Use the META Description Tag for SEO

Written on January 19, 2007 – 2:32 am | by Shell Harris |

52 SEO Tips

Should I really use a META tag for Search Engine Optimization?

I deal with many questions from curious website owners everyday. One question I have a new answer for is, “Should I use META tags on my site when do search engine optimization?” Old Answer: It couldn’t hurt, but don’t worry about them, the search engines ignore them for the most part. New answer? Read on…

The new answer is yes, you should use META tags on your site. The keyword META tag is still not used by search engines but when submitting to directories, a valuable use of time by the way, the META keywords are used in many cases to automatically fill in the keywords for your site in that directory.

Even more amazingly, the META description tag has soared in importance. How so you ask? Google has started showing the META description in its search results when certain criteria are met.

The criteria being used appears to be very simple, unlike many of the other things Google does. When the keyword or search terms appear in the META description, the META description is used instead of the snippet of text containing the keyword on your page.

For example, if you do a search in Google for ‘Big Oak SEO’ you will see our site in the first listing and the description used is our META description tag. All three words being searched for are also in our META description.

If you do a search for ‘big oak client’ you will see the first listing is pulling a snippet of text from the page itself. Since ‘client’ is not in our META description, it uses a snippet of text from the page where all three words can be found.

Where should you use a META description tag?

Every website should use a META description tag on the home page at the very least. This way you can say exactly what you want and not worry the snippet of text being used is not best choice for your message. What this really means is Google is giving us some measure of control.

And now that we have this knowledge and control, how best to use it? This allows us to take off our search engine optimizer hats and don our search engine marketer hats. Think of what you can say in the brief sentence that will entice a user to click your link rather than the one above or below. You can put your phone number in the META description for starters or how about being really creative and offer a discount or advertise a sale. Tell them your unique selling proposition. It should be a one sentence phrase already in your head. The only caveat to remember is that your META description will only show if the search term is in the META description. While this can be tricky, it can be done with some forethought. You can do this for all of your targeted pages and have dozens of marketing messages.

Use the META description wisely: target your market and entice your customers. Do not abuse this control and put outlandish, untrue or slanderous statements as I am sure Google will be watching; and if this technique is abused the META description may have seen it last search result this time.

All web sites should use the META description tag. If you have too many pages to add it to, at least put it on your home page and any core pages that bring in search result traffic. Google will use the META description you place on your site if the user searched for a keyword that exists in the META description. Google is giving us some measure of control.

How best to use this you may ask? You need to think like a radio advertising writer. What can you say in one brief sentence that will entice a user to click your link rather than the one above or below. A little sensationalism never hurt.

A brand message can help or you can put your phone number in the META description. Think out of the box; how about a offer a discount or advertise a sale. Be careful though, if you put a sale message and when the sale ends your message might still display until Google updates your site listing. You don’t want your text in the search results still announcing a sale that is over. Ultimately you should tell searchers your unique selling proposition.

Remember that your META description will only show if the search term is in the META description. While this can be tricky, it can be done with some forethought. You can do this for all of your targeted pages and have dozens of marketing messages.

Shell Harris co-founded Big Oak on January 1, 2004. In a previous career he was a print & web designer and often developed the sites he designed before focusing on his current passion for search engine optimization and Internet marketing. He is an avid researcher, SEO specialist, company mouthpiece and is always looking for the next big thing in Internet Marketing.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+  

  1. 3 Responses to “Use the META Description Tag for SEO”

  2. By webdesign in rotterdam on Jun 23, 2009 | Reply

    Maybe you could write or link to a webpage where it says how big the tag must be at maximum

  3. By Alyssa Duvall on Jun 24, 2009 | Reply

    Most of the search engines have a maximum number of characters they will display before the meta description is cut off. Google is known to be the shortest and we try to keep ours at 155 characters (including spaces). This means getting creative with the wording, punctuation and abbreviations.

    Other sources concur with that. I found this on SEOMoz.com: “Character limits – currently Google displays up to 160 characters, Yahoo! up to 165 and MSN up to 200+ (they’ll go to three vertical lines in some cases). Stick with the smallest – Google – and keep those descriptions at 160 characters (including spaces) or less.”

  4. By Jaya on Jul 27, 2009 | Reply

    word count of meta description for each search engine is different, so we should create meta description in this way it will accepted by all search engine and covers all keywords , no repeated keywords etc.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.

Big Oak SEO Blog

This SEO blog is provided by Big Oak SEO, a SEO Company. Most blog posts are related to search engine optimization, short reviews, SEO tips and increasing site conversions. Email us at contact@bigoakinc.com or give us a call 804-741-6776 to see how we can help your company. More

Want to know what Shell is doing?
Follow Shell with Twitter, just don't expect too much.

Want to subscribe?

 Subscribe in a reader Or, subscribe via email:    
Enter your email address:  
Find entries :