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One Reason to Scrap Your Meta Description

I use meta descriptions. I like to have some control over that message, even if Google decides to use a snippet of content from the page instead some of the time. Heck, I even still use meta keywords, even though they have been dead for awhile, and even the zombies were recently put to rest. I use them to guide copywriting and future on-page optimization. It keeps me focused.

But despite me being old-school like that, I found a good reason today to consider scrapping your meta descriptions. As Andrew pointed out in this post about Google Instant Previews,  having a snippet called out in the preview image could really improve CTR if you do it right. For instance, a nice, full-sentence call-to-action could be very compelling like that. It’s the same tactic that magazines have used for many years, called a Pull Quote. Bloggers use them too.

But here’s the problem: If Google uses your meta description in the SERP, they’re not giving you a pull quote in the preview. It’s strange, and probably a glitch that will get fixed, but for now it is giving an advantage (CTR-wise probably) to pages that have meta descriptions that don’t match the query, or no meta description at all. Do some searches yourself (if you’re getting the preview magnifying glass beside each result) and you’ll notice a pattern. See the two screenshots below…

Sucky Meta Description = Snippet in Preview

Sucky Meta Description = Snippet in Preview

Good Meta = No Snippet

Working, Query-Matching Meta = No Snippet

PS: The above screenshot is just a result for “Aliens Suck”. It was the first random query that came to mind when I wanted to find an example to show. I am not trying to get a discussion going about “illegal aliens” as shown in the second screenshot. #justsayin.

6 Responses to “One Reason to Scrap Your Meta Description”

  1. [...] Procrastinating minds think alike.  Check out Everett’s simultaneously published post on the [...]

  2. Anna says:

    I could be wrong, but that’s not what it’s looking like to me for the difference between pages that get pullout quotes and those that don’t. For example, search for “Vogelzang Lit’L Sweetie Two, Three, Four, and Five Dog Stoves” — a random set of words that I know are in my lunchtime post from today, which does have a meta description. When I look at the preview, I’m getting a pullout quote, perhaps because none of the words I searched for were actually in the title or meta description. Could that be the reasoning between pages that get pullout quotes and those that don’t?

  3. Anna says:

    Actually, now that I look at it, those words _are_ in my meta description. I’m even more confused about why I got a pullout quote there… :-)

  4. Everett says:

    Anna,

    Here’s how that works: Whenever a query matches text from your page BETTER than your meta description (such as when you search for a chunk of text like that) Google chooses to show that snippet of matching text from your page INSTEAD of your meta description. It has been that way for years.

    But it seems that same rule when applied to the preview snippets causes those that show the meta description (instead of the snippet description on the search result) to lose the preview snippet.

  5. Anna says:

    Ah! I get it now! Thanks for helping me make sense of it.

  6. Gloria Rand says:

    Thanks for explaining this! I’ve been wondering what criteria Google was using for those displays. I don’t think you should give up on the meta description tag though. You can optimize for one or two phrases in your headers that could show up prominently on the full preview picture, and then have another keyword(s) in your meta description. Now you’re covered for even more keyword possibilities.

  7. Joel says:

    It would seem that Everett is right – Google seems to choose between your MD and your content to decide which is better optimized for the keyword phrase the searcher used.

    I can see this seriously downplaying the incentive to use meta-descriptions in the future if previews really takes off, but as of right now I don’t think it represents a major shift.

  8. [...] whether or not you want to use a meta description. Everett Sizemore pointed out last week that sites with meta descriptions appear to be less likely to get the nifty little callouts that make Google Previews so awesome for vetting a site before clicking into [...]

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