Meta Descriptions Now Count for SEO says Google?

Alex Bennert (SEOSylph) tweeted a link this evening to an article by Sean Michael Kerner at Small Business Computing from today covering the SES Toronto keynote by Maile Ohye, senior developer programs engineer at Google.  According to the Article, Ohye said that Meta Descriptions are now once again factored into the relevance of a page.  That’s a huge change if it’s true…

According to Sean:

On the topic of metadata, Ohye said that Google is now once again pulling its search index descriptions, or snippets, from website metadata description information. Ohye noted that for several years, Google considered metatags as a spam technique, but are now again considering meta description information when determining overall search relevancy.

I’ve read and re-read that paragraph four times now, trying to determine if I’ve misinterpreted it.  I can’t see a flaw in what I thought I read the first time.  “now again considering meta description information when determining overall search relevancy” seems pretty straight forward to me.

I’ve tweeted a confirmation request to Matt Cutts, and we’ll see if he responds at all one way or another.

Update: Vanessa Fox Weighs In

In response to Alex’s tweet, Vanessa Fox, herself often misquoted, chimed in with

my guess is that was almost-right reporting. And that she actually said keywords tag not used, but description used for display.

She then went on to tell me that

There’s no quote in the story though. just a summation. this happens all the time when I speak

Well, if that’s the case, that’s a significant mis-interpretation on Sean’s part.  Which might explain why SEO types who attended that keynote haven’t lit up the blogosphere with the “news”.  🙂

As I’ve been digging around the interwebs for more info, Christian Maund-Anderson said he got the impression it was business as usual – that they may, or may not, use it, as overheard while at the conference.  Since he said he got that impression from “overhearing” it at the conference, I’m not sure how that figures into the equation.  When I asked for clarification, and if it was a google employee who said that, Christian then said

Yeah, they gave pacman aka googlebot a sugar pill, they are definitely ramping up on information retrieval.

LOL uh, okay then!

Testing Testing, 123, Is This Thing On?

What I want to do is some testing.  It’s just that this could be tricky, both because proper testing of this could take some serious time, and I’m also intuitively thinking it’s a minor factor, so any testing done needs to be done quite carefully and across multiple scenarios. So good luck finding the time for that any time in the very near future!

Call For Opinions, Tests, Data

What I can say is this – if you’ve been down this road recently and have conducted any actual tests, I’d love to see the data.  Or hear your thoughts. And as I learn more I’ll share it here…

UPDATE June 12th – Testing Begun

I have actually begun a Meta Description Usage Test for this scenario, and since Vanessa and Jill have weighed in (see comments below) I’ve redoubled my efforts.  But I don’t want to be isolated here.  So if you would like to help here’s what I’m doing.

I created a new page on my old business’s site just for this test.  I have a meta Description with text that’s unique to that page and not in the page’s content.  I’ve then linked to that page from both that site’s home page (the only page remaining on that site these days) and from my blog.  I then added it to my sitemap.xml file, and resubmitted that to Google to try and expedite it’s inclusion in the SERPs.  From there, I’ll see if that exact match wording will cause that page to show up in the SERPs.

That’s the first step in the testing process.  Up for it?  Let me know!

Also, if you know of any real world test conducted in the past few months, that info will help…

Update #2

Jill Whalen commented that new pages may not be treated the same as old ones, so I will now add an existing page into the test mix to see what happens with that and if there’s a difference between a brand new page and an existing page.

What To Do About Meta Descriptions in the Mean Time

Regardless of whether it’s true or not, for quite a while I’ve been advocating to clients that it’s my belief the best practice for Meta Description usage is to write content that engages the reader in helping them understand what the page is in a way that attracts them to visit your link as compared to competitors.  And in that process, you should integrate the top phrase of the page.

The thinking here and as I’ve seen others do and advocate, is that if someone types a phrase to search, the words in that phrase will be bolded in the SERPs.   And if those words are highlighted in the Title and the Description, it’s more likely that the person doing the search will say “this one really is on target for my search”…

And in my A/B testing over the years on several client sites, that’s been the case.  It’s critical though, that the description not be keyword stuffed, and really does make sense as a readable chunk of text…

About Alan Bleiweiss

Just another guy. Who happens to have a lot of experience living, breathing and sleeping organic SEO. So that's my primary focus - high end SEO audits and consulting for sites ranging from thousands to tens of millions of pages. In my spare time I blog, rant, write eBooks, and speak at industry conferences.

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