Google’s John Mueller is a wonderful source of information, but staying up to date with his Webmaster Central Hangouts can be hard for many of us. In a recent episode, someone asked why their meta description was being re-written. His answer helps us see a bit of why Google’s algorithm may re-write your meta descriptions. But it doesn’t stop there – in another Google Webmaster Central Hangout, he responds to a question about what people can do to stop it from happening – so we have the information we need to make our lives easier while keeping the search engine happy.
It’s important to note that Mueller’s advice is general because he cannot provide an exact reason for the re-write without looking at the search results. He says Google re-writes meta descriptions for a variety of reasons.
Keyword Stuffing in Meta Description
If Google sees a bunch of keywords in the meta description, it’s going to assume the description isn’t useful to users and attempt to write something else. Google has to be able to trust the description before it will leave what you’ve provided alone. If you’ve written a meta description that focuses less on keywords and more about what the content of the page is about, it’s more useful to users and less likely to be re-written.
Duplicate Meta Descriptions Across Multiple Pages on the Site
If Google sees the exact same meta description provided for most of the pages on the website, it’s going to re-write them. Unique meta descriptions are essential to providing content that is useful for searchers.
Content and Query Matching Issues
In the publisher’s question about meta re-writes, he mentions that branded queries with a “UK” modifier were the ones rewritten. That may be why Google is re-writing the description. If the webpage itself doesn’t send Google UK related content signals, Google may believe that modifier isn’t relevant to users and change the meta description accordingly.
Adding modifiers to search queries can cause Google to not only rewrite meta descriptions but the title tags, too. It’s most likely to happen when modifiers like “home page” and “UK” are used in the query, but not found in the written content of the page.
The meta description needs to match both what the user is searching for and the other content on the page.
Search Query Influences
Whether Google rewrites a meta description is based on the search query. If you notice a rewritten query, take the branded query and check to make sure the meta description is not spammy and is actually useful to searchers.
Move forward from there, looking for patterns. Is it something that Google always gets wrong? Or is it only wrong some of the time, when the algorithm picks up something else on the page and mistakenly rewrites the meta description?
How to Avoid Google Re-Writing Your Meta Descriptions
There are undoubtedly times when the meta description the site owner provides won’t be enough for Google. There’s no way to ensure that Google will use the meta description you provide 100% of the time. But, there are things you can control that will influence Google to use the ones you provide more often than crafting their own.
Make the Descriptions Unique for Each Page on the Site
While it may be tempting to use a boilerplate meta description for every page on your website, this is problematic, especially if you have a larger site with hundreds or even thousands of pages. Think about the purpose of each page and what the user would be searching for to lead them there – as well as the information they will find to answer their query. Use that, along with relevant keywords to craft a useful meta description for each page on the site.
Pay Attention to Character Length
There is no official meta description length though Google may truncate at 155 to 160 characters. To ensure the entire description is viewable on the search engine results page, do your best to limit the character count to no more than 150 characters or so. To test the length of your descriptions, you can use a character counter tool. Remember, titles are truncated at 50 to 65 characters, so those need to be short and descriptive, too.
Make Them Match What Users are Looking For
Your meta description is basically a short sales pitch. It’s free advertising to reach out to prospects to entice them to click your results instead of another option on the page. And because Google is in the business of providing users the results they are looking for the first time around, you want to make sure you make the user happy to keep Google happy.
That means taking the time to ensure your meta descriptions match what users are looking for, but also match the page content. For example, if you’re targeting the keyword, “dog collars for small dogs”, then make sure that if the page isn’t specific to just small collars, that the page at least includes the option to filter out everything but the small ones. Don’t use a meta description for dog toys, or anything that’s not related to buying collars.
One of the ways you can make this easier is to divide your pages and keywords by search intent, then write the meta descriptions ahead of time, based on the keywords you’re targeting and the search intent of the people who’re using them. This way, you don’t create an informative meta description based on a transactional keyword.
Meeting these criteria reduces, but does not eliminate, the chance that Google will rewrite your meta description. If there’s an obscure query that matches a selection of text from your webpage, it’s likely Google will just use that snippet of text in place of your original meta description.