It’s been a slow night; I’ve played a bit of Xbox and now I’m watching a couple of episodes of ‘Lie To Me’, but I’ve got Tweetdeck open and I came across a post by Dr. Pete on SEOmoz discussing why Google appears to be ignoring meta descriptions in SERPS in favour of pulling parts of content relevant to the search.

My background in SEO is in content writing, and a big part of that was creating meta tags. I keep my hand in and, all told, I like to think I’m pretty good at writing them, but if I see a result for one of my clients and it’s ignoring the meta description that I’ve written in favour of a piece of content, I have to ask myself two questions: 1) Does it matter? and 2) Is it because I did something wrong in writing that description?

Rather than rehash the work of someone infinitely more qualified and talk about why this would happen, I thought I’d offer my own take on it and try to answer these two questions.

If you’re not quite sure what I’m talking about, it might be worth having a read of this post on the SEOmoz Blog as something of a primer – Dr. Pete explains it much better than I would and I’m trying to be brief for once.

Does It Matter if Google Ignores my Meta Description?

As with most things in SEO and internet marketing, the answer is ‘yes and no’ and depends on a number of factors. Firstly, the simplest answer from a purely SERP-related perspective is ‘no’. As we know, your meta description isn’t exactly a major factor when it comes to your position in Google, but it is intrinsic in getting the user to click your link. More on that in a second.

However, if a snippet of your on-page content is being picked up in results for the main key terms you’re aiming for rather than the page’s meta description, you’ve got a bit of a problem. Fortunately, it’s a problem that can be fixed in 155 characters or less. If the main term your page is being found for isn’t pulling your meta description, chances are that your description is off-target. Whether it’s the term you’re aiming for or just the keyword that’s bringing the most traffic to your page according to your tracking, your description should be based around that phrase. If the content’s being pulled, give it a rewrite.

Is Google Ignoring My Meta Description Because I Did Something Wrong?

It depends. If your page is mostly being found for some obscure long-tail term rather that what you were going for, maybe your keyword research is off. If it’s being ignored for your focus keyword, then yes, Google is ignoring your description for a reason.

Why would it do this? Ultimately, what matters to Google is what’s more relevant to the search term. If your content is more relevant to what you’re being found for than your description, it’s going to use that. It’s all about the relevance.

How Can I Fix This?

Make sure that your description is as relevant to your content as it can be. It’s as simple as that. In the modern incarnation of Google, it’s not always going to take your description if it finds something more relevant to what’s been searched for, but if you can focus your description to the term that you want to go for, be it the one that’s bringing in the visitors or the one that’s bringing you less traffic but more money, then do so. Try to avoid duplicate tags if you can and remember to make it as encouraging for the user as possible.

It doesn’t look that you can really stop Google pulling content or Dmoz listings in favour of the meta description, but if you focus it around the most important terms for your page and avoid duplication wherever possible, you stand a fighting chance. If nothing else, getting those clicks for some of the longer-tail terms that are going to pull the content from your page just highlights the importance of always making sure that your copy is as well-written for a user as possible.

As always, I’d love to hear from you, so leave me a comment if you like the post.

Thanks to Dr. Pete from SEOmoz for inspiring this article.