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Can we hear from your experience what are reasonable numbers, what would make you adjust your meta tags and what you would consider as "safe"? Is there a formula for this?
For example if you have 1000 pages in total and WMT reports 100 of them to be short meta description would this alarm you or would you ignore it?
Thanks in advance.
The warning is telling you that those urls may not be well indexed, may not rank as well as they could, may not show a particularly helpful snippet, or may be a sign of a canonical problem on your site. If any of those issues matter in your cases, I'd suggest fixing things, no matter what the numbers are.
I rewrote the meta descriptions to be similar to descriptions that one would find on a restaurant menu. They describe their offerings, helping you to decide what to have to eat and I thought it was a good approach.
Too clean or overoptimized? I have no idea.
I do know that the competition for that site has little to no useful text as their descriptions for their pages so I do think it has helped in getting the visitors attention.
Never let any reporting slide though; even if you have to hire up just to check out the issues, do it. Otherwise, a simple dif script should be able to tell you if an issue truly exists, before WMT knows about it.
These are on sites that have little text content, content is mostly images with short descriptions. Pages do have unique title tag and on-page headings.
my "or else" theory would be for example:
If 10% of your pages are reported as short meta descriptions your entire site falls into -20 penalty/filter
If 20% of your pages are reported as short meta descriptions your entire site falls into -50 penalty/filter
No, nothing like that. A true "duplicate penalty" against all the rankings of an entire website is extremely rare, and pretty much reserved for the serious autogenerated spam. See the thread Duplicate Content demystified [webmasterworld.com] - it's in the Hot Topics area [webmasterworld.com], which is always pinned to the top of this forum's index page.