Many have discounted the benefits of the Meta Description Tag because it is no longer considered by Google’s ranking algorithms when evaluating where your site should rank in search results; it is generally assumed spammers abuse of the tag forced search engines to devalue it. This hasn’t left the Meta Description Tag a complete waste of space though. Before explaining why the Meta Description Tag still has an impact on rankings I will first cover what the tag is still widely known to be good for; prompting clickthroughs.
Fact: The Description Meta Tag Can Increase Clickthroughs
Nowadays if a webmaster writes a good representation of a webpage into the Meta Description Tag there is a good chance Google will use the tag as the description of the page in search engine results. As a result, the wise marketer will take this a step further and ensure the Description Meta Tag is further optimized to entice someone to click on her search result versus her competitor’s. Granted, this is only a big help if the page is actually ranking where viewers can see it; which requires the other facets of website marketing not covered in this article (search engine optimization, community building which is better than link building, etc.).
Now consider the next important piece of the puzzle – in my opinion it is likely Google tracks user behavior and considers it a negative when someone clicks on a search result and quickly returns (a “bounce”) to continue their searching.
The Unknown: Does Google Consider Bounce Traffic in Organic Rankings?
Although Google has not publicly confirmed it is using bounce data to determine rankings in organic results, recent news has Google using bounce data to provide different results when a searcher returns to Google after spending a significant amount of time on an page he/she visited from search results (see article “Reading May Influence AuthorRank” by AJ Kohn and confirmation of this from Google). The whole concept has also been hotly debated over the past 5+ years; here is an interesting study on rankings & bounce rate by the SEO Black Hat forums on the subject in 2008 which seemed to confirm what many of us thought at the time. Conversely in 2011 Google’s Matt Cutts carefully stated “to the best of my knowledge, the rankings team does not use bounce rate in any way.” But that was 2011 and this is 2012 which has been an insanely busy year for algorithm updates at Google; although I have to say that even at that time I took what Matt Cutts said with a healthy dose of salt.
With that said, let’s get real here! Google’s reputation and bottom line is 100% connected to the quality of search results it provides its users; if the results do not deliver what the searcher was looking for Google could lose the searcher to another search property. As a result, Google should take it very seriously when a statistically significant number of users are returning to Google to continue the same search after visiting a search result. Although an over generalization in such cases it stands to reason the website the users were on did not provide the kind of search experience Google is devoted to providing. As a result, if Google had a few smart people on staff (yeah!) the offending search listing would likely be reevaluated which could lead to a negative effect on rankings.
“Okay Ross… I am getting a little tired of the ‘coulds’ and ‘maybes’ here. Get to the point!”
I am sorry for the careful wording but no matter how strongly I feel my ideas are correct I am still only making an educated guess because I can’t actually know what Google is doing without being Google. With that said, the next component pulls everything together.
My Point – Based on Facts and Educated Conjecture
The clearer your Meta Description describes the content and purpose of a given page, the better chance you have of keeping a searcher on your page when they get to it. Now based on what I believe above, if the searcher stays on the page instead of going back to Google immediately (or quickly) your site’s page will have a better chance of at least maintaining the ranking it has or improving it.
= Make damn sure your Meta Descriptions concisely represent your page
By relation the above statement requires the following if you want your site to kick ass and take names:
- Write great content so that most of this discussion is academic at best; the better the content the stickier the page and less important this whole discussion is!
- Ensure social sharing options are built into your site to further the benefit of that visit from the search engines; your great content is bound to prompt some social sharing IF the options are there to do so.
- Provide links to related content on your own site wherever possible to try and keep the visitor engaged and on your site. For example, did you read the sad obituary for Mr Meta Keyword? He had a tragic life and deserved to rest peacefully; however, in a story fit for Halloween Google has reanimated Mr Keyword Tag for a purpose that is entirely chilling.
- Present the incredibly cool and awesome visitor with the ability to subscribe to your newsletter so that a conversion of some type is also gained from their visit
Now It is Time for Your Two Cents
Nothing about this hypothesis is rocket science. After all, in reality this is just SEO 101 academic since no matter what the outcome of this conjecture the fact remains that a well written Meta Description tag is a damn good idea and should be done anyway. I am just curious what my fellow SEOs and blog readers believe in this regard – how much faith do YOU put in what Google says versus what Google does? Thanks for reading and putting up with my (sometimes) silly rambling.