“It is a custom. More honored in the breach than the observance.”
- Hamlet

Our company has just brought aboard a healthcare client who needs, among other things, a brand new website. Currently, if you Google the name of the company, you will get the following:

Company Name
Free web site templates to jump start your new web site.
www.companyname.com- Cached - Similar pages

Whoever created the company's current website (using a free website template) wasn't skilled enough to replace or remove the template's meta description tag. As a result, whenever our client's website appears in search engine results, no matter the query, this unfortunate text snippet appears. In addition to the very obvious negative branding implications, a typical searcher would be extremely unlikely to click on their site when alternative sites map better to the search request.

What is a Meta Description Tag?

Fellow Search Engine Guide writer Jill Whalen in an article about this very topic gives an excellent concise definition:

“The Meta description tag is a snippet of HTML code that belongs inside the < Head > < /Head > section of a Web page. It usually is placed after the Title tag and before the Meta keywords tag, although the order is not important.

The proper syntax for this HTML tag is: < META NAME="Description" CONTENT="Your descriptive sentence or two goes here." >”

The theory behind Meta Description tags is reasonably sound…control the snippet of text that is shown when your website page appears in the search engines. However, there are serious drawbacks to its use.

Why Using Meta Description Tags Is Usually A Mistake

More often than not, the decision to use a meta description tag and what to say with it is made between the website designer & the client well before an SEO becomes involved with a website. There are significant marketing implications to the choice of wording and your designer isn't often the person to best advise you here.

What website owners fail to realize is that their meta description tag will often appear no matter the search query. If the query doesn't map to the tag, the website will be at a significant disadvantage at being chosen by the searcher. Frequently, the problem is compounded by using the same tag on every single page regardless of content. Also, description tags, like all meta tags, are worthless for improving search engine rankings.

Compared to text snippets supplied by the search engines (which I believe are usually excellent representations of the page content), the novice webmaster is better off skipping the meta description tag entirely.

If You Feel You Need To Use Meta Description Tags, Here Are A Few Rules:

1) Do not use the same tag on every page.
2) Keep the tag short…the search engines will truncate it.
3) Describe the page content…don't give your USP or generic business description.
4) Try to project the top 1-3 search engine keywords on the page and make sure to include them in the tag.
5) Realize that if the search query doesn't map closely to the tag, your website is far less likely to be chosen by a searcher.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

April 5, 2006

Todd Mintz is the Director of Internet Marketing & Information Systems for S.R. Clarke Inc., a Real Estate Development and Residential / Commercial Construction Executive Search / Recruiting Firm headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices nationwide. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association.

Search Engine Guide > Todd Mintz > Why Meta Description Tags Suck