Author: Ong Boon Leong
So we start, the importance of Meta Descriptions. Meta Descriptions’ sole purpose is to explain what your page is about. But wait, I did hear someone saying that Meta Descriptions are no longer important? Did someone say that it is completely outdated and no longer relevant because they are so prone to abuse? Well, they are partly correct. Meta Tags, even Meta Descriptions no longer help in rankings for Google (although some smaller search engines still use them for rankings), but they have become important in other aspects.
The increased popularity of dynamic sites have given a new “use” for meta tags. Dynamic sites are sites which draws information from a source usually a database (like MySQL) and outputs them on your browser for display. And these sites are template driven, which means the layout is the same for the different pages, just the data drawn from the database is different. The pages of the site essentially look the same, the header, menus, footers and others are all the same. Take for example a database driven forum page, after you strip away the tags, you will have a huge amount of code and text which looks identical to another page on the forum.
Duplicate Content. Ok, we now need to “blame” Google for the next problem. Google has a very strict duplicate content filter and they will send web pages which they believe to be duplicates to the Supplemental Results (which usually doesn’t rank very well). So just imagine you have a dynamic site like a forum as described above and if you do a search for your site, you will see that a lot of your pages have gone supplemental. Why? Because Google knows that for dynamic sites, different dynamic URLs can point to the same page. Google has wrongly thought that your pages are duplicates of each other even when they are not. One main reason is the lack of a significant unique page content. Unique from the other threads in your forum.
And now the Meta Descriptions come into play. The job of the Meta Description is to explain what your page is about. So with different Meta Descriptions on different pages, it is telling Google that these pages are actually different from each other and are not dynamically created duplicate pages. Althought not always successful (Google has it’s own mind), the Meta Descriptions can help reduce the number of supplemental pages for your forum. Some forum scripts allow dynamic changing of Meta Descriptions on different threads, so different threads will have different Meta Descriptions. It is important to understand that telling Search Engines what your site is about is very useful when it comes to rankings, even though the Meta Description itself doesn’t actually rank.
Another advantage of Meta Descriptions is that Google use it for describing your site in the result pages if you somehow rank for your page title. So if you have a well written tag, people searching for your keywords will understand your site better before they even visit your site, just like a sneak preview.
Arguably, Yahoo does seem to make use of both Meta Keywords and Descriptions, so you can improve your rankings for Yahoo by optimizing them.
I am not saying that Meta Descriptions are the solution to your site’s ranking problems, they are definitely not. But they can be useful to differentiate pages from each other especially if your pages look identical to each other. And they are pretty easy to setup as well, they just require some effort.
I have read reports that if your web pages have the same meta descriptions, they can actually hurt your individual pages in rankings but I believe that the main cause is still duplicate content filters. Although there is not hard and fast rule, a good description would be around 20-40 words with your main keywords sprinkled in them.
About the Author:
Boon Leong is the admin for Simple Sites Forums. A forum/directory promoting the use of simple layouts & designs to create elegant & stylish sites for the web. He is also administrating: Singapore Maid Agency Listing. A web portal with a comprehensive listing of maid agencies in Singapore.