted:

2 bed, 2bath, 1 garage house for sale in Suburb,Town. Only $1,200,000.

But with 1000's of products you really do need to set a global template of some kind so the description is automatically populated. Some people will use the on-page product descriptions, or a snippet of it as the default. But I always like to have the default with the option to override it if I want to create a different tag if necessary.

no more than 4 items in a series..

Hey Stoney,

Great article! One thing that I've done with the description character limitation is to write the description so that it tails off with the ... at a point that would 'entice' the reader to find out more - basically leading the reader hanging.

For example: Best widgets starting at ..

Have you tested or gotten any data from anyone else trying something similar?

Wow, I don't think I've ever paid that much attention to the description tag, but kudos to you. I've not heard about anybody else trying that method out either. It would be interesting to have someone measuer the results of that. Thanks Jon!

Stoney, good post. I think the most important piece of advice you give is to write in sentences. Too many people use the description tag as a way to stuff keywords in. The benefit of the meta description isn't just for the search engines. It's to write a description that will entice people to click on your listing.

Very good article. I will be linking to it in my post tomorrow. It reminded me of a post that I saw yesterday on a forum. The post provided a comprehensive SEO guide for beginners. It was one of the better ones that I had read except that it didn't mention Page Description.

I especially like where your article mentions branding. This is so important. We tell everyone to get your business name out of your Page Titles and move it to your Page Descriptions. Do your branding there. Thanks Again...

Enjoyed your article. The one recommendation that I would add is that your description tag should include facts. It's not a place to wax poetic and try to impress your reader with jargon, big words, or meaningless fluff. Get to the point and prove to the searcher that your site has the information he/she is seeking.

@Scott: I agree that you shouldn't stuff the description full of keywords. I disagree that the description needs to be a well formatted sentence. The description should however entice a click through by being relevant to your keywords.

@Susan: My point exactly.

Useful and concise information thanks! Particularly insightful about when to leave out meta descriptions.

@Susan - I agree wholeheartedly.

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