Description tag: what is it and why is it so important?

What is a description tag ?

The description tag is a piece of html code that’s meant to give a short – you guessed it – description of a web page. The description tag is at the top of the page in the <HEAD>section of the code.

In code, a description tag looks like this:

<meta name="description" content="Short, riveting description of your web page." />

Not visible on your web page

The description tag of a web page is not visible on the page itself. That’s why a lot of companies don’t pay it much attention.

Google shows the description tag

Google likes the description tag. If a web page has a description tag, Google shows it, provided these 2 conditions are met:

  • Semantic similarity between the description tag and the content of the web page
  • Significant similarity between the user’s search query and the content of the description tag

Example 1
Google shows the description tag if it contains the user's query

I looked for ‘title tag’. Google shows the page’s description tag because it contains my query ‘title tag’.

Example 2
If the description tag doesn't contain the user's query, Google shows sentences on the page that do

I looked for ‘page title’. Because the description tag does not contain my query, Google doesn’t show it. Instead, Google shows a sentence fragment on the page that does contain the query.

What does Google do if you don’t have a description tag?

If a page doesn’t have a description tag, Google usually shows sentence fragments on the page that contain the user’s query.

If your website is in the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) and your homepage doesn’t have a description tag, there’s quite a big chance that Google will use the description of your website in the DMOZ.

The description of Cortex abc in

Cortex abc is in the Open Directory Project. This description was made by someone at Open Directory Project.

Google uses the description

Because the homepage of Cortex abc doesn’t have a description tag, Google uses the description of the Open Directory Project database.

And apparently that description was written quite a while ago. If you visit Cortex abc’s website today, you can see it doesn’t really fit the description anymore.

Does the description tag affect my ranking in Google?

No, it doesn’t. Google ignores the description tag’s content when it comes to ranking. The description tag will not help you to score better in Google.

Does the description tag matter, if Google doesn’t use it for its ranking?

Yes, it absolutely does. Which result people click on in Google is affected by the result’s title and the extra bit of information that appears underneath the title.

Thanks to our 8 tips for the perfect title tag you should have the title pretty much covered.

The ‘extra bit of information’ that Google shows about a page can be the description tag. Good copywriting can convince people to click on your page rather than your competitor’s, even though he is maybe ranked one or two spots higher than you are.

How do you write a good description tag?

Good question. Let me get back to you on that one.

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  • pixelcone

    Well I think the description tag is intelligently obtained by Google based on your content. So it’s not really important.

  • Edward Kra

    The information about description tag provided above is very educative. It is a good resource for people, who want to make the most out of their websites. Thanks for the information.

  • Els Aerts

    Thanks! :-)

  • Logan McCarthy

    If meta descriptions aren’t important, why would the Diagnostics in Google Webmaster Tools show Duplicate Met Descriptions as an issue to address?

  • Els Aerts

    @Logan I never said they weren’t important. i only said they don’t affect your ranking. They can most certainly affect CTR. And I’m sure the nice people at Google want you to do well at that too…