Meta Description Tag

HTML meta tags have been part of search engine optimization (SEO) strategies since the dawn of the first search engines. As SEO has evolved the importance of the meta tags has steadily decreased. The meta keywords tag was very important in the early days, with webmasters stuffing it with every related word they could think of. These days the meta keywords tag has very little importance but the meta description tag still can be an important factor in search engine results pages (SERPs).

What is a Meta tag?

Meta tags are not seen on web pages and are added by web site authors to help describe the content of the page itself. The Meta Description tag contains a short description of the page’s content while the Meta Keywords tag contains keywords likely used to find the page in a web search. See the code samples below.

<meta name="description" content="This is an example of a meta description. This will often show up in search results." />
<meta name="keywords" content="meta, description, tag" />

Google Factor

Google announced in September of 2009 that neither meta descriptions nor meta keywords factor into it’s web search ranking algorithms. However, Google may use meta descriptions in its search results when advanced search operators are used to match meta tag content and also to pull preview snippets on search result pages (see below).

Meta Description

To be clear, the content of the meta description does not influence the order of the results but may affect what is shown on the SERPs. The key is what is searched upon by the user. The meta description is significant since that is what may show in the search engine results pages (SERP) below the page title. Without the meta description tag there is no way to reliably know what will show in the SERPs beneath the title. Search engines will grab a few snippets from the page content in the absence of a meta description tag.

Meta Keywords

These have no bearing whatsoever on the Google search engine results pages. Keyword meta tags can serve as a reference guide to keep track of the terms pages are being optimizing for but should not be relied upon to boost search ranking. Yahoo! apparently continues to use keyword meta tags but their importance has diminished.

Verdict – Including the meta keyword tag may offer some insurance but should be a very low priority with organic SEO.

Facebook Factor

When you add a link to your Facebook wall, it automatically pulls the title tag, meta description and lets you choose an image. Think of the meta description as a way to entice users to click on your link from a search engine results page (SERP) or checking out a page shared on Facebook.

Verdict – It is good practice to have a concise, well-written meta description that contains important keywords to ensure the SERPs show relevant snippet text below the page title. This will help ensure a click-through for searches on your preferred keywords.

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