Meta Descriptions Are Useless for SEO (Sort Of)

What if I told you that the SEO box on your WordPress site was a lie, and that all of those “Meta:” tags are simply a waste of time?

It’s been a common practice in the SEO world to enter meta tags. Business owners often request them when they’re posting content themselves, and SEO companies ask writers to provide meta titles, tags, and descriptions for all of the content they produce.

All of it may be a waste of time.

In the SEO world, meta keywords have been obsolete for over half a decade. Consider this article by Matt Cutts – developer of the Google search algorithm – from back in 2009. Quote:

“Google doesn’t use the “keywords” meta tag in our web search ranking… Our web search (the well-known search at Google.com that hundreds of millions of people use each day) disregards keyword metatags completely.”

It goes on to explain why, noting that it was primarily used in spam and search engines could already glean keywords simply from “reading” the article itself. They had no purpose, and so they were eliminated.

Most SEO companies have acknowledged this, and have stopped requesting it. Some still do, but when they do it is because:

  • Meta keywords give the impression that SEO is more than just writing.
  • Meta keywords are “supposed” to be relevant according to most SEO texts.
  • They based their SEO practices on pseudoscientific internet philosophy.

The latter is important. It’s very common for SEO companies to look at their craft as a science, but treat it as as pseudoscience. A company will create a webpage, get it backlinks, add headings, create Google ads, add meta keywords, and more, and their website will be successful, so they’ll assume that every factor played a role in that success.

It’s fake science, because it assumes all variables are of importance. It would be like researching “the secret to a successful mac and cheese” and you “test” it with the following:

  • Macaroni.
  • Cheese.
  • Heating at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
  • Reciting the pledge of allegiance in Tagalog.
  • Letting it cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Suddenly you have an amazing macaroni and cheese, and assume that everything – including the Pangako ng katapatan (pledge of allegiance) was necessary to create that dish. You’ve erroneously given everything equal weight.

So the meta keywords myth has remained. It’s the same pseudoscience that believes that bolding a keyword will make Google like it more, as though Google takes note of size or color (hint: it doesn’t).

But what of meta descriptions? According to most SEO companies and writers, the meta description still plays a role in search results. This is partially because if you have a keyword in a meta description it will show up in bold when the keyword is searched. However, let’s go back to that very same Matt Cutts article. If you scroll down you see the following QA:

Q: Does this mean that Google ignores all meta tags?
A: No, Google does support several other meta tags. This meta tags page documents more info on several meta tags that we do use. For example, we do sometimes use the “description” meta tag as the text for our search results snippets…

This would appear at first glance to support the idea that meta descriptions are important. But if you scroll beneath the image, you see the following (emphasis added):

Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don’t use the description meta tag in our ranking.

So it would appear that meta descriptions have also been obsolete. This is also an article from 2009. Since then, Google’s algorithm has advanced further, and can now read content almost as well as a human. Meta descriptions, like meta tags, are almost irrelevant.

Of course, I mentioned earlier that meta descriptions were “sort of” useless for SEO. But they’re not completely useless, and the reason is because one thing Google does look at is bounce rate. If a visitor stays on your website and clicks around, your website will show up higher in search engines than if they click on your site and bounce right out again.

In theory, a webpage with a well written meta description should improve time on page because those that click on the site will know whether or not the site is going to meet their needs before they click on it. This could improve your bounce rate, and thus improve your ability to show up in search engines.

Still, meta-everything is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Now it’s about content, and trying to make sure that you’re writing quality content that is relevant to your readers. Everything else can come later.

COMMENT: What do you think? Do you still think meta descriptions are important? Why or why not? Let us know.

 

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