SEO 101: Does the Description Tag Matter?
Ian Lurie Sep 4 2009
Short answer: Not to your rankings.
The description tag is one of those ‘meta’ tags you hear about a lot. If you clicked view >> source in your web browser, it’d look like this:
It’s a bit of text that summarizes the page. There’s no real limit on length. Most search engines will show the first sentence or two, so make sure your best stuff is at the beginning of the tag.
It doesn’t impact rankings
The description tag doesn’t impact the rankings. Or it has so little impact it’s irrelevant. Either way, there’s no point in stuffing it with keywords.
But it does impact clickthrough
That said, the description tag is important, and it pays to write a good one.
Search engines often use the contents of the description tag as the search ‘snippet’ on a search results page:
A well-written description tag will get more clicks. In testing, I’ve seen #5-ranked search listings get more clicks than #4 listings because of the description tag.
I’ve already talked about 3 things your description tag must contain.
Now you’re thinking, “Ian, you are a butthead. You make us do all this writing. Now you’re telling us to write even more, but this time for some stupid meta tag that doesn’t even help me move up in the rankings?!
Well, yeah, I am. But there are some alternatives.
3 ways to automate the description tag
You can generate your description tag automatically based on content on the page. Here are a few ideas:
- If you’re running an e-commerce site, grab the first 2 sentences of your product description and insert it into the description meta tag.
- On a blog, grab the blog excerpt.
- If you’re using another kind of content management system, grab the first 2 sentences of the page content or, if you have both article titles and subtitles, insert the subtitle as the description tag.
If your developer says that’s impossible, I don’t know what to tell you. Oh, wait, yes I do: Fire them.
Make sure you can always customize your description tag, even if you do automate it. Here’s why…
Optimize the description tag for clickthrough, not rankings
If a particular page on your site suddenly grabs a top ranking for ‘Colonial Viper’, you’ll want to maximize clickthrough from that page. So you can change your description meta tag from this vanilla bit of fluff:
To something that tells the reader what they’re going to see, like:
Photos of the coolest Lego-built Colonial Viper ever. I’d fly this frakking thing into battle any day of the week.
(it really is that cool, by the way – take a look)
Make that change and I promise you’ll see 10-20% higher clickthrough on your listing.
Not rankings, clicks
Every time an SEO ‘professional’ tells me they helped a client move up in the rankings by ‘optimizing their meta tags’ I grind about a millimeter off of my molars in an effort to not knee them in some terribly sensitive spot.
But that doesn’t mean the description meta tag is unimportant. Optimize it, and you’ll get more clicks from the rankings you already have.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More