Why is Google changing my meta descriptions?

Written by Helen Selby

No matter how much blood, sweat and keywords you put into your meta descriptions, Google doesn’t always choose to display them in search engine results pages.

This is because it pulls its own meta descriptions from a page if it finds the content there more relevant to a user’s search query.

Before we explain further, let’s reacquaint ourselves with meta descriptions. If you need a more in-depth refresher, read our simple guide to metadata. 

What is a meta description?

Meta descriptions are displayed on search engine results. They’re designed to help users see – at a glance – what the page is about. Although they don’t directly impact ranking, they alter user behaviour, and therefore affect search traffic.

Why do they matter?

Users rely on meta descriptions to tell them what the page they’re considering clicking on is about. If the description isn’t relevant to their search query, there’s a high chance they’ll keep on scrolling and click on a competitor site. Think of them as advertising copy.

This means descriptions should be engaging, concise, and above all else – accurate. They should also:

  • Have the main target keyword towards the beginning
  • Be 160 characters or less (including spaces)
  • Include a call to action
  • Contain the brand name
  • Reflect on-brand messaging

So why isn't Google showing the meta description I've written?

If you’ve done all of the above but Google still isn’t displaying the meta description you want it to, bear this in mind: people visit your website for different reasons.

If the meta description you’ve written doesn’t contain the keywords a user has typed into Google, it will whip up its own description in a bid to help the user. These are called ‘snippets’. In Google’s own words, “A page might show different snippets for different searches”.

Google does this by selecting relevant on-page content – usually from the first paragraph of copy. Another reason to keep your content in good nick.

You’ll notice that Google also displays the relevant search terms from a query in bold within the description, to encourage users to click-through.

For example:

Should I bother writing meta descriptions at all then?

In a word, yes. If the page is focused on up to three main keywords, use these keywords in your meta description. Chances are, Google will display it, as most users will be using them in their search queries.

If the page targets more than three keywords, there’s a bigger chance of users searching for a term you haven’t included in your meta description and Google opting for a snippet instead.

Our advice? At this stage, you know the content of your page better than anyone, and writing a meta description with the relevant keywords to reflect this is never going to be a wasted effort. If Google chooses not to use it, don’t take it personally. It’s all about the user and their experience. And ultimately, this will benefit you and your site’s traffic. If you still have questions download our Guide to Optimising for Search

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