Are you having issues with Google search engine results pages (SERPs) showing different text underneath your links than what you have written for your META description? You are not alone, but the fact of the matter is Google does not have to respect META description tags if Google does not want to respect META description tags. In this post, I'll explain why and also how to force Google to use your META description tags for SERPs.
First, let's give context to this issue. What's a META description tag and why do websites use them?
What is a META Description?
META description tags are not rendered on-page and live inside a web page's head. They're used to describe the contents of a web page to search engines. And, often appear as summary text underneath a page link on SERPs results.
Historically speaking, you've always been able to create custom META description content to self-describe your website and help with search engine optimization.
Does Google Use META Descriptions?
As Google's AI becomes smarter, it generally thinks it's smarter than you are – sort of – and doesn't always choose to use a custom META description tag when it thinks other content on your website is better suited to match someone's search query.
Why Does Google Ignore META Descriptions?
There's two obvious reasons Google chooses to make its own decision about search results.
Better Search Results
One, it wants to show a page summary that's most aligned with a search query. In this case, your page may be a great result for what someone types into Google, but the static custom META description you wrote may not be, so Google chooses to swap it out for text that makes more sense for the query.
More Relevant Ad Clicks
Two, Google wants to create more relevancy for businesses advertising with Google AdSense. Tying in with reason one, website visitors landing on sites that are more aligned with their search queries can be served more relevant advertisements. More relevant ads means more clicks from better converting customers.
Catering to Customers
When you think about it, Google's customers are the people who use Google – not the destination websites who are trying to game Google's system for their own advantage. Looking at things from this perspective makes the decision to ignore custom META tags seem a lot more sensible – infuriating for site owners, but sensible from a business decision stand point.
Forcing Google to Use META Descriptions
Okay, now that you know what a META description is, how they're used, and why they're sometimes not used – how can you force Google to respect and use the custom META descriptions that you've meticulously added to your website?
Well, since September 2019 Google has provided you with a way – data-nosnippet tags. Adding
data-nosnippet tags areas of your website that you don't want Google to use as a summary description.
One broad workaround is to add a data-nosnippet tag just inside of your web page's
body element. This prevents Google from pulling any content from the body of the page, including the navigation and facets. In effect, this forces Google to revert back to the meta description (which is found in the head of the page, not the body).
Should You Use META Descriptions?
META descriptions are meant to help with SEO. They help you align your page titles and content with what you expect someone to be looking for in order to discover your website using search engines. They're a quick way to set expectations for incoming visitors.
In theory, that sounds great – you get to set the tone of the conversation with your visitors.
In practice, maybe there's more than one conversation to be had between your site and your visitors and maybe it's not the one you chose to project in your META description tags. Allowing Google to choose the most aligned descriptive text for SERPs summary content might be a best option.
And, if Google is going to ignore your META description tags it begs the question, should you even bother writing custom META description tags?