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Old 04-03-2005   #1
zamolxes
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Meta descriptions displayed in Google results?

I thought google more or less ignored the meta description tag. However for over a month now I have seen meta description tags displayed in google searches? (the pages I'm talking about are not mostly flash or graphics - they have plenty of spiderable text on page) Would any of you know why and when does that happen? And would that mean that meta tags do now have some influence on google rankings?

Last edited by zamolxes : 04-03-2005 at 08:07 PM.
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Old 04-03-2005   #2
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They do it from time to time, but I've no idea why. It doesn't mean that they take the Description's content into account for rankings though - they don't do that.
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Old 04-03-2005   #3
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In my experience when google displays the meta desription in search results, that page ranks lower than usual.
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Old 04-03-2005   #4
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That isn't an effect that I've noticed.
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Old 04-06-2005   #5
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I've noticed this. Search for "document management". The top result comes directly from DMOZ (note the slightly derogatory description!), but then at least 5 of the top 10 results seem to be coming directly from the meta description tag.

Jen

ETA: I don't think the meta description tag has a big influence on rank. I'm just interested in figuring out why Google displays the tags vs. snippets.

Last edited by jenagain : 04-06-2005 at 01:40 AM.
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Old 04-06-2005   #6
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Its an interesting topic Jen, and even more interesting IMO is why does it display Google directory descriptions for some pages, meta descriptions for others and page titles and snippets for others.

Is this another indication that there may be more than one algorithm in play?
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Old 04-06-2005   #7
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It is happening a lot now for searches I monitor.
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Old 04-06-2005   #8
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Google will use the text on your page, text in your meta description tag and even an Open Directory description depending on the whims of the service. That's very similar to how Yahoo operates, as well. Basically, they are guessing as to what makes the most sense to use. The core attempt is to extract text that has the terms you searched for. So look for cars, Google looks to see the first text on your page that has that word in it. If you have a meta description tag that uses it, that increases the odds that the tag will get used. Don't? Chance are, you may have a snippet of text taken. But the ODP descriptions sometimes get used. Over the past few weeks, Google has stepped up the experimentation with these different types of resources (though they've all been long used).

I haven't explored it more, but it would be interesting to see if it's going through all the options and grabbing the solution that presents the most natural sounding text. So you search for cars, you have a meta description with nice copy that makes use of the word, then maybe it goes with that. Don't have it? It looks on your page, finds a snippet but maybe then compares to whether the Open Directory description contains the search term and seems to read better. If so, maybe it goes that way.

Short answer is this. Use a meta description tag that includes the terms you hope the page will rank well for, and create a nice, natural sounding description. Then hope the dice roll your way, because you can't do anything beyond this really to influence the description.
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Old 04-06-2005   #9
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Coincidentallly, this came up in another thread: http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/...ead.php?t=5083

I'll repost here what I found looking at something for someone there.

In one query, call it a search for "alpha beta gamma delta," the site's meta description tag is used. I think that's because that exact phrase only appears in the meta description tag -- not on the page itself nor in an ODP description. So if Google's trying to use that exact phrase as part of a description, it's got only one choice -- the meta description tag.

In another query, call it a search for "beta alpha gamma delta," only one word in the phrase has been moved. But that's enough to make Google go with the ODP description.

Google could have grabbed text off the page, like "Looking for quality beta alpha gamma delta products at inexpensive online prices?" Why doesn't it?

The text with that exact phrase appearing in a natural sentence (rather than in a link) comes pretty low on the page, perhaps suggesting to the description algorithm that this text isn't as important. That might make it flip over to the ODP.

It would be interesting to see if you changed the meta description tag to use the phrase in a natural sentence if the description tag would then be used. It really shouldn't impact the ranking, but if you're worried about that for the other phrase you are doing well for, I wouldn't alter.
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Old 04-06-2005   #10
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I figured the use of meta-description could be connected with click data - in that pages with "spammy" meta-tags tend to look uninviting in the SERPs.

I mean, really:

Finance help
Help restructure your personal finances with expert advice and resources on credit repair...

Credit repair credit repair credit repair
Credit repair credit repair credit repair credit repair...

Mix in some clickthrough data and you have surfers helping police the SERPs.

Ack. But, of course, if Google mentions click tracking in a public patent then it obviously can't be a possibility.
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Old 04-06-2005   #11
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But in my case it uses the DMOZ title AND my site's metadescription for one keyword and the real title AND the metadescription for a different keyword
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Old 04-06-2005   #12
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I will also post here what I posted in the other thread. There are examples in the other thread that support this view, including the example that Danny referred to:-

If my theory is correct, then Google treats the displayed Title and Description seperately, and each of them has a mini-ranking contest to find out which version is the most suitable to display for the particular query.

For the Title, the contest is between the page's Title and the DMOZ Title - when a DMOZ Title exists. I'm assuming that one version is a default in case there is no way to match either of the Titles to the query's searchterm - probably the page's own Title.

For the Description, the contest is between the page's Description, the DMOZ Description and the viewable text on the page, with the page's own Description as the default.
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