Whether you’re new to search engine optimization or you’ve been involved in the process for a while now, you’ve probably heard the term “meta description.” While the definition of this term should be relatively straightforward, there’s actually quite a bit of discussion about what this description actually is.
What exactly is a meta description? More importantly, why should you care?
Meta Description Defined
The meta description is the description of your webpage that shows up in the search results. Underneath it is your title and URL.
Some marketers use the term a little more loosely to refer to the entire Google search result listing, which includes the URL and the title of the webpage. Google doesn’t agree with this definition, although all of these pieces are important for SEO.
What Does a Meta Description Do?
Meta descriptions are read by two primary audiences: the user looking at search results and the search engine bots indexing your page. Everyone knows search engines like Google use robots to comb the web. These automated processes “read” your webpages and try to determine what they’re about. They then rank them in association with search terms or keywords.
When a user inputs keywords to search for, the search engine draws on its index of webpages to create a list of the most relevant resources for the user. The first search result is the one the search engine robots have decided is the most relevant to that keyword search.
The meta description is embedded in your webpage as a description for use by the search engine. The robots indexing the site read the description, which helps them decide what your page is about. When your page comes up as a result, the search engine displays this description to the user, who can use it to determine how relevant it is to their search.
Why Do You Care?
A meta description is essentially a description of your page. So what? It doesn’t seem very important at first glance, but any SEO professional can tell you it is very important. You need to care about the meta description and what it displays.
First, the meta description is useful for human users conducting searches. They can use the description to determine how relevant the result is for their search. They might also decide how interesting your article or blog post sounds based on the description.
If you don’t specify a description yourself, Google and other search engines default to showing the first few lines of your post. While that can be okay, it isn’t always great. You’re much better to use a custom description. Have you ever seen a description that cuts off in the search results? The website owner hasn’t declared a custom meta description.
Writing for Robots
The other reason you need to care about the meta description is that it affects your SEO and thus your search engine ranking. Sites with customized meta descriptions rank higher than those without them, even if they have the same keywords.
Your description is probably more useful to the search engine bots crawling the web and indexing pages. These bots need to decide what a page is about, and they need to make that decision quickly. If you don’t specify the description text yourself, the bots may make mistakes in categorizing your page. This is especially true if your keyword doesn’t appear in your first few lines.
In short, if you don’t adjust the meta description, not only does your site look less inviting to human readers, it’s also less indexable for your robot visitors.
Better SEO is just a step away when you pay attention to the meta description.