Meta descriptions have long been considered an important ranking factor. They contain your keywords, reflect search terms, and provide an accurate description in search engine result pages of what your web page is about.

But over the years, as SEO practices have developed through natural progress or by aligning with Google updates, should you consider using them for all your pages?

Following effective keyword research, you’ll start adding your content to your CMS. By second-nature you'll always write meta descriptions. This is best practice. But let's consider some instances when you may (or may not) use meta descriptions.

  1. The see-saw changes to character length
  2. Time and money
  3. Let Google do some work
  4. SEO equality
  5. The essentials

1. The see-saw changes to character length

Over the years the character length of meta descriptions has changed. From 150-165, to 260-275, and then down to the current 160 characters. Plus mobile description length is different to desktop.

These fluctuations forced businesses to amend the length of meta descriptions, only to change them again when the character limit changed back.

There may be another instance in the future when Google decides to again update meta description length. If this happens do you have the inclination (and time) to dive into your CMS and update your content? If you don't, then don't worry too much as Google can rewrite your meta description, which we’ll go into later in this article.

2. Time and money

Trawling through your website updating meta descriptions is a time consuming process that costs you money.

Is your time better spent squeezing as much 'SEO juice' as possible by optimising meta descriptions on pages with high search volume? Or do you put your efforts into all your pages?

Either way, it's important to note that Google sometimes uses the meta tag from a page to generate a search results snippet if it ‘thinks’ it gives users a more accurate description than would be possible purely from the on-page content.

3. Let Google do some work

Touching on the above point, even when you do provide a meta description, Google will often produce a snippet for you.

In fact, according to a Yoast survey carried out between Google's character length changes, two-thirds of cases showed that Google used elements of the first paragraph to produce a SERPs description for web pages.

With this in mind, maybe it's better to focus on getting that first paragraph just right, instead of thinking about the meta description.

A bad meta description can drive traffic away from your web page, So being at the mercy of Google can be a good thing. If Google knows best then your content is being optimised by the best resource.

According to Google’s John Mueller one reason meta descriptions are re-written is because Google wants to accurately match user search queries with the page. The more information in the meta description, the more context the page has.

A well-crafted and descriptive first paragraph can be considered as more organic compared to a static meta description. Whichever approach you opt for, ensure you use descriptive text with long-tail keywords that accurately describe the page.

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4. SEO equality

Do all your web pages carry the same SEO weight? Which pages do you consider the most valuable in driving traffic and conversions? Are you cannibalising your content?

If you have a big website it may have thousands of web pages, and may include blog articles that are years old, and possibly no longer relevant.

Do your cookie policy, privacy policy pages etc. really need meta descriptions? A website audit is the ideal opportunity to identify which web pages need to be re-optimised. This could involve updating meta descriptions or removing them altogether.

The essentials

There are types of web pages that unequivocally should get the most attention:

  • Home page
  • Product/Services/Category pages
  • Highly visited pages
  • Pages with rich media

The Home page

We all know the homepage is the gateway to your website. So it goes without saying that an accurate description is vital to informing potential visitors what your business is about. An informative description is even more pressing when you consider that most home pages aren't very text heavy as they often contain navigable image tiles and videos etc.

Product/Services/Category pages

If you want to sell your product or service you must accurately describe what exactly you're offering. These pages are critical to the success of your business so getting meta descriptions spot on is vital. Your descriptive text should include the benefits, specification, price, any special offers and a call to action.

Highly visited pages

Pages with significant impression volume shouldn't be ignored. These could include authoritative pages like blog posts/articles and maybe some pages you didn't expect to generate high traffic. Either way, meta descriptions should be analysed and updated accordingly to maintain volume.

Pages with rich media

Often, pages with videos, apps or widgets have a low text ratio. For example, you may have a gallery page showcasing a list of videos. The likelihood is there'll be a short opening paragraph introducing the page, and maybe some short descriptive text beneath the video.

Because of this, the meta description must be precise. It should provide an accurate reflection of the page content so that users know exactly what to expect. The rule of thumb here is: the less on-page text = greater importance of the meta description.

In a perfect world, all pages should have meta descriptions. But unfortunately, time and resource constraints mean we don't live in one. It's up to you which approach to use for on-page SEO. If you have the time to audit your website regularly and apply the necessary page optimisations then you'll be on the right path to increasing and maintaining your SEO efficiency.

At Codehouse, we’ll help you get started with your SEO. We’ll perform three essential phases that will improve your website’s search engine performance:

If you want to find out more about how our SEO services can help your business, get in touch.