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Contents of the Meta Description Tag

The contents of the meta description tag should describe what the page is about.

Some search engines may use the contents of the meta description in their results when your page comes
up for a search. There no way to force the search engines to display what you want as the description. All
you can to is write the best description for the page and hope that the search engines think that is better
than what they came up with.

Examples of what the search engines say about how they display the description for your page when it
comes up in a search result:

From Google:

Google’s creation of sites’ titles and descriptions (or “snippets”) is completely automated and
takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the
web.

We use a number of different sources for this information, including descriptive information in
the META tag for each page. Where this information isn’t available, we may use publicly
available information from DMOZ. While accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough,
they won’t impact your ranking within search results. We frequently prefer to display meta
descriptions of pages (when available) because it gives users a clear idea of the URL’s content.
This directs them to good results faster and reduces the click-and-backtrack behavior that
frustrates visitors and inflates web traffic metrics.

While we’re unable to manually change titles or snippets for individual sites, we’re always
working to make them as relevant as possible. You can help improve the quality of the snippets
displayed for your pages by providing informative meta descriptions for each page.

Changing a site title and description – Webmaster Tools Help – Google (there is a video and
more information on this page.)

And from Bing:

While search engines reserve the right to use a variety of inputs for filling out site description
snippets in their SERPs, webmasters who provide unique, concise, compelling, and keyword-
laden descriptions in their tag’s description attribute help guide the development of their
websites’ SERP captions.

When creating the description text, remember the following:

Create unique descriptions for each page, using keywords specific to that page
Keep the description text between 25 and 150 characters in length
Do not copy title tag text content as a description; this is a wasted opportunity to develop
more keywords and adds no value
Make the description text unique on every page
Don’t use any of the following special characters in description text: ‘”<>{}[]()

Bing Heads up on <head> tag optimization (SEM 101) – Webmaster Center blog – Site
Blogs – Bing Community

If you do not want the DMOZ description of your page used by the search engines (that honour this next
line) then add the following meta tag to the head of your page(s): (XHTML version shown)

<meta name="robots" content="NOODP" />

Each Meta Description Needs to Be Different


For each and every page the meta description needs to be different. When you something like a ecommerce
site with different similar products similar meta descriptions (just changing the product name for example)
doesn’t cut it.

Meta Description is to Describe the Page Contents


The text you put in the meta description needs to describe what the visitor will find on the page when they
click your link in the search results.

Make the Meta Description Enticing


The more enticing you make your meta description, the better your click through rate will be from the search
results, if the search engines use your meta description. Also consider the “other” bots that read your meta
description for inclusion into their directory or resource listing page. There is also the category listing or
article listing your CMS or ecommerce site will display if they use the meta description tag from the page.

Include Keywords in Your Meta Description


Use a keyword phrase in your meta description. The keyword(s) will be bolded in the search results if the
search engines use your meta description instead of their own. But don’t list a bunch of keywords. That just
looks spammy and really is of no help to the person who did the search when they see you in the search
results.

How Long Can My Meta Description Be?


Meta description length is a common question on the web. Everyone has their own opinion on how long the
meta description contents can be. The only publically states answer to this question (at the time of this
writing) I could find is from Bing:

Keep the description text between 25 and 150 characters in length

Bing Heads up on <head> tag optimization (SEM 101) – Webmaster Center blog – Site
Blogs – Bing Community

Now if you search around you will find that SEOmoz says:

Meta descriptions can be any length but search engines generally truncate snippets longer than
160 characters, For this reason it is best to keep meta descriptions between 150-160
characters.

Meta Description

The only real way to see how many characters your meta description should be is to do a test. The following
images show the meta description length in different search engine results:

This also shows how the different search engines will display the search result listing for SEOmoz when meta
description length is the search phrase plus that the keywords are bolded in the results.