Sculpt Your SERP Description

Sculpt your search engine description
Fine tune your page’s search engine description with these tips

For those of you who still think tweaking your meta description tag will affect your page ranking, come on into 2008. SEO isn’t that easy anymore. The major search engines give far less weight to that tag than they used to. You’re much better off working on other on-page and off-page elements like your title tag, content and quality incoming links if you’re looking to influence your rankings.

These days, the meta description is primarily used as, well, a description (imagine that?) of the page that shows up in the major indexes. How a search results page describes your page is frequently what you have included in the meta description tag.

I say “frequently” because you can sabotage the way your page is described quite easily. All it takes is a sloppy or non-existent meta description and poorly worded or spammy page text.

Here are some of the ways the major search engines seem to decide on what your description is:

Google – Primarily uses the meta description. If you don’t have a meta description, Google will grab a sentence on the page with the keyword or phrase in it. Otherwise, it will use the open Directory Project (DMOZ) description if there is one.

Yahoo – Seems to grab a part of the meta description and part of a sentence containing the keyword or phrase, sort of a hybrid of what Google does. If there is no meta description, it will look for a Yahoo Directory listing description. Otherwise, text from the page containing the keyword phrase will be displayed.

MSN or Live (or whatever they call themselves this week) – Uses the meta description or grabs the first sentence with the keyword. If the keyword isn’t on the page, it appears MSN/Live just displays the first sentence. DMOZ descriptions can also be used.

So, what does this mean? It means that you need to cover all of your bases:

1. Make sure your meta description contains text that is keyword appropriate, makes sense (not a bunch of keywords strung together) and will make the searcher want to check out the page. Make it compelling.

2. Make sure the first sentence on your page has your keyword or phrase in it and is good content. Don’t just copy what you have in your meta description. This is an opportunity to provide more good information. And be sure the rest of the page content is quality and includes your keywords in a natural, easy to read format.

3. Make sure your Open Directory Project and Yahoo Directory descriptions are good. If you don’t want these descriptions to ever be used, make sure your pages have these tags included:

(stops MSN, Google and Yahoo from using ODP directory)

Likewise, you can prevent use of the Yahoo Directory description:

(stops MSN, Google and Yahoo from using Yahoo Directory)

In other words, to a certain degree you can sculpt how the search engines describe your page. All it takes is good a meta description, a good opening sentence with quality on-page content and some simple instructions to the spiders.


4 thoughts on “Sculpt Your SERP Description

  1. Hi Richard,
    Nice post, I enjoyed to read it, just want to add once – search engines can fetch the description from body content if there is no meta description in this page.
    And what should I do if my site is not in demoz because they usually not give us listing and what should we do if my site not in yahoo dir because they need big amount.


  2. The truth is you don’t really need to be in either directory to have a good description. Getting into DMOZ can be a lesson in frustration. All you can do is find the right category for your site, write a good description, submit it and wait. If you get in, you’ve got an authority backlink in your favor.

    I still recommend the Yahoo Directory if you have the budget. It provides an instant high quality backlink to your site.

    But, you won’t want those directory descriptions to show up for most of your pages. You really want what is actually on that page to be described.

    Tweaking your directory description is just added insurance that SOMETHING decent will appear for your page description.

    So, if you aren’t in either directory, make sure to optimize your meta descriptions and page content for the best description – for humans and spiders.

  3. Great article. I’ve found that in Google it doesn’t matter how many characters the meta description contains. Google will display the portion of the meta description that is most relevant to the search query. Sometimes Google will even display a couple snippets from within the meta description. However, I still try to limit meta descriptions to 250 characters.

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