What Happened to My Meta Descriptions in Search Results?

April 17th, 2018 by Cory Agular

During a typical day-to-day interaction with Google’s SERP recently, I started to realize the variable nature in which meta descriptions were being pulled into search results for our site. We know that last December Google announced the expanded the character count guidelines for meta descriptions, but that did not seem to be the only input at play—it was pulling in the implemented meta description for some searches and a chunk of the content from the website for other search verticals.

Let’s start with a service page present on our domain. Within the page’s coding, we have implemented the following meta description:

However, a search for “seo services new orleans” generated a completely different meta description from the one implemented in the site’s coding.

Google appears to have made the decision that our implemented meta description was either less accurate or less relevant to our search intent than the page’s content. What jumps out here is that in the SERP we see that three of our search terms are bolded in the description, including the “new” from New Orleans. Google has made the decision to extract the “new” and treat it as its own search value and not necessarily as a string with “New Orleans”.

With this in mind, I began to test the limits of Google’s ability to crawl and pick specific parts of content to utilize in a meta description. Let’s start with our main domain’s meta description.

In the search for “digital marketing new orleans” our implemented description pulls in perfectly.

So in this case, our intent and meta description seem to be perfectly aligned. But, what if I picked some unrelated string of words from my content? I scrolled toward the bottom of searchinfluence.com and picked out a chunk of content to see if I could get it to populate as the meta.

Wow, that was easier than anticipated.

Let’s take this a step further. What happens if we Frankenstein some sort of combination of content and our original keyword search.

So, from this small sample, we can see that Google is actively trying to best address your search intent by extracting the most relevant information from the most relevant pages related to your search query.

This leads to many follow-up questions: How do I optimize my meta descriptions? Does the length matter? How do I make sure I capture the searchers I want? This presents a lot of loose ends, as these types of things always face small adjustments and tweaks from Google. However, this research can help us form some conclusions about general rules.

1. Assure your meta description addresses the main focus of the page with search volume in mind.

If Google is trying to tell us that intent matters, then it makes sense to align your meta descriptions with the intent of the searcher. Let’s take a roofer for instance:

What can I infer from these average monthly searches? For the main domain, best practice would be to address metal roofing, contractors, “company,” repair, shingles, and materials if I want my implemented meta description to pull in for all of the keywords. Keep in mind that, as tempting as it might be, if your page’s content does not address a particular topic or keyword we do not want to include it in the meta description for the sake of attracting searchers. Your keywords or topics in your meta descriptions and on-page content should always align very closely.

Also, think about pages with a lower number of clicks and conversions. Am I missing any top-level keywords on these pages? Which keywords or topics can I implement to help searchers better understand my product or service? This may require some testing, however, it will aid the end goal of pushing the target audience to the desired product or pages.

This might seem like a return to a “keyword focused” construction of meta descriptions, but it is more about aligning what your business provides with what a potential customer or client might be searching. If you want your meta descriptions to pull into the SERP, this must be kept in mind.

2. Meta descriptions should reflect the page’s content.

When writing meta descriptions, you should also consider the variance in search queries. In theory, your page can rank for a number of keywords outside of your original plan. With that in mind, the meta description should work hand-in-hand with the page’s content. This way, when Google prioritizes one over the other you are still accurately presenting your product or service.

Additionally, in terms of marketing, find what works best for conversions and stick with it. Since we cannot create a meta description that catches every possible search term or query, you should be strategic about using terms or queries that will best position your business in front of searchers.

3. Google is utilizing Semantic SEO for Metas.

What we see in bolded text in the SERP results, as seen in earlier sections and the image below, is that Google is continuing to think about searches semantically. In other words, Google is applying more meaning to your searches than a strict A-to-A, keyword-to-result formula. It is trying to infer certain things about your search and what type of content you seek in return. Think about your Semantic SEO strategies and how those can be integrated into your meta descriptions.

In the above example, we see that Google hit on “SEO” and “searchinfluence” as indicated by the bolded text in the meta description. Below that, we see terms that were excluded, “bicycle” and “x”. What this shows us is how Google is thinking about your search query semantically and thinking about the context of what you are searching, excluding terms that are not semantically part of your search vocabulary.

4. Utilize the extra space.

Google has provided us with some extra legroom for our descriptions by expanding the character count to somewhere around 300. Testing has indicated that descriptions can go beyond 300 characters, but that is the explicit cut off provided by Google. While Google will still pull in “shorter” metas that fit the old standard, it makes logical and semantic sense to include as much information that covers as much search intent as possible.

As with most things Google, this is continually evolving and requires continued observation and testing. However, there are clear signals about the ways meta descriptions are being rethought as they relate to the SERP. This is a great opportunity to test our new ideas and apply new SEO strategies to see what works and how it can positively impact your business.


All screenshots were taken by Cory Agular.



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