Is the description meta tag still used?

This tag isn’t used in search engine rankings, so isn’t using it just a waste of time?
I often hear ‘Well, if xyz site doesn’t used it then I’m not either…’.
So, what are the reasons for still using this tag and why do some still say that it is the No. 4 SEO ranking factor?

The quick answer is ‘We’re not machines, we’re human beings!’ – and as such we have a different perspective.

The meta description tag is often used as the page description below the page heading in Google search results.
Meta Description Tag

It’s a shop window for humans. Without it, you’d have nothing to tell passers by what’s inside. It’s one method of targeting traffic. Imagine one shop with boarded over windows and another with a display of fresh food. If you were hungry, which one would you visit? – same principle?

The better your shop window the more ‘hits’ you’ll get, and therefore you’ll be more popular with search engines because of your traffic and not the tag. It’s in-direct, but you can see its importance.

Google and Ask no longer place so much emphasis on this tag (for ranking), but it has been proved that it is still used within its algorithms.

  • The <meta description should be a 70 words or 2−3 sentences long (ideally well under 200 characters – maximum 350)
  • It should describe the page
  • Some search engines use this description when displaying search results
  • Keywords are important, but it is important not to ‘keyword stuff’
  • Write a sensible description and avoid automated tools for generating meta description
  • Include your popular keywords in the meta description as they will be bold when displayed in search engine results

Although not a significant search engine ranking factor anymore, it is still used by all popular search engines when displaying search engine results. Different search engines place varying levels of importance on this tag.
Some report this tag to be dead, but studies have shown that it is used, especially when surfing on less popular ‘niché’ topics. In conclusion, this tag is still used, but the algorithm is a lot more complicated.

Use longer, more descriptive words, trying not to repeat any of them. Avoid words such as the, a, home, contact us etc. 350/70 gives an average of 5 characters per word. The closer you get to 70 words and 150 characters the better. Any tag over 200 characters is too long.

It is important not only to optimise the meta description tag, but also to create interest with the user. You need to spur user interaction and create a positive impression. The tag needs to be easy and quick to read. Remember, a user will only spend a couple of seconds scanning a whole page of search results (SERPs). If you can create an emotional response to a headline: even better.

How long should a meta description be?

Various web browsers display different numbers of characters, depending upon user settings. Typically you should use the following as a guide only:

  • Google usually ignores this tag, displaying a snippet of text from the page body instead. But for more ‘niche’ results 150 – 158 characters including spaces and hyphenation (truncating at end of nearest word) may be displayed
    Remember….Niche phrases are often your £££ keywords
  • Yahoo displays up to 160 characters including spaces
  • Bing displays 150 characters including spaces
  • Ask does not display text from this tag, using snippets from the main body instead. Even if a word only appears within the meta description, it will display the first sentence from the page body
  • Internet Explorer supports 350 characters.