In cases where Google believes the existing and optimised meta-description to be “too badly written” or “inappropriate”, when compared to the content of the page and/or the user’s specific search phrase, they will not show this description in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).
Google will instead replace the meta description with one of their own. This description will usually consist of text that is already on the page (URL) and is most often taken from the top third of the webpage.
Incidentally, the same thing happens for the Title-element, if Google decides that they can provide a more useful title.
Example of a meta description replaced by Google
A Google search for the keyword [red flower pot] results in the following entry from amazon.com:
In this case, Google shows an altered meta description, as the one in the source-code reads as follows:
<meta name="description" content="Online shopping for Patio, Lawn & Garden from a great selection of Planters, Plant Container Accessories, Pots, Hanging Planters, Plant Containers & more at everyday low prices.">
How does Google decide which snippet to show?
Google decides on the content of the meta description based on the on-page content – the copy. It does allow the writer to make a suggestion though, through the meta description tag.
Google also uses the context of the user’s actual search phrase. Therefore, it can depend on the search query (keywords), whether Google will show your meta-description on the SERPs, or a text of their choosing.
How can I influence Google’s decision?
The most accurate answer would be “not at all”, as it depends on the search phrase. But Google does say that structured data might be used. In addition, it gives this advise.
- By adding structured data toy our page, Google may be able to better determine what the content is. For example, recipe or review data.
- Make descriptions very descriptive.
- Have clear separation between data in a description.
- Don’t create similar descriptions for many pages.
Please note: this also affects the sitelinks within the snippets (here, the content may also differ from the one in the meta description of the specific URL….)