Google’s John Mueller answered the question about whether a meta description can be used to influence the search rankings.
It’s a good question because Google advises to use unique meta descriptions on web pages. So there is some kind of influence but is that influence related to rankings? John Mueller answers that question.
The meta tag is formally known as a meta element. The meta element is used to describe (represent) document-level information about a web page.
In order to describe different properties of the web page the meta element (like all HTML elements) has attributes which kind of extends the meta element so that it can provide a specific kind of information to a web browser or to a web crawler (like Googlebot).
- A meta robots tag communicates to crawlers.
- A meta refresh tag communicates to a browser.
There are many other meta tags that communicate directly to search engines and browsers:
- meta name=”viewport”
- meta http-equiv=”refresh”
- meta name=”google-site-verification”
- meta name=”googlebot” content=”notranslate”
Meta element data is information that is not meant for site visitors to directly see (although it can be seen indirectly via the search results).
The W3C is the standards-making body responsible for defining HTML (among other things)
The official W3C specification for the meta description tag says that the meta description is designed for use by search engines.
“The value must be a free-form string that describes the page. The value must be appropriate for use in a directory of pages, e.g. in a search engine.
There must not be more than one meta element with its name attribute set to the value description per document.”
Google’s Recommendations On Meta Descriptions
Google’s documentation of snippets notes that meta descriptions are used for generating search results snippets.
If a meta description is properly used then the meta description displayed in the search results will communicate to the potential website visitor what the page is about and give them an idea of what to expect if they click the link and visit the website.
There is no limit on how long a meta description can be.
However there is a limit on how much of the meta description that search engines will choose to show. The limit is defined by how much can be shown on the user’s browser device.
Google’s SEO Starter Guide offers more help on meta descriptions:
“A page’s meta description tag gives Google and other search engines a summary of what the page is about.
A page’s title may be a few words or a phrase, whereas a page’s meta description tag might be a sentence or two or even a short paragraph. Like the <title> element, the meta description tag is placed within the <head> element of your HTML document.”
Google’s advice to use it as a summary of what a site visitor can expect to see is aligns with what the intention of the meta description element as described in the official standards as outlined in the W3C documentation.
Does Google Use Meta Description for Ranking?
The person asking the question was specifically asking about adding location name information to the meta description and if it would help rankings.
Google’s John Mueller answered with a broader scope than just adding the location name, his answer was about whether anything in the meta description affected rankings.
This is the question asked:
“Does adding the location name in the meta description matter to Google in terms of ranking if the content quality is maintained?”
John Mueller answered:
“So the meta description is primarily used as a snippet in the search results page.
And that’s not something that we would use for ranking.
But obviously, having a good snippet on a search results page, that can make it more interesting for people to actually visit your page when they see your page ranking in the search results.”
Meta Description and SEO
There’s a lot to know about HTML meta elements and this question is a good example of the value of understanding HTML and how they are used by browsers and search engines.
Understanding the background information about meta elements and the meta description tag in particular helps build a better understanding of how all the pieces fit together for SEO.
Does Meta Description Matter for Rankings?
Watch John Mueller answer the question at the 26:47 mark in the video: