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Meta Description - Beyond 155 - Still Alive?


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44 replies to this topic

#1 bobmeetin

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 10:43 AM

I've read lots of posts discussing length and/or utility of the meta description tag. So really 2 questions here.

1) If Google (say search engines in general) utilizes up to about 155 characters in a search results snippet, does it do anything with excess? Is there any value in adding a sentence or so beyond 155?

2) If a webmaster has left meta description blank, do search engines grab the first general content of the page to populate the snippet or do they selectively/randomly grab some content? Or other?

#2 Andy_Seo

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 11:01 AM

QUOTE(bobmeetin @ Nov 9 2009, 03:43 PM) View Post
I've read lots of posts discussing length and/or utility of the meta description tag. So really 2 questions here.

1) If Google (say search engines in general) utilizes up to about 155 characters in a search results snippet, does it do anything with excess? Is there any value in adding a sentence or so beyond 155?

2) If a webmaster has left meta description blank, do search engines grab the first general content of the page to populate the snippet or do they selectively/randomly grab some content? Or other?


1) I personally concentrate on creating a 155 character snippet that is compelling for a searcher to click on from the SERPs. I wouldn't surpass 155 characters as it will truncate the snippet - but it won't harm you in terms of rankings if you do this - just your CTR.

2) From my experience Google will try and extract the most relevant piece of information from that page if there isn't a META description available. I've seen some really ugly snippets being returned when this happens and the result really does not look appealing to click on. There is also the DMOZ entry - which you can switch off via a Robots tag.

But I would generally recommend:

1) Implement a clear and concise message summarising what the page offers
2) Include the main keyword term(s) wherever possible within the snippet
3) Keep to 155 characters as the snippet will get truncated
4) Include DMOZ robots tag in you want to control your entry

Lastly, you might have seen Google experimenting with breadcrumbs and deep links from the snippet - I think the breadcrumbs are useful but i'm not keen on the deep links.

#3 bobmeetin

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 11:34 AM

Thanks that makes sense and is in line with what I understand, aside from the DMOZ part which is a bonus. What prompted my question is this - I'm developing a website for a client. Yesterday she send me a PDF document that her husband got from work from a business that does SEO for their company. It had a couple examples of both description tag and keywords tag (meta)

The meta description example had just over 300 characters, which seemed high to me. The keyword tag, which I put all but zero emphasis into is approximately 520 characters.

She also made brief note of key phrase density alluding that most SEOs shoot for between 5-15% density.
QUOTE
"A keyword density of 5 15% is considered good by SEO experts."


15% - that might be fine for a page that has a six word sentence in it and the key phrase is in the mix, but....

The bottom line is that these are all rather questionable guidelines from what I have learned over the last few years.


#4 Andy_Seo

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 12:02 PM

QUOTE
"A keyword density of 5 15% is considered good by SEO experts."


I would have stopped reading after that to be honest, total nonsense.

I can provide lots of evidence showing conflicting keyword density percentages across different sectors. Poor SEO's stick to KWD figures without addressing important issues, which can really help drive traffic rather than make your content read horrendous.

With the META description there is no connection with improved rankings and an optimized snippet. However, the snippet can improve CTR if used properly.

For the record here is the DMOZ tag:

CODE
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOODP"/>


#5 Jill

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 12:44 PM

QUOTE
1) If Google (say search engines in general) utilizes up to about 155 characters in a search results snippet, does it do anything with excess? Is there any value in adding a sentence or so beyond 155?


No idea where that number came from, but I disagree with it. Google indexes and will display way more than 155 characters. I've tested it to around 200 words (not characters) and maybe more, and then index and display whichever part of the Meta description is most relevant to the search query.

In other words, you can have many great sentences that would make a good description, but which each focus on a different set of keyword phrases all contained within your meta description and have it work great with Google.

QUOTE
2) If a webmaster has left meta description blank, do search engines grab the first general content of the page to populate the snippet or do they selectively/randomly grab some content? Or other?


They will try to find where the phrase or words were used on the page and show that and the surrounding words as a description. They will do this as well even with a filled out meta description if the queried words are not contained within the Meta description.

QUOTE
"A keyword density of 5 15% is considered good by SEO experts."


Any SEO expert worth their salt knows that there is no particular keyword density that is considered good. It can range from 0% - 100%.



#6 Andy_Seo

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 12:55 PM

QUOTE(Jill @ Nov 9 2009, 05:44 PM) View Post
No idea where that number came from, but I disagree with it. Google indexes and will display way more than 155 characters. I've tested it to around 200 words (not characters) and maybe more, and then index and display whichever part of the Meta description is most relevant to the search query.


Jill - do you mean that a Google snippet will display upto 200 characters (i've seen this but for some really low/obscure competitive keyword terms) or do you mean that Google will return the snippet but truncate it with the three dots '...'? The same logic can be applied to the title tag aswell (but obviously a different character limit).


#7 bobmeetin

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 01:11 PM

I think I misconstrued here. No, not Google saying 155. I think I was on one of the webmaster or google blog sites and saw a number of comments suggesting these numbers, and missed the fact that these are comments, not Google official...

It looks to me that they truncate after about 2 lines leaving us with the proverbial ...

Whether it's worth doing or not, I assume that the true test would be setting up a couple pages with some unique description in the 156-250 character range then checking back in a few weeks to see if it gets indexed. Is this what you already tested, Jill?

But then again what is the added value in the meta description? Does it even get computed in a page's keyword density? If it supports the title does repetition of key phrases (even as part of a sentence) do so much as add the the keyword density?

With the title tag I did a real test and found that Google displays 70 characters and indexed up to 95.

#8 Jill

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 03:22 PM

QUOTE
Jill - do you mean that a Google snippet will display upto 200 characters (i've seen this but for some really low/obscure competitive keyword terms) or do you mean that Google will return the snippet but truncate it with the three dots '...'?


They will display the part of the meta description that they feel will be valuable to the user based on whether they find the searched upon keywords in it.

So if you had a 10 sentence meta description, with the last sentence using the keyword phrase that the searcher typed into Google, it's likely that last sentence (or part of it) would be what Google would show as the snippet.

QUOTE
The same logic can be applied to the title tag aswell (but obviously a different character limit).


No, I don't believe it's the same for Title tags, since they will always only show the beginning of the tag and truncate after a certain point. That said, I also believe in long title tags, regardless of whether they don't completely display in the SERPs. (Not THAT long, but 10-12 words is nice.)

QUOTE
But then again what is the added value in the meta description? Does it even get computed in a page's keyword density


Since the words within it do in fact get indexed, one could suppose that the words within it are given some sort of weighting, albeit it's probably not much.

#9 Andy_Seo

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 07:17 PM

Sorry I meant that the title tag would be truncated also rather than picking out certain sentences/phrases - my mistake - wasn't clear enough. I do see the benefit in having long title tags that get truncated - sometimes its unavoidable if the brand is quite long.

#10 adibranch

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 07:14 AM

For me, getting the meta description returned in a highly placed and optimised page, is a result that everythings been done nicely. you page is optimised for the terms, the content is relevant, the page is listed well, and the meta description being returned above all is the final step. Job done . That description contains my strapline or USP about the term, its what i want returned.

(PS i'm not referring here to getting the description listed just cause it contains a relevant snippet, but as an overall structure or a well formed and high placed competitive page relevant to the search term).

#11 bobmeetin

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 09:18 AM

QUOTE
So if you had a 10 sentence meta description, with the last sentence using the keyword phrase that the searcher typed into Google, it's likely that last sentence (or part of it) would be what Google would show as the snippet.


This is curious, Jill. So say I have a page that has been set up for three key phrases (could be 10 for that matter if the title allowed enough characters). In the description I add three relevant sentences, say about 150 characters each, knowing that Google displays that many or so.

You're suggesting that googling phrase 1 will return the relevant phrase 1 snippet, googling phrase 2 will return the phrase 2 snippet, etc? That's actually pretty smart. You've seen this?

Not that it would make much, any, SEO sense to do it, but that could literally justify setting up a meta description of ten sentences of 150 characters each to support a page title with 10 key phrases.

To add a twist, it was late, I was tired, forgot about key phrase 3 which could even be the company name. Is this a scenario where google, whatever search engine, might just grab "something" cause it "don't know no betta"?


#12 Randy

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 01:01 PM

Not Jill, but yes I've seen it.

In essence they treat the snippet the same no matter where they pull it from. And when possible they try to include some or all of the searched phrase in the snippet. So to them it doesn't really matter much if the phrase they're triggering on is in the first sentence of a meta description, deeper in the meta description, or in the visible content of the page. They grab it where they find it and try to find some sensible way to display that as part of the snippet.

#13 Jill

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 03:40 PM

QUOTE
You're suggesting that googling phrase 1 will return the relevant phrase 1 snippet, googling phrase 2 will return the phrase 2 snippet, etc? That's actually pretty smart. You've seen this?


Indubitably! 100% yes, unless they've changed things recently.

This is what so many people miss when they talk of descriptions that will appear in the SERP. They are not static in the least and different for nearly every phrase someone may type into Google.

#14 Say Yebo

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 06:06 PM

QUOTE(Jill @ Nov 9 2009, 03:22 PM) View Post
... they will always only show the beginning of the tag and truncate after a certain point. That said, I also believe in long title tags, regardless of whether they don't completely display in the SERPs.


I found a solution for titles that seems to work well. If I find that I need to run past 68/70 characters, I try write a title that still looks good if it gets cut off - but the search engines still read the missing words.

Example:

Dog Chew Toys - tough, non-toxic dog toys made from natural materials. Organic, washable.

In the SERPS you'll see:
Dog Chew Toys - tough, non-toxic dog toys made from natural materials. (70 character cut-off point)

But when people search for dog toys that are organic or washable, Google knows you're up for it!

#15 bobmeetin

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 06:32 PM

That's what I indicated earlier regarding the title - it will index up to 95 (unless that has changed) characters but only display 70 max. If a word splits on character 70 you will probably see the triple dot (...) rather than the word. If reasonable, I use phrases that have a word which ends on the 70th character, then continue with the last few words complete as possible.




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