Lisa Coghlan outlines why your meta descriptions may not be displaying correctly in SERPs, why Google is doing this, and how it may affect your site.

Picture this. You’ve done your keyword research. You’ve carefully mapped out and written meta descriptions for umpteen pages of your site ensuring they include a relevant keyword, the correct character count and an effective call to action. You’ve implemented them correctly into the html of each page, and after all of that, they’re not displaying correctly in Google’s results pages.

Annoying, isn’t it?

frustrated girl

After labouring over your meta data to improve rankings and click-through rate, it can come as a shock to see they’re not displaying correctly in SERPs. So, why is Google doing this? Can you avoid it? And will it affect your site’s performance?

Why is Google displaying meta descriptions incorrectly?

Google doesn’t always show the meta data that has been placed on the site. It can sometimes show content from the page that is most closely related to the search term used. In this case, when you type a specific search term that does not directly correlate to the term used within your meta description, Google may recognise that there is a snippet of content on the page in question which relates more closely to the term you have used to search. In Google’s guidelines, it states: “Google automatically attempts to extract the part of the page that’s most relevant to the user’s query.”

Google is essentially trying to return the most relevant data possible to its users, and in order to so may disregard the meta description you have implemented, replacing it instead with a snippet of content from the page itself. It’s also worth noting that Google will recognise any Open Directory Project (ODP) listings your company may have, and sometimes pull this information through if it thinks it’s relevant enough.

5 SEO tips to help meta descriptions display correctly in SERPs

There are a few things you can work on to improve the chances of your meta descriptions being pulled through in SERPs, in place of Google choosing the content for you.

  1. Have you checked your html?

First things first. Take a look at the implementation of the meta data within the html of the page, and ensure all elements have been added correctly and in the right place. It should look something like this:

<meta name=“description” content=“Insert meta description here”>

  1. Have the pages been indexed?

Secondly, if you’ve only recently added new meta descriptions to your site, they may not have been re-crawled by Google just yet. This means that Google may not be pulling through your meta data incorrectly at all, but that it may not have recognised that you have made changes to them yet.

You can simply wait a few days for the site to be re-crawled or give Google a nudge in Search Console. Use the Fetch as Google tool under the Crawl category, in Search Console, and type in the URL or URLs you would like Google to crawl. Then click submit to index – this will notify Google to re-crawl the pages you have requested.

  1. What about duplicates?

There are instances where too many duplicate meta descriptions across your site will mean that Google filters out your meta descriptions or ranks the wrong page entirely according to your duplicated meta data. Making sure you have unique meta descriptions across your entire site will ensure Google has no excuse to not recognise your meta descriptions as valid and relevant.

  1. How targeted are your meta descriptions?

The best course of action to take when this issue arises is to ensure that all your meta descriptions are as targeted as possible, using a primary keyword that is directly relevant to the page content, and describing what is specific to that particular page. This will help Google to differentiate between important pages on the site.

  1. Have you had a look at your meta tags?

html code

If you suspect the problem to be that Google is pulling data from the ODP then you can add a meta tag to the html to prevent Google from using this data. All you have to do is implement the following elements into the html:

<meta name=”robots” content=”NOODP”>

This meta tag instructs all search engines that support the meta tag not to use any ODP data within the description in SERPS.

What does this mean for your site’s performance?

Unfortunately, no one can specify exactly to Google what to show or what not to show in SERPs. The meta descriptions you may have written for your site give Google an indicator of the content on the page, but Google will always try to pull through the data most relevant to the search term used. The likelihood of the meta descriptions you’ve implemented being pulled through increases where the search term used is also within the meta description.

As long as you have followed the above five steps and made a conscious effort to write targeted meta descriptions, you have followed Google’s guidelines and SEO best practice. Even if your meta descriptions continue to pull through other snippets of information this will not be of detriment to your site’s SEO performance, in fact, it could be seen as an opportunity to improve the content on your page, and to implement rich snippets of information, giving Google even more data to pull through to help your users find the content they’re looking for.

Want to refresh your meta data with optimised content? Our team of qualified SEO content writers can help. Contact us today to find out more. 

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About the author:

Lisa Coghlan is a digital and content coordinator at ClickThrough Marketing. She writes SEO content for many of the company’s larger clients, and assists in the implementation of content strategy. She writes live gig reviews and has a mild obsession with finding new documentary podcasts.