When visitors are using search engines there are typically four main elements which can influence their decision to click a website, this is ranking position, page title, brand and meta description. Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor in themselves but can help increase organic traffic, how? Well, meta descriptions act as a shop window on search results (SERPs), you can entice users to click your website through engaging content in this HTML header tag. When you neglect the meta description tag the search engines will try and circumnavigate bad (or lack) of content, by trying to decipher content on the page and write their own. Missing or duplicated meta descriptions can cause be a symptom of a large website or perhaps a webmaster who is not well versed in how to utilise these tags effectively.
Meta descriptions are HTML tags within the header of your website, this means you need to assess each page individually. The most efficient and effective way of doing this is through a third party auditing tool. With this tag being so widespread and universal almost all of the major crawling software will report on this – my typical go-to for crawling is either SEMRush, Screaming Frog, SiteBulb, ahrefs and occasionally I’ll do a site audit on Bing Webmaster Tools for another perspective (it’s free too).
The main fix here is to create a unique, descriptive and reflective description of the web page users will see once clicked – which needs to be under 200 characters usually, showcasing what the page is about. Once you have written this content, it needs to be placed in the meta description tag in the header of your website. As we are dealing with two pages with the same content, you will also need to validate, and potentially update, the content on both the pages and not just one. Changing one will ultimately remove the duplication but this is a fantastic opportunity to validate the meta description is correct on both pages – given how important it is to SERP (Search Engine Result Page) click-through rate or CTR for short.
There are a few pitfalls when it comes to meta descriptions which can cause duplication (in my experience), firstly webmasters who fail to update this tag and allow the CMS to populate it or use generic text – taking extra time on meta descriptions can help increase your click-through rate. The second problem can be someone who is writing meta descriptions in bulk; personally, I like to take a break so I don’t just regurgitate the same words nor try to update them for the sake of it. Writing a handful of meta descriptions and then taking a break often helps me write more effective content.
Additional tips for when it comes to duplication of meta descriptions:
- I’d ensure your content aligns with what is on your page but don’t forget, you are competing with your meta description. I often try to seek guidance by doing current searches and seeing what competitors are using as their value proposition in meta descriptions. If there is a common theme and you offer the same service – go above and beyond. Always try and outshine the competitors when it comes to meta descriptions – it can actually draw more clicks even if you rank further down the page as some users will browse the full list of suggested sites.
- You can monitor how effective your changes are with meta descriptions through Google Search Console, if your rankings are relatively stable then keep an eye on the CTR (Click Through Rate) within the performance section of Google Search Console. Simply visit this section and toggle the Page tab, here you can see these metrics on a page by page basis or if you prefer, stay with keywords. Be cautious that if your position goes up or down, this will naturally impact CTR – so it may not be the fantastic copy you’ve just written, unfortunately.
- Try and stay as close to the page as possible, Google (and other search engines) won’t be afraid to bypass and ignore meta descriptions and write their own if there are any issues. Website owners will be leaving behind a fantastic opportunity here of not having the ability to sell their business in the SERPs – the search engines’ copy will not be bad at all but taking the time to write the best copy you can is always better – as you may know the inner workings of the business and hopefully your client base better (but not always).
I’d also recommend that if you are updating meta descriptions, the page title tag is often in close proximity in HTML and often CMS level, so if you see Missing Page Titles or Duplicate Page Titles, this is one of the best times to rattle off several errors in one go.