Meta Description Tags and CTR – The New Way That Meta Tags Affect Rankings

SEOs have known for years that meta descriptions and meta keywords do not impact a site’s rankings on Google. Well, maybe not all SEOs have known this. I never cease to be surprised by how many people I meet who talk about “optimizing meta keywords” to get top rankings on Google. If it were that easy, everybody would be top ranked (which causes a problem, since only 10 people can be top ranked). That’s another story for another day, though.

So, what about meta descriptions?

We’ve known for years that Google doesn’t consider meta descriptions as a factor in ranking websites. In fact, Google just recently stated in a blog post that “we still don’t use the description meta tag in our ranking.” Can’t be much plainer.

But there is more to the story!

Google may not use meta descriptions in their rankings, but your meta description can actually influence your rankings. In fact, I expect meta descriptions to play an increasingly larger role in rankings in the coming months and years.

Meta descriptions DO affect my rankings? Are you sure?

Yes, meta descriptions do affect your rankings on Google. Let me explain…

Meta description tags won’t affect your “absolute” rankings (yet), but they will affect your personalized rankings. Here is how it works:

Google now automatically personalizes search results based on your personal web history. One of the factors used is your click-throughs. If you click on a website in the Google SERPs, Google will rank that website much higher for you on subsequent searches. (In one test, Google moved a result from page 5 to #3 rank based on my clicks.)

This means that a website with a higher CTR will, on average, be ranked higher in personalized searches for returning searchers. To put it another way: If you are able to entice users to click on your website in the Google SERPs, then they return later and search for a similar keyword, your website will be ranked higher!

How can you increase your CTR in the SERPs? Two of the factors that influence click rates you have control over – your page title and…that’s right, your meta description!

How Meta Descriptions Affect Your Rankings

Good meta descriptions = Higher CTR = Higher rankings in personalized search results!

At the present, your meta descriptions will only influence your ranking for a small segment of searches (return searchers with personalization on). (This segment is small, but it may not be as small as you think, as many searchers routinely perform multiple searches to find multiple results to research and compare.)

Could meta descriptions play an even greater role in rankings?

Possibly. We know that search engines are starting to use more clickstream data in rankings. As Google and Bing consider CTRs in their ranking algorithms, meta descriptions could become even more influential in rankings.