Although Google has said in the past that meta descriptions are not a ranking factor, we believe they are still important for SEO. How can this be? Google, as well as other websites and social networks uses the meta description tag in the search engine results preview. So while it may not be a ranking factor, it is still important in the fact that it may affect the click through rate of the search results.
The proper format for a meta description is as follows:
<head> <meta name="description" content="On average a meta description should be 250-315 characters or about 4 lines of 512 pixels and should contain the primary keyword you are targeting."> </head>
In short, while Google may not use meta tags in their ranking factors, they are most definitely still used to classify websites as well as display results about them.
This is why we don’t recommend stuffing too many keywords into your meta description tag. Yes, one or two keywords may help categorize your site appropriately, but it is much more important that your meta description contains compelling copy than anything else.
As of December 2017, Google has effectively doubled the length of the descriptions within the search results which requires us to update this section of our guide. The short version is, instead of about 2 lines of 512px there is now 4 lines of 512 pixels or about 275-315 characters per result. We analyzed about 100 meta descriptions and found most of them to be about 315 characters.
Meta descriptions should remain roughly 315 characters in length, or about 4 lines of 512 pixels. An easy way to remember the length of your meta descriptions is it should roughly be 4 times the length of your title tag being that the title tag is 512 pixels wide and the meta description is the same thing, but on four lines.
But why did SEO’s start measuring meta description and title tags in pixels? In 2014 some changes were made to the search engine results page layout that really made SEO’s stop and think about the way they were measuring title tags and meta descriptions. Since then, a new standard has been set and mostly all SEO’s are measuring in pixels instead of characters:
Always remember quality over quantity. You aren’t going to win any special points by filling in the exact amount of pixels or characters for every description. The goal should be writing compelling copy that draws the visitor into your website, not stuffing keywords and getting as close to the maximum as possible.
There are circumstances when Google will completely ignore your meta description tag in the search results. We’ve seen this a number of times. If your meta description is full of spammy keywords, is way too long, is grammatically whack, or just doesn’t make sense Google might take text from somewhere else in your website or show a message of its own.
If you forgot to add a meta description to your page, Google might choose one for you, or if they can’t figure out the best description they may just leave it blank. This is inherently bad for CTR and not something you want to do, so fill in your meta descriptions especially for the important pages.
Remember that Google will bold keywords in the description when it matches the users search. This should be a nudge to SEO’s to use relevant and helpful keywords within your meta descriptions, especially for popular keywords.
Over time meta descriptions start to build up, like grimy shower scum. You might have forgotten a few, gotten lazy and written 3 words or accidentally pasted 1000 words into your meta description. It is generally a good idea to do a meta description analysis at least once per quarter or more often for larger websites.
Put it this way, having healthy meta descriptions is so important that if you start to make mistakes Google will warn you in Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools.)
Screaming Frog by far is our favorite tool for SEO analysis in general. One of its best features is analyzing meta descriptions. It is one of the few tools that can give you a comprehensive illustration of your meta-descriptions sitewide within one module.
From within Screaming Frog you are also able to filter the results to show only the results that are missing meta descriptions, are too long, too short, or other reasons.
Without Screaming Frog doing a site wide analysis of your meta descriptions could be quite cumbersome.
There are a number of other ways to do a bulk analysis of your meta descriptions. When doing a bulk analysis of your meta descriptions you want to confirm a number of elements:
Once you’ve gone through the basics, make sure that all meta descriptions make sense and read well in the search engines. It is one thing to have an optimized meta description but you really want to be sure that these look good and stand out amongst 9 (give or take) search results.
There are a lot of other special tricks that you might pick up along the way. For instance Google tends to cut off descriptions that contain the quote ” symbol.
I know we focused a lot on Google during this section, but Yahoo, Bing as well as other search engines tend to use the meta description tag in their search results. Although their guidelines might vary a bit, the overall rules are the same.
Yes, as of October 2017 Google might have no problem with the & symbol or the 🌽 emoji, but in a few months Google might decide to put the kibosh on them, and it’ll come out all garbled.
There are a few characters that have historically been ok to use within meta descriptions. Obviously it is ok to use the period “.” question mark “?” and comma “,” and you are probably good with most other special characters on the US keyboard 1 through 0 on the keyboard, but I’d still stay away from them.
Emojis also can be troublesome. Right now for instance emojis on some sites are ok:
…but Google is particularly finicky about emojis. Use them if you like, but use them at your discretion.