The SEO Files: Are meta descriptions a waste of time?

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In recent years, Google has confirmed that meta descriptions are not a ranking factor. So if they aren’t a ranking factor, where does that leave us? Is it worth writing meta descriptions anymore? Do they help attract more organic website traffic? Do meta descriptions matter in 2021?

I put meta descriptions under the spotlight in this blog post, as I unravel the mystery of this SEO puzzle piece and help you, my fellow SEO sleuth, decide whether it’s worth your effort to write them!

Are meta descriptions a waste of time in 2021?

A lot has changed in SEO in recent years, and Google is sharing more information about how it potentially ranks a website page.

If you look through this developers document which explains which tags Google understands and how it treats them, it states that “In some situations, this description is used in the snippet shown in search results.”

The meta description you write may be used by Google when showing the website page’s snippet in Google’s search engine results page.

At other times, Google chooses a paragraph of text from your website page as the description to show in the snippet and ignores what you’ve written as the meta description.

A meta description is a short paragraph of text that appears under a website page title when shown in Google’s SERPs.

What is a meta description?

A meta description is the small paragraph underneath your website listing on the SERP (search engine results page) that describes the information on your page. Its purpose is to summarize the content on a page and help users decide which website to click through to.

Why does Google choose its own meta description?

Google tries to match the content it shows users with whatever they have typed into the search bar.

If Google finds text on your website page that it thinks is a better match to what the user has typed into the search bar, it will show this snippet of text instead of your meta description.

Remember, the meta description showing in Google aims to get the user to click through to your website.

Is Google choosing your meta description a good thing?

Yes and no. Google is trying to match your content to the user’s search query so that you have a better chance of getting a click to your website.

However, Google might choose a boring part of your content that happens to have the keyword query in it that the user has searched. There is no guarantee the user will click to your website.

But Google choosing the meta description can also work in your favour. When you write a meta description, you’re optimising it with the primary keyword and the main idea about the content. This isn’t always going to be what the user has searched for.

Maybe your content has a few lines about a closely related topic, something you would not mention in a meta description, but someone has searched for this topic. Rather than show the meta description you’ve written, Google instead takes the content you’ve written about the closely related topic and shows that instead.

When thinking about meta descriptions in this way, it makes sense for Google to choose what to show on the search engine results page (SERPs).

how to write seo copy

How important are meta descriptions in 2021?

Meta descriptions are still important, so long as Google is showing them on the SERPs.

It doesn’t matter whether your meta description is shown or Google has selected something from your content, the fact that the short paragraph of text is still showing in Google means that Google understands the importance of meta descriptions in helping users decide which website page to click through to.

Although meta descriptions don’t impact your rankings in Google, they certainly influence the click through rate, which is the percentage of users that see your website in Google and actually click through to your site.

Should you still write your own meta descriptions?

Yes, it’s still worth writing your own optimised meta descriptions, especially for pages that you’re trying to rank in Google such as the home page, product/service pages and blog posts.

As a writer, your skill in crafting a meta description that’s optimised for SEO and doesn’t sound as boring as watching paint dry can still help you and your clients get more organic clicks.

What’s important in a meta description in 2021?

A well-written meta description should include the primary keyword and be written in a succinct manner covering the main idea of the topic and also using language to entice the person searching to click through.

It should not be written as click-bait! Be honest about what the content explains, and don’t exaggerate or make false claims.

How many characters should a meta description be?

At the moment, a meta description is truncated at around 155 characters in Google. However it’s not just about the number of characters but the pixels. I always say it’s better to be under the limit than just on or over.

Tips for writing a better meta description

Read the meta descriptions for the websites currently ranking on page 1 for your desired keyword.

How can you write a similar meta description but one that stands out more, and gets people clicking to your site?

Adhere to the character limits, and try to put the most important information near the start of your meta description.

Add a call to action within the meta description, such as “learn about”, “read more”, “buy now”, “click to find out more”.

When you’re updating content in future, it’s a good idea to test with a new meta description and a new title, to see whether this increases the click through rate.

Tips for writing better content

Now that you know that Google can choose a paragraph of text from your content to show as the meta description, write your content so that if the paragraph is chosen, it is useful and enticing enough to get people to click through to your site.

Chop out any slabs of text that might be a filler or is useless, and if you have gone off on a tangent or written a paragraph about a topic that is not the main topic, consider removing this.

Check out more tips for writing better SEO content.

One final word

The main idea of a meta description is to help users decide which website page to click on in Google.

It’s not used as a ranking factor but rather as a click through rate improver. This can be frustrating when Google decides to use a different meta description from your content- how can you be sure that Google is choosing the right paragraph of text to show?

You’re the copywriter here, not Google, however there isn’t much we can do other than continue to write helpful content in an easy to understand way, including writing our own meta descriptions and hoping that they are used more than not.

Want to learn more about SEO? Check out my SEO For Copywriters & Content Creators course, created so you can learn SEO at your own pace and build the confidence to DIY SEO for you and your clients. Add SEO as a service in your business and grow your revenue!


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Nat Alleblas- SEO Sleuth: helping copywriters, marketers and web developers with their SEO needs. When she's not slaying SEO, Nat can be found with her head buried in a book or is smashing out a spin class. But not at the same time. Loves eggplant lasagna.