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Meta descriptions are one of the most contentious topics in the SEO community.

Depending on who you ask, meta descriptions are either an essential, indispensable element of an SEO strategy or they are as useful as a chocolate teapot. With so many conflicting opinions, it can be difficult to know whether meta descriptions are worth your time.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the role of meta descriptions, how they fit into a holistic on-page SEO strategy, and whether they can actually help you to rank higher and attract more clicks.

First things first, what is a meta description?

A meta description is an HTML tag on a webpage that is used to provide a brief summary of what users can expect to find when they click through to a web page.

What is a meta description - image

Google (and other search engines) display meta descriptions in the search engine results pages under the meta title to provide further context for users looking to make a decision on whether or not to click through to a website.

While it has changed over the years, in 2024 the recommended meta description length falls between 150-160 characters. If you do not specific a meta description in the HTML of a web page, Google will write a meta description based on what it deems to be the most relevant snippet from your web page.

Are meta descriptions an SEO ranking factor?

A well written meta descriptions can improve click-through-rate (CTR), however, meta descriptions are not a direct SEO ranking factor.

This was confirmed as recently as 29th of April 2022 when Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller said in an SEO office hours session:

“The meta description is primarily used as a snippet in the search results page. And that’s not something that we would use for ranking.”

So, while John Mueller confirmed that Google does not use meta descriptions as a ranking factor, he did further elaborate that meta descriptions can (indirectly) assist your SEO efforts in other ways.

“Having a good snippet on a search results page can make it more interesting for people to actually visit your page when they see your page ranking in the search results.”

What this means is that while Google may not use meta descriptions to rank your content, a well-crafted meta description can increase website click-through-rate and therefore increase organic website traffic.

How often does Google rewrite meta descriptions?

Accordingly to a recent study, Google rewrites the meta descriptions that appear in search results almost 63% of the time.

Google rewrites 2/3 of meta descriptions - infographic

That means in almost two-thirds of cases, Google is overwriting the specified meta description on a page and using other data points from the page to create a relevant meta description.

Further data from the same study found that 25% of top-ranking pages in Google don’t have a specified meta description for the page. Instead, these pages rely on Google to select a relevant snipper from the web page that is shown in the search results.

It is also important to remember that Google may generate different meta descriptions for the same page to show in search results depending on the search that has been entered by the user.

Why does Google rewrite so many meta descriptions?

The reason that Google shows a different meta description from the one you have specified on your website is because they believe that they have found a snippet on your web page that is more relevant to the user query.

In order to provide the best possible search engine experience for users, Google wants to show a meta description that accurately reflects the contents of a web page. As such, Google will look for a piece of content or an extract from the page that best suits the user query.

Your web page may show multiple different meta descriptions to different users based on the search query that they have used in Google. In some cases, Google may be showing your specified description, in other cases, Google my find a snippet from your page that is more relevant to the user.

What can I do to make google show the correct meta description?

While it is not possible to force Google to use the meta description that you have specified for your website, there are a number of steps that you can take that will encourage Google to use the meta description that you have written.

1. Ensure that the supplied meta description accurately reflects the contents of your web page

If you have written a web page about the benefits of Green Apples vs. Red Apples, your meta description should reflect pertinent information from your article.

2. Avoid using your meta description to “sell” the contents of your web page

One of the most common mistakes that we see is users attempting to do a hard sell through their meta description. Instead of trying to sell to users in the SERPs, focus on creating a description that provides an accurate description of your page.

3. Write an engaging meta description

Writing a description the genuinely encourages users to click through due to interest is an excellent way to increase the chances of your specified description being displayed.

4. Don’t over-optimise

You do not need to cram all of your keywords in your meta description. Remember, meta descriptions do not directly impact rankings – use them to encourage users to click through from the SERPs – not to fit a keyword density.

If meta descriptions are not a ranking factor, should you even both?

So then, if Google rewrites 63% of meta descriptions, is it even worth writing meta descriptions?

While meta descriptions are often re-written, a well-written meta description that appears in search engine results can help to improve your click-through rate (CTR).

If you cannot be bothered to write a meta description, we recommend going through and finding a 150–160-character (including spaces) section on your page that accurately describes what users can expect to find on your web page.

If you do not specify a meta description, Google will scan your web page to find what it deems to be the most relevant section and use that as your meta description.

For the effort required, we always recommend taking the time to write an engaging meta description that can help to (indirectly) improve rankings by driving a higher click through rate.

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