Skip navigation
newsletter signup

High Rankings Advisor: Meta Description Tag - Issue No. 117

October 14, 2004

*Introductory Comments:
---->   Half-price Seminar CD!

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   The Meta Description Tag

*This Week's Sponsors:
---->   Web CEO
---->   SEO Copywriting Combo

*Guest Article:
---->   Why Guerrilla Consultants Need Great Web Sites

*Stuff You Might Like:
---->   The Essential SEM Best Practice Seminar
---->   Search Engine Strategies Conference in Stockholm

*High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week:
---->   My Title Is Search Engine Unfriendly

*This Week's Sound Advice:
---->   How Many Words Do You Need for High Rankings?

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   No Fanfare

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Hey all! Just a quick note to let you know that we've decided to start
selling our Tampa seminar CD at half price since it's starting to get
a little bit dated.  The info is all still on target, but you know how
ever-changing the world of search engines can be.  If you're
interested in learning more or purchasing one, please visit this page:

Also, we have a special treat for today's guest article.  We've
scooped the rest of the world by having the first excerpt from Jay
Conrad Levinson and Michael W. McLaughlin's upcoming book, "Guerrilla
Marketing for Consultants"!

Let's get straight to the good stuff. - Jill

~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

It's been a few years since I revisited my Meta description tag
article, but it's a good thing I did. Things have changed so much with
how the search engines treat this tag that I pretty much had to
rewrite this one from scratch!

++The Meta Description Tag++

The keywords and phrases you use in your Meta description tag don't
affect your page's ranking in the search engines (for the most part),
but this tag can still come in handy in your overall SEO campaigns.

What Is the Meta Description Tag?

The Meta description tag is a snippet of HTML code that belongs inside
the <Head> </Head> section of a Web page. It usually is placed after
the Title tag and before the Meta keywords tag, although the order is
not important.

The proper syntax for this HTML tag is:
<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="Your descriptive sentence or two
goes here.">

I used to believe that the purpose of the Meta description tag was
twofold: to help the page rank highly for the words that were
contained within it, as well as to provide a nice description in the
search engine results pages (SERPs).  However, today it appears that,
similar to the Meta keywords tag, the information you place in this
tag is *not* given any weight in the ranking algorithms of Google, and
only a tiny amount of weight in Yahoo's.

In other words, whether you use your important keyword phrases in your
Meta description tag or not, it won't affect the position of your page
in the SERPs for the words that are important to you. In fact, you
could easily leave it out altogether.  But should you?

Well, if you're already happy with the "snippets" of text that the
search engines post from your page in any given search query, then
there's no reason to have a Meta description tag on your pages.
However, it's important to note that the snippet the engines use will
vary, depending on what the searcher typed into the engine.

Let's take a step back and look at what the search engines show in the
SERPs. It can get a little bit confusing, but if you try out your own
searches in the various engines, you'll have a better idea of what I'm
talking about. The search engines are constantly changing this sort of
thing, plus they all behave in slightly different ways, as you'll see
in my examples.

At Google, if you search for a site by URL like this:, the snippet you see is the first instance of
text on the page.  Interestingly enough, on my home page, an image alt
attribute tag is the first instance of words "on the page," and that's
what shows up as part of my "snippet" for this particular search.
(The image is a clickable image, so this jibes with my other theory of
Google indexing the words in the alt attributes of clickable images.
See this forum thread from Dec. 2003:

For this type of search, Yahoo displays the Meta description info.
It's important to note that generally the only people searching using
URLs are site owners trying to see if their pages are indexed.
Therefore, you shouldn't worry too much about what you see under those

So let's try something that a real person might search for when
looking for what I have to offer -- how about "SEO copy"?

In Google, my Nitty-gritty handbook page shows up second in the
results with the following snippet:

"... techniques: Search engine optimization (SEO) consultants who need
to edit the existing copy of their clients' sites as a matter of
course. ..."

Not the best of snippets, to say the least.

In this case, I don't have the phrase "SEO copy" in my Meta
description tag, nor is it anywhere on the page as a complete phrase.
Because of this, Google has simply found instances where the word SEO
and the word copy were near each other, and used the surrounding text
as the snippet.

Now, if I felt that "SEO copy" was a viable keyword phrase that people
might be searching on, I may want to adjust my page accordingly so
that the phrase appeared in my Meta description tag as well as
somewhere in the body text.  Again, this is not because it would help
it to rank highly, but because I would receive a more suitable
description that was more in tune with what the searcher was looking
for. One can surmise that they might be more inclined to click on my
listing in that case.

Let's look at Yahoo for the same phrase.  They've ranked the page at
#3, and used the following snippet:

"Learn SEO copywriting with Jill Whalen's special report -- The
Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines."

Now that's a good snippet!  Well, guess what? That's my Meta
description tag for that page.  Even though the exact phrase wasn't in
the tag, and neither was the word "copy," Yahoo still chose to display
it for this search query.  I'm guessing this is because that phrase is
actually nowhere on the page, other than in the Title tag.  So with
Yahoo, having a decent Meta description tag was very worthwhile in
this instance.

More Tests

I also recently discovered that when I tested a nonsense word in the
Meta description tag of a page (with the word not appearing elsewhere
on the page), Google did not find it. But when I added the word to the
visible text copy on the page, Google would bring up the test page
when the nonsense word was searched for.  Not only that, but it
displayed that part of the Meta description tag where the nonsense
word appeared.

In Yahoo, my nonsense-word test page was found, even if the word
appeared only in the Meta description tag and nowhere else on the
page.  Interestingly enough, however, Yahoo didn't display the part of
the tag where the word was placed.  They displayed only the beginning
of the description, and cut it off after about 45 words. I purposely
placed my nonsense word deep into my description tag to see if it
would get picked up.  In this case, the word appeared as the last of
138 words in the tag.  I'll probably add even more words at some point
to see if there's any cutoff point where Yahoo will stop indexing.

Other Engines

I also tested a few searches at Teoma and MSN.  Each engine is
slightly different in how they display the Meta description tag.
Teoma seems to find the words in the tag, but doesn't necessarily
display them.  When I searched for a unique sampling of text from one
of my tags, Teoma found the page, but chose to display the first
sentence on the page instead.  Not surprisingly, the current MSN
search worked the same as Yahoo.  However, MSN's search technology
preview <> (which is the new engine
they're working on) behaved similarly to Google on all tests regarding
Meta descriptions.

My new recommendation for this tag is not to worry too much about it.
If you have some great call-to-action statements utilizing your
keyword phrases on your Web pages, they will probably show up in your
snippets at the engines.  But since it's easy enough to create a
compelling sentence or 2 that incorporates your main keyword phrases,
you might as well do this for your Meta descriptions.

Certainly, the more control you have over your listing in the SERPs,
the more clickthroughs you should see.  If your Meta description tags
can help with that, then it's certainly worth the time to create
compelling, keyword-rich ones.

_______________Web CEO___________________________adv.

Get 10 Free Search Marketing Tools in One Great Program!

How many tools do you use to manage and track your search
engine listings, analyze your traffic and figure out the ROI on your
ad campaigns? If it's more than one, you need Web CEO now!

Research keywords, optimize your pages for search engines,
check your rankings,  analyze traffic (visitors, referrers,
conversions, revenues), and more! Download the free version:

~~~Guest Article~~~

++Why Guerrilla Consultants Need Great Web Sites++

Most of us in the SEO field consider ourselves consultants. And we, of
all people, sure know how to get potential clients to find our sites
via the search engines. But do we know what to do with clients once we
get them to our sites? This week we get some advice about this in a
sneak peak excerpt from the upcoming book "Guerrilla Marketing for
Consultants" <> by Jay Conrad
Levinson and Michael W. McLaughlin. You're also invited to join the
authors for a free Webinar Thursday Oct. 14, 12:00PM - 1:00PM Eastern
Time <>.

Let's have a warm Advisor welcome for Jay and Michael! - Jill

Why Guerrilla Consultants Need Great Web Sites
By Jay Conrad Levinson and Michael W. McLaughlin

In a world where anyone can access the archives of the Smithsonian
Institute with a click of the mouse, potential clients will not be
satisfied if a consultant's Web site turns up nothing but marketing
babble. Clients come to your Web site for one reason: to solve a
problem. They expect your site to look professional, be easy to
navigate, and offer content that helps them understand how you can
help them.

Patterns for buying consulting services have changed, and there's no
turning back. We're in the era of guerrilla clients -- buyers who have
a wealth of information at their fingertips and use it. A study by the
Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) found
that 77% of decision makers find service providers, including
consultants, using the Web -- even if they have referrals.

Clients gather intelligence from the Web to assess consultants'
capabilities. Without a Web site that unequivocally shows your unique
capabilities, guerrilla clients will always pass you by.

Too many consultants create replicas of "Yellow Pages" ads on the Web.
They fail to capitalize on the power of the Web to attract clients and
grow their businesses.

Make Your Site a Hub

Your Web site should be the marketing hub of your practice. Think of
your site as equal parts consulting office, demonstration lab,
library, and publicity machine. Its content, appearance, and ease of
use show your competence as a professional.

Your site paints a powerful portrait of your visual identity by
reflecting your style and how you choose to present yourself. It also
serves as a showroom from which you can exhibit your wares. Your Web
site gives you a platform from which to tell your story, describe your
mission, list your clients, and distribute information. It also
provides you with visibility both in and out of your industry.

Leading firms create a repository on their Web sites for their
intellectual assets -- articles, papers, proposals, studies, surveys,
and reports -- which prospective clients can examine. These materials
help visitors understand how the consultants think and how they tackle

Ten Characteristics of a Killer Consulting Web Site

1. Show Legitimacy as a Business. You will build credibility with
visitors by including simple items on your site like the physical
address of your business and photographs of your offices, or by
listing membership in professional and industry associations. Include
contact information on each page.

2. Update Content Frequently. Some consultants fail to maintain their
sites' content, resulting in sites full of stale information. Web
visitors assign more credibility to sites that are current, or at
least demonstrate that they have been recently reviewed.

3. Encourage Action. On each page of your site, find a way for
visitors to interact with you, whether it's to sign up for a
newsletter, request a special report, link to another page on your
site, or send you an e-mail. Your site should engage visitors, not
just let them "click and go."

4. Exchange Value for Time. Web site visitors, particularly those
looking for consultants, will gladly exchange their time for value and
insight. Provide relevant, valuable, and usable content, and
prospective clients may put you on their shortlist. Consider using
interactive diagnostic tools that help clients measure the impact of
issues they're facing.

5. Rapid Response. If you receive an e-mail inquiry from a visitor,
follow up immediately, no matter how busy you are. That e-mail inquiry
about your services will not improve with age; don't let it get moldy
in your e-mailbox. And drop the canned autoresponder. Automated
responses don't get you any closer to the client.

6. Simplicity. Create your site for clients, not for the artist within
you. Make the design of the site simple, intuitive to use and easy to
read. Provide lots of white space on pages because visitors tend to
skim pages, not read every detail. And stick to a simple, eye-pleasing
palette. Your layout should be logical. Navigation buttons and
features like newsletter sign-up boxes should be in the same place on
all pages. Make it easy to download material by providing explicit

7. Speed Doesn't Kill. Make sure each page and link loads quickly, no
matter what type of browser or machine a visitor uses. Don't assume
that all visitors are using high-speed connections when they access
your site. Visitors will leave your site in a heartbeat if your pages
load too slowly.

8. Pass the Acid Test. Before you launch a new or revised site, ask
clients and colleagues to thoroughly test every element of the site.
Ask them to answer questions such as:  Is the site easy to use? Does
it provide useful information? Would the site prompt you to contact
the consultant?

9. Accountability for Ongoing Site Quality. Some consultants create
Web sites just because "we need a site," but then let them languish.
Since it's an integral part of your external marketing program, don't
let your site die on the vine. Assign accountability for its long-term
value to a specific person or group, so you will reap the full
benefits of the Web.

10. Go Easy on Data Collection. On some consultants' sites, visitors
are asked to give up pages of personal information before they can
receive a simple white paper. Keep it to a minimum. Ask only for their
e-mail addresses, and then send them the information they requested.
If they find value in your material, they'll call you.

Remember that guerrilla clients demand more. They want professional
sites that give them solid information about who you are, what you do,
how you think, and most importantly, how you can benefit them.
Providing anything less will eliminate you from their list of
candidates for their consulting projects.

Jay Conrad Levinson and Michael W. McLaughlin
Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants

[I'm confused...when did apes start buying consulting services?
<grin> - Jill]

_________Powerful SEO Copywriting Combo______________

Your site's only as good as its writing. You need the "write" skills.

If your site is poorly written, your sales will be slow.  You *must*
speak to your target audience with each and every word you write.
At the same time, keeping your keywords featured prominently is
a bit of a juggling act.

Save $10 on the most powerful copywriting combo available today!

Karon Thackston's Step-By-Step Copywriting Course & Jill Whalen's
Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines.

~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++The Essential SEM Best Practice Seminar++

Mike Grehan is holding an all-day seminar/workshop in Newcastle in the
UK (his home turf!) on Tuesday, October 26th, 2004.  Mike will help
you to get a true understanding of how search engines really work. The
more you understand, the more you'll improve your online marketing

Learn more and register here:

++Search Engine Strategies Conference in Stockholm++

You can also meet Mike as well as me, Danny Sullivan, and many other
search engine marketing pros at the Search Engine Strategies
conference in Stockholm on Oct. 27th and 28th.  There's still time to
register here: <>.  Hope to see
you there!

~~~High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week~~~

++My Title Is Search Engine Unfriendly++

New forum member "Strateman" laments that his current site set-up
doesn't allow him to create unique Title tags on every page of his
site.  Read about it and post your comments here:

~~~Sound Advice~~~

++How Many Words Do You Need for High Rankings?++

(This audio recording changes each week.)

~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

This is a long issue, so I'll just wrap it up without any additional
fanfare!  Catch you next time. - Jill
Email a FriendPrintRSS