Are meta descriptions under threat?
Meta descriptions are HTML attributes which concisely describe the contents of a webpage. Prior to December 2017, it was recommended that meta descriptions didn’t exceed 160 characters, as longer descriptions were either truncated or regenerated by Google on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Google generates its own ideal page descriptions when it believes metadata might be misleading or a poor reflection of the content it is supposed to be summarising.
Meta descriptions are still truncated by the search giant if they are exceptionally long, but the upper recommended limit was recently increased to 320 characters to provide users with a more comprehensive description of what they can expect to see when they click through to a website.
The present position of meta descriptions
The fact that Google still chooses to make refinements to meta descriptions, to help users understand the content presented to them in SERPs, illustrates their continuing relevance and importance.
Although meta descriptions themselves are not a direct ranking signal, they do boost webpage performance and, as such, should be treated as an important component of wider search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies.
Akin to a pitch, these short blurbs have the power to convince users that this webpage contains precisely the information they have been searching for.
The potential threats facing meta descriptions
With this information, why might someone think meta descriptions might be under threat?
There are several reasons, the biggest of which revolves around meta description manipulation. Although it’s common knowledge amongst SEO professionals that meta keywords don’t influence the ranking or visibility of a webpage, many inexperienced webmasters still opt to fill the meta keywords field as though it’s Google’s most significant ranking factor.
Google’s choice to ignore meta keywords has led some to believe the same could soon apply to meta descriptions.
This isn’t likely to be the case however, because the search giant uses meta descriptions to achieve its central goal: to supply its users with the information they are searching for as efficiently and and conveniently as possible. This is also why Google wants each meta description to:
1. Properly represent page content
2. Be page-specific and unique
3. Communicate its message clearly and concisely
Meta descriptions are one of the few SEO elements that can be controlled by site publishers, which is why they are both important and not in almost equal measures.
If meta descriptions were given enough weight to directly influence search engine rankings, they would quickly become one of the most manipulated SEO elements on the web today. Conversely, if meta descriptions were disregarded completely, Google would have one less tool to help it to deliver relevant content to its users.
Meta descriptions in the future
Although it is highly unlikely that meta descriptions will either become more irrelevant or discounted completely, Google could start generating its own descriptions for every webpage.
We already know this is possible, as it currently does this for pages with misleading or poor descriptions. However, this would mean more work for Google and it would take a significant amount of power away from publishers.
Google endeavours to keep webmasters equipped with the information they need to succeed, which is why, especially given the recently increased character limit, meta descriptions will continue to be a significant feature of SERPs moving forwards.