Your metadata doesn’t matter anymore … Just kidding. It does, sort of.
In 2015, we could say there’s no reason to write meta descriptions for your articles, because Google knows how to pull in content to display on its SERP (search engine results page) if you don’t. Sometimes it even pulls in good content.
However, smart publishers still write meta descriptions because the role of metadata is to guide Google in the right direction, and because without them, Google still often pulls in some pretty unhelpful and weird stuff. Better to give Google a baseline description to work with, than nothing at all.
A year or so ago, one of our clients noticed that the metadata they were putting into their articles wasn’t necessarily the data that was getting pulled into Google search results. So we decided to write a post explaining how to approach meta data.
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In days of old, metadata was very valuable. It’s what Google used to determine the content on our pages. When we wrote it, it showed up exactly that way in search engines. There was no discrepancy between what we put in the meta data fields, and what showed up on the page.
But over the past couple of years it’s become clear that metadata isn’t the be-all, end-all anymore.
We’ve known for some time that Google uses the content on your page to determine how your page should be ranked. It doesn’t use meta keywords anymore like it once did. And we also know that the links that point to your page give them more information about how valuable it is.
Inbound links, keyword density, social media shares, and the copy we use to describe our internal links to these pages are what Google uses to determine the context of our content. Google can read an article on Forbes about membership websites, see that the article points to one of our articles, and determine from that data, and other links, that the article talks about a specific topic. Depending on the quality of the link, and the number of shares, they can determine how worthy it is of being on the front page.
In the case of our client who discovered that the metadata Google was displaying was NOT equal to the metadata he had entered, we found that Google had decided to pull in some keywords from the article as they related to the search that was being conducted, and put them in the description of the article. Google is doing this more for the user experience than anything else. The user wants to know how the results relate to what they searched for, so Google highlights the keywords the user entered into their query.
They no longer rely only on the meta description for total guidance, instead they often create their own description as it relates to the searcher. Matt Cutts even admitted that he no longer fills out his meta description fields on his own blog, but that these fields are definitely read and may even receive warnings in Google Webmaster tools.
So, with that, here are some guidelines to live by … for now … until Google changes things again.
- Keep writing meta descriptions because Google only changes it on an as-needed basis. If you don’t write one, Google can pull in some really hokey stuff.
- Add any keywords you plan on using within 155 characters.
- Write unique descriptions. Metadata should always reflect the content on the page – usually the sub headline, which should already include your keyword.
- Don’t use quotes because when Google sees a quote, they often cut off the meta description.
- Keep including keywords and proximity keywords in your articles because when Google tries to be helpful and create a meta description using the keyword someone searched, they need those keywords in the content to pull from.
Even though Google has, for a few years now, been telling us they don’t use meta descriptions to measure rank, they certainly use them to increase clicks. And judging by the way they’re pulling in sentences with keywords when the meta descriptions don’t include those keywords, I’d say writing meta descriptions with relevant keywords is still very important in the grand scheme of things. For now anyway.