Meta descriptions are displayed every time a user launches a search request and consequently looks at the Search Engine Result Pages. Beneath the blue-colored link, a short description text is displayed as snippet in order to draw attention to the content and to prompt users to click on it – given that a Meta Description is provided. If this is not the case, the first lines of the start of the text or other available content, e.g. directories, are displayed (cf. NOODP).
Meta Descriptions are 155 to 175 pixels long, including blank spaces. Additional signs will be cut off with “...”. Meta Descriptions are supposed to give users a hint of the URL’s content. That’s why direct customer approaches or short cues are often used to promote the URL’s content. It is also common to include certificates, quality seals or rating stars in order to convince customers of a website’s trustworthiness.
The Meta Description can be noted in a website’s head section. In doing so, the HTML syntax and the search engine criteria should be kept in mind.
An example: <head> <meta name=”description” content=”This description text shall illustrate the document’s content.”> </head>
‘name’ and ‘content’ are obligatory attributes. After opening, each meta tag needs to be closed again. Keywords should not be placed in the ‘content’ section, or at least not too many of them. Google recommends the use of Meta Descriptions on behalf of the user, not the search engine.. Keywords can be included as additional meta tag to the attribute ‘name’ with ‘keywords’, as well as optional indications of author or date of access via additional attributes.
As Meta Descriptions have been frequently used for keyword stuffing, Google reacted with changing their algorithms. Since then, Meta Descriptions no longer affect the ranking of websites, but merely serve as snippets for users . They are optional and their impact on the SERPs is controversial among experts. They however can influence the Click Through Rate and the Traffic, as the short text serves as indication of a website’s content for users and they consequently click on the URL if the content appears to be of interest for them.
When applying Meta Descriptions, it is important to note that they describe the content properly. This can be done individually for each website. At least for a web project’s main pages, it is recommended to provide a Meta Description. Not necessarily for search engines – but on behalf of the users.
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