It doesn’t help. At least not directly. Does that surprise you? Why then, you might be asking, does each SEO article you read about meta tags strongly recommend that you have meta description tags on each page of your website? Because SEO shouldn’t be your only focus when improving your website. And it is true that meta description tags may help your site perform better in the search engine results, albeit indirectly.
The meta description tag is one of many meta tags that you can add to a website page that describes information about the page. Meta tags are similar to a catalog entry that describes a book. When you look at a web page you don’t see the meta information, but the tags are easy viewable when you view the HTML source of a page.
The meta description tag contains a description of the page. For example the meta description tag of this page reads is as follows:
<meta name="description" content="Does the meta description tag help SEO? It doesn't directly. But of all the meta tags this tag may be the most crucial to your website's success."/>
In one word: clickthroughs. When Googlebot and the other search engine spiders crawl your web page, they built a short little description of your page called a snippet that are shown in the search engine results page that show when a searcher entered a query into Google, Bing or Ask. The title of the snippet is taken from the page title, the text underneath (among some other things) is usually comprised of the first 160 characters of your meta description tag. Now it is possible that Google will ignore your meta description tag if it is irrelevant or keyword stuffed. But if you have written the tag properly, it will usually show in the snippet. The tag is your opportunity to entice people to click on the link and visit your web page. Think of it as your web page’s elevator pitch.
The keywords that the user searched will show in the snippet as bolded. The example below was taken from a search engine result page where the search term was “creative blog titles”.
In this case all the keywords in the search term were bolded. This draws the eye towards the snippet and gives a clue to the user that this particular result might worth clicking on. On a separate topic, getting your picture into the snippet is also very valuable and drives up clickthrough rates. This is done through implementation of the rel author tag.
Google doesn’t use the meta description tag in determining the rankings of your website. But it does pay attention to the clickthrough rate of your page. If your snippet is successful in attracting clicks, that could help the page rank higher as it is a signal to Google that this page is satisfying searcher’s needs.
When writing your meta description tags, put your marketing hat on and write a compelling description to attract visitors. But don’t forget to work in your keywords into the tag, so Google knows the tag is relevant and to make the snippet stand out among the crowd.
Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.