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Is the meta description hurting your rankings?

     

Musicarl

9:40 pm on Jul 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



We run interviews on one of our sites, and a few months ago changed the meta descriptions to make them more, well, descriptive. I think it made things worse in the rankings. To compare:

First version:
meta name="Description" content="Interviews: Subject Name."

Second version:
meta name="Description" content="Experts discuss the expertness, Interviews: Subject Name."

A Google search for interviews in the first version gets better results, and displays on the search page the first question and part of the answer under the link, which is pretty compelling.

For the second version, the search results are poor, and this is displayed on the search page under the link:
"Experts discuss the expertness, Interviews: Subject Name. Some stuff from the bottom of the page like Share this interview: Delicious Digg"

Maybe it's our syntax, but it looks like in this case the more detailed description is hurting our results.

jdMorgan

9:54 pm on Jul 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jdmorgan is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



> A Google search for interviews in the first version gets better results...
...probably because the word "interviews" is closer to the beginning of that description.

You'll need to decide what keywords you want to rank for, in what order of importance, and how much competition you have for each keyword and keyphrase fragment. If you can put those words in that order and use the result to compose a natural-sounding and compelling description, you will likely achieve better results.

I don't know your audience, but I'm more likely to come to an interview page based on a search for a person's name and/or field of expertise, rather than a search for "expert interview" or anything like that. Make sure you are really targeting the keywords and phrases that will drive traffic.

Jim

tedster

11:22 pm on Jul 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



If a change only to meta descriptions directly affected rankings, that would be a new wrinkle. The most recent official word from Google is that meta descriptions are n ot used in the ranking algorithm.

There certainly are indirect ranking effects from the meta description [webmasterworld.com], including lower clickthrough rates that can cause a decent ranking to fall away if the url doesn't perform.

jdMorgan

11:36 pm on Jul 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jdmorgan is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



Right, I'm thinking of two things: CTR and the effect on the selected "snippet" text if the description text is being deemed a poor match to the search terms. I've seen a rather large effect of Google's CTR monitoring on the top results where I place there. I am assuming from the description of the situation that CTR must be playing a part here, precisely because the description itself isn't (or hasn't recently been) a large player in ranking.

Jim

Musicarl

12:51 am on Jul 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



Thanks for the replies guys. What I find odd is that Google is using the meta description on their search results to describe the page along with some text pulled from the bottom of the page. I never put much stock in the meta description, but something is causing Google to use it to describe our pages instead of pulling body content.

Reno

1:01 am on Jul 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



If a change only to meta descriptions directly affected rankings, that would be a new wrinkle.

Also, in GWT they will list as an "issue" when a meta description is too short, so presumably they are encouraging webmasters to go back in and make those descriptions longer (and thus more useful). I'd like to think they would not do that if, in adding more words, the ranking could suffer.

..................................

wheel

1:11 am on Jul 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wheel is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



>>>There certainly are indirect ranking effects from the meta description, including lower clickthrough rates that can cause a decent ranking to fall away if the url doesn't perform.

I read that thread and didn't immediately see the last part of your sentence. I'm reading that as stating that if you rank, and have poor CTR on your listings, you can lose your rankings. Is this the case? In other words, Google is using CTR in the serps as a ranking factor?

Patrick Taylor

10:16 am on Jul 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



In other words, Google is using CTR in the serps as a ranking factor?

I wondered that too.

For pages that contain a significant amount of unique text, I don't use a meta description. Google appears to make a good job of selecting a snippet that fits the search phrase, provided the page does indeed contain plenty of unique text.

I notice that Wikipedia doesn't use a meta description either.

[edited by: Patrick_Taylor at 10:27 am (utc) on July 18, 2008]

Simsi

10:48 am on Jul 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



Interesting. So this raises a question in my mind:

Google shows the snippet from META DESC to users and highlights words that are used in the search. If you omit the META and assuming you have decent text on the page, does this mean that because the text is longer and thus potentially more relevant because of the increase in key-phrases, that you could potentially rank better in more searches by omitting the META tag altogether?

Patrick Taylor

10:58 am on Jul 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



My thinking is that a unique META DESCRIPTION is more important on pages with little unique descriptive text (eg: product pages). In my experience of this, the snippet is then likely to contain a fragment of the description plus some other text from somewhere on the page, perhaps even the footer.

But for more descriptive pages, omitting the meta description is more likely to produce a tasty snippet, leading to more click throughs for a bigger variety of search phrases. Perhaps this is Wikipedia's thinking too.

Whether this affects actual ranking, I don't know.

jimbeetle

2:45 pm on Jul 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jimbeetle is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



If you omit the META and assuming you have decent text on the page, does this mean that because the text is longer and thus potentially more relevant because of the increase in key-phrases, that you could potentially rank better in more searches by omitting the META tag altogether?

Not really. As Ted stated above, the meta description is not used for ranking purposes, but is, in some cases, used to generate the snippet. If used as the snippet, a solid description could help increase click through rate.

And to go on a bit. As far as we know, the way Google works (simplified), is to select a set of candidate results, run them through it's filters and whatever else it does upon serving, and then combine them with the snippets (which come from a different bucket), as it spits out the final results.

So basically, the only part the snippet plays is in what is presented to the user.

potentialgeek

7:19 am on Jul 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



> If a change only to meta descriptions directly affected rankings, that would be a new wrinkle. The most recent official word from Google is that meta descriptions are not used in the ranking algorithm.

What about penalties? Meta tags can help get you 950d or other spam penalties. To be precise, Google says the meta description doesn't help ranking, but it never said the tag can't help you get a penalty. It's not immune both ways (positive/negative). In fact the algo patent clearly says all components of a webpage are considered to determine if it's spam, including tags.

The example of the TS:

First version:
meta name="Description" content="Interviews: Subject Name."

Second version:
meta name="Description" content="Experts discuss the expertness, Interviews: Subject Name."

Clearly the second version is more spammy than the first. Repetition and synonyms are the target of the phrase-based spam index algo.

To the issue of Google suggesting meta tags are too short or too long. I would not recommend reading too much into that. Just because Google pointed it out doesn't mean it affects ranking improvements. Stop for a minute and ask whether a meta tag is irrefutable evidence of a quality site.

Also, to the question of CTR and rankings, it's still to early to guess on that one, too. Matt Cutts, IIRC, already said it's a noisy signal for an algo to take seriously. Frankly I don't see how that signal is ever going to get much less noisy. Authority links inbound to a site are a clear signal. CTR isn't. Even though it may get you a lot more traffic (assuming your page title tag is so wishy washy it needs a full description).

Personally I judge a SERP's links based on the quality of the domain name more than the meta tag. Unfortunately Google is unable to write code into its algo that can recognize quality domain names.

p/g

g1smd

8:00 am on Jul 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member g1smd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



When building the snippet, Google uses the meta description if it is of high enough quality (i.e. it matches the query, and matches the page content), or dumps it and uses body content or ODP data instead.

If the snippet is too short, that will also lead to it being dumped. You get a clue about that in a site:domain.com search when Google shows body content in the snippet for some results.

tedster

8:27 am on Jul 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



Meta tags can help get you 950d or other spam penalties. To be precise, Google says the meta description doesn't help ranking, but it never said the tag can't help you get a penalty. It's not immune both ways (positive/negative).

I don't think a meta description can get you a spam penalty on Google. I never saw any evidence of that, not even with that crazy, all-over-the-place, -950 gizmo. Not that Google "couldn't" use the signal - you're definitely right that they can - but I never saw evidence that they do.

 

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