Google Explains Why It Rewrites Meta Descriptions
A meta description is a special HTML tag that is required to concisely describe the content of a web document. The meta description is filled in during technical SEO optimization. This meta tag, along with the keywords meta tag, is not used by Google algorithms in the website ranking process. This was stated by company engineer Matt Cutts.
However, meta descriptions are an important part of web pages. They are able to provide significant assistance in attracting clients. A well-formed Google meta description resembles a billboard where you can see a brief announcement of the content of a web document. The more attractive such an announcement is, the more likely it is to interest potential customers and get additional conversions from the search results.
There are situations when the SERP displays a completely different description than what is written in the meta description tag. Often webmasters and SEO specialists are confused about this. They wonder why compose and optimize the meta description if Google is engaged in amateur activities and does not show them in search results.
Why does this happen? How do you get Google to display the correct text? In this article, we will discuss the reasons for replacing meta descriptions with search algorithms and how to counter this, according to the statement of the official representative of Google, John Mueller.
Google Rewrites Meta Descriptions
According to a study by Ahrefs, Google rewrites page meta descriptions almost 63% of the time. Additionally, about 25% of highly ranked pages have no meta description at all.
The researchers concluded that this is because page descriptions tend to be based on one or more keywords. If the search does not contain a specific keyword, Google will compile the most relevant description itself. In addition, the meta description can be rewritten in the case of long-tail searches. This is easy to verify for yourself.
Let’s write in the search line the phrase “SEO report SEOquake” and look at the search results:
As you can see, Google has substituted the required hardcoded description. By slightly changing the search, we get a completely different result:
Google displayed the desired page but with a different description that was generated by the search algorithms. This suggestion was taken from the article on the page. According to Google, it is the most relevant to the request “create SEO report SEOquake.”
Why did this happen? The page contains the phrase SEO report multiple times. The meta description is also drawn around it. Google did not find direct matches to the search on the page and automatically generated its own description.
Google’s Take on Meta Description Rewriting
In May of this year, Google employee John Mueller held an online conference where he answered a question regarding rewriting meta descriptions.
A conference participant asked John Mueller why the description on his website was rewritten. He did not provide a specific example, so Google’s answer was vague. This answer clarified many details and details of how search algorithms work with meta descriptions.
The question highlighted the fact that the page description in the SERP not only changed but made no sense at all if the regional word “UK” was added to the branded search.
Earlier, we found the possible reason for the automatic generation of the description in a similar case. John Mueller himself did not deny that the meta descriptions have changed. He named the main reasons for such replacements:
- The absence of the meta description tag in the HTML code of the page: This reason is quite obvious because Google does not know what text to put in the description and generates its own. It’s worth noting here that Mueller also commented on the multiple uses of meta descriptions. According to him, if the page contains several meta description tags, Google will combine these descriptions into one. A company spokesman added that there was no benefit from this. The best solution would be to edit a single meta description, not add others.
- There is no match between the content of the Google meta description and the search. In this case, search algorithms ignore hard-coded descriptions, since they do not provide useful information to the end-user in their opinion. In some cases, this may indeed be true, so Google picks up the most relevant phrases on the page and adds them.
- Missing part of the keyword in the meta description: This reason completely follows from the second. The only difference is that some part of the search phrase is present in the text, but it does not fully match. This is exactly the reason we ran into when we did our research with the article SEO reporting on Seoquake. This is the answer to a conference participant’s question. If the search page did not contain any mention of the UK or the abbreviation, then Google independently compiled the most relevant text, even if it may not make sense to the user. Searches with long tails can also be attributed to this reason. Here you can make another experiment with the mismatch of the search and the page content.
Let’s enter a search «Nike» and we’ll see the following:
The screenshot shows the meta description of the nike.com page is displayed as it is written in the description tag. If you change the search a little, the result will be completely different:
We see exactly what the conference participant was talking about, a loosely coupled, almost meaningless meta-description, automatically generated by a search algorithm. The most likely reason is the lack of a direct reference to the home page on the page.
- Incorrect or poorly composed meta description: If the text is not meaningful, lacks an explanation of the content of the web document, or is spammed with keywords, Google is more likely to generate it on its own. Some webmasters make a gross oversight by adding to the meta description tag as a set of keywords or incoherent, meaningless phrases.
“In this case, the algorithms will realize that this is not very useful for users and will try to write a meta description themselves,” says Mueller.
Attention should be paid to his words about usefulness to end-users. A well-written meta description may not contain enough keywords, but give the user comprehensive information about the content of the page.
So what do we have? John Mueller explained in detail why Google decides to rewrite hardcoded meta descriptions. The main conclusion from his words is the following is the meta description, like all SEO-optimization, should be directed to the end-user. This criterion is fundamental to SEO, and the meta description is no exception.
Don’t be afraid to replace meta descriptions. Either way, it is impossible to foresee all possible long-tail keywords or variations on a page. The main thing is that the description is relevant to the main key phrases for which the web page is being promoted, and reflects the main topic of the document.
John Mueller’s full interview is available here:
Best Practices for Writing Meta Descriptions
Finally, let’s take a quick look at the best practices for composing meta descriptions on a page. How do I get Google to update the meta description? A detailed analysis of this topic is beyond the scope of this material. We will focus only on the most important nuances.
- Make the text as interesting and intriguing as possible. This will keep the user interested and will earn you more page clicks.
- Use keywords in moderation. Key phrases in the meta description are not necessary. To reveal the main theme of a well-optimized page, one of the necessary key phrases will involuntarily appear in the text. The text is readable and conveys the main purpose of the web document.
- Optimal length: To date, Google has changed the length of the meta description text several times. It is difficult to say exactly which length will be optimal. It is considered to be about 160 characters. The description could be longer, but Google will trim it. In this case, there is a risk that potential clients will not receive important information. Therefore, important information should be included at the beginning of the description.
In general, this is where the tech tips end. To interest the user, you can use different strategies and tricks. For example, in the text of the meta description, you can include a description of various bonuses, or you can take care of the seasonality of the texts. It all depends on the fantasy. Practice different options and find the most effective one.