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 the can “do better”.
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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 from the following three sources:
- an existing/optimised meta description in the HTML source-code
- the on-page copy (from the first third of the running text on the website)
- the Open Directory Project (ODP) data
and focuses on 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:
- if the meta-description is empty (content=” “), Google will always choose the text
- if you use quotation marks (” “) within the content=” “-value, Google will cut off the description in the SERPs, at the quotation marks.
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….)
Video-explanation by Matt Cutts / Google on the subject
Is Google doing away with use of the meta description?
In the search results, Google will often display a snippet appropriate to the specific search query – often disregarding the meta description. Is Google doing away with it?