Meta descriptions are those little lines that appear below the title tags which explain key features of a business or website. Early on it was recommended that they be only about one hundred and sixty characters long. If they were too long, they were cut off. If they didn’t make sense or there wasn’t one there, then Google would generate one. Meta-descriptions were later expanded to three hundred and twenty characters in order to give end users more information.
Although meta-descriptions are not a direct ranking signal, they do help improve page performance in multiple ways. They also improve visibility through user click-throughs. A good meta description can drive tons of business, and a poor one can have devastating effects on a web page. Since Google is still making changes to the meta’s requirements and performance, it is not likely that they will retire it.
Why Might They Be Phased Out?
The meta description is one of the user-controlled fields that can be manipulated. Although it is common knowledge that keywords in the meta don’t affect a page’s performance in the rankings, uninformed users still stuff the meta field full of keywords in hopes of a boost. Since the world’s largest tech giant on the web ignores the meta in this way, people jump to the conclusion that it is ignored completely and will soon die. That is not even remotely true.
Google has recommendations for the meta description because they want it to genuinely represent the web page in order to offer a valuable web-surfing experience to the end user. It is a convenient snippet of information about the page developed to allow users to make a quick informed decision about whether to visit it. The three main elements Google recommends a meta-description to have are necessary characteristics. They want the meta to be a genuine representation of the page, be unique to the page and fit within the character limit. It’s pretty simple.
The Meta Future
It is highly unlikely that the meta-description will gain more relevance in the search rankings. It is also unlikely that they would be phased out completely. In order to get rid of them, there would need to be something in place to do their job better. The meta description summarizes a page’s content for end users in a way that is quick and convenient.
One remote possibility is that all meta descriptions could become auto-generated the same way poorly written or absent ones are now. This would help get rid of metas that misrepresent the pages. However, it would make a lot more work for Google. Studies show that Google already publishes close to fifty percent of websites’ metas. It would also take power away from the publisher. Right now, the publisher has power over content, SEO strategy and meta descriptions. They would likely frown at the loss.
It is not likely that the meta-description will die or be replaced any time soon. What probably will happen is Google will continue to use meta as the main feature of the SERPs. They are as important as they need to be and may become more important in this respect. The meta is important enough that Google increased its length. What that means for publishers is that they need to leverage the meta to gain the highly sought click-through traffic surfing the web.
Meta descriptions are like free advertising for marketers and SEO professionals. They should be treated with care and consistency just like other content on the page. Use them strategically and get used to them because they’re not going anywhere.