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.
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.
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.
You can generate your description tag automatically based on content on the page. Here are a few ideas:
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…
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.
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 founder and CEO of Portent Inc., an internet marketing agency that has provided internet marketing, including PPC, SEO, social and analytics services, since 1995. Read More