This link from Work Awesome made its way to me recently. I’m sure the blogger in question – who doesn’t appear to specialize in SEO – meant well and all, but he made a few assertions that need to be addressed.
I’m always amazed by how little attention even SEO-conscious writers will give their post’s meta description tag. The meta description is probably the most important on-page SEO factor you control after the title tag. Let’s look at this element in detail, and how you can use it to not only increase your article’s ranking in Google, but also its clickthrough rate.
The meta description can indeed be helpful for organic CTR, but for the purposes of impacting rankings, it’s basically useless. From SEOmoz:
Meta description tags, while not important to search engine rankings, are extremely important in gaining user click-through from search engine result pages (SERPs). These short paragraphs are webmasters opportunity to advertise content to searchers and let them know exactly what the given page has with regard to what they’re looking for. The meta description should employ the keywords intelligently, but also create a compelling description that a searcher will want to click. Direct relevance to the page and uniqueness between each page’s meta description is key. The description should optimally be between 150-160 characters. (Emphasis added)
Back to the Work Awesome post:
Since the meta description controls the summary that searchers will see in Google, having a better description than the other search results increases the odds that your result will be chosen.
Actually, it’s probably more correct to say that the meta description influences rather than controls the summary that Google displays. I’ll definitely grant that an optimized meta description carries a good deal of weight, but ultimately the algorithm dictates what is displayed, and it may choose to show whatever it wants. I’ve personally seen instances where a page that had a highly optimized meta description appeared in search results for two different queries; for one query part of the meta description appeared, and in the other content from midway down the page was shown, which in this case was more relevant to the search string in question.
Use a maximum of 153 characters. The reason for this is the same as the one for holding to the 65-character limit in the title tag, mentioned in the previous installment. Technically, you’re allowed up to 260 characters, but after 153, the description cuts off abruptly with ellipses, which tends to subtly make readers’ eyes glaze over and drift down to the next search result.
I used to be very precise, almost to the point of militancy, about the length of my meta descriptions. These days, not so much. Reason: I ran across a response on Google’s Webmaster Blog about meta description length, and their response was something along the lines of: “Quit worrying about the length, and start worrying about the content of the description. Is it useful? Does it prompt the user to click through? Is it easily understood? Is it relevant to the on-page content?”
The blogger in question, Andre Kibbe, is right that the meta description should basically be seen as a way to prompt people to click through on the organic listings. My preferred analogy is that the meta description should be treated like ad text for your organic rankings.
Understand, I’m not trying to pick on the guy, as he made some pretty good points. But the meta description shouldn’t be given more weight than it really deserves.