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Google Updates Meta Description Documentation

Sep 9, 2022 8:00:00 AM

Google has updated its documentation on meta descriptions outlining the best practices (and worst) to use when creating high-quality descriptions that will appear in search results.

The specific change made to the documentation was for controlling the snippet in search results.

Meta Description In Search Snippets

The summaries and descriptions you see in the search results for sites that rank are called "search snippets."

Google's documentation on search snippets shows how you can control what is shown in actual search results. Search snippet data is generated from meta descriptions on pages and in some cases, it can come from the actual content on the page itself.

In the past, Meta descriptions that were generated from page content were called ransom notes because they would occasionally be mismatched snippets with keywords stuffed in them.

Examples Of Meta Descriptions

Google provided examples of both good and bad meta descriptions. Here are four examples of poorly created meta descriptions:

Bad Category Examples

  1. List of keywords - Google calls out meta descriptions that are simply a list of Keywords describes meta descriptions that contain keywords and don’t bother to summarize anything.
  2. Same description is used for every news article - This is when meta descriptions are templated and are the same for different web documents.
  3. Doesn’t summarize the page - This is a common mistake for meta descriptions. It’s easy to fall into the habit of writing meta descriptions focused on the keyword phrase or the topic and forget to summarize what the page is about.
  4. Too short - This is self-explanatory and kind of similar to the previous one. If the meta description is so concise that it doesn’t summarize the webpage, then it’s not optimized.

Examples Of Better Meta Descriptions

After providing insight on what not to do when creating meta descriptions Google went on to list examples of meta descriptions they approve of.

  1. Describe the business, not the webpage - the webpage but a description of what the business is about. Essentially, that’s information about the business users would like to know.
  2. Use webpage content - The second example o*f a good meta description is one from a news article that uses a snippet from the article itself. That’s interesting, too. If the CMS has a function that retrieves the first 70 or so words from each piece, then that means it’s important to summarize what the article is about in the very first sentence, which is a good practice to begin with. Using the first sentence from a page of content is a solution used in some forum software, so it’s good to see that approach validated.
  3. Summarize - In the third best practice, Google says that summarizing the entire webpage is the best way to approach meta descriptions. This is probably the essence of what Google wants from a meta description.
  4. Be specific and detailed - The last example is a meta description for a product page. The recommendation for this situation is to focus on the specific details of the product for sale on a product page.

Here's an example Google provided of a meta description for a product page:

"<meta name="description" content="Self-sharpening mechanical pencil that autocorrects your penmanship. Includes 2B auto-replenishing lead. Available in both Vintage Pink and Schoolbus Yellow. Order 50+ pencils, get free shipping.">"

Best Practices For Meta Description

Google's updated documentation that includes examples of high-quality meta descriptions is really helpful for those trying to improve their search snippets.

The content in the updated section about meta descriptions is largely consistent with previous articles published by Google on the same topic.

Back in 2007, for example, Google stated that it is acceptable to repurpose on-page content for meta descriptions:

“For larger database-driven sites, like product aggregators, hand-written descriptions are more difficult.

In the latter case, though, programmatic generation of the descriptions can be appropriate and is encouraged—just make sure that your descriptions are not “spammy.”

Good descriptions are human-readable and diverse, as we talked about in the first point above. The page-specific data we mentioned in the second point is a good candidate for programmatic generation.”

Google recently updated its documentation on how to scroll the website snippet in search results. The changes focus on giving examples of what constitutes a high-quality meta description for different kinds of webpages.

The meta description summarizes the page's overall meaning and is both descriptive and accurate. If the page is about a product, describe it in the meta description. If the page is educational, summarize its entire content.

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