Auto-generate your way to SEO success?
Meta descriptions elements have many uses and can be constructed in several ways. A good meta description entices the user to click, both by the fact that it contains enticing, well readable text and by the fact that it contains the sought for keywords, as that get’s bolded in the search results.
Last week at SMX there was a panel titled “What’s really important for technical SEO?”. In it was Jonathan Hochman, who I later found to be a smart and very likable person, but in the session he touched on one of my pet peeves: he mentioned retro-fitting an old CMS to have meta descriptions, by auto-generating the meta description using the first 150 characters of each article.
As regular readers of this blog know, I hate that. It’s the single feature in All in One SEO that I hated so much I decided to start building something better, being my own WordPress SEO plugin. You see, while my first paragraph above is pretty good, most bloggers would actually start their article with the second paragraph. The first 150 characters of that paragraph are absolutely not usable as a meta description, and don’t even contain the focus keyword for this post: “meta description”, so it wouldn’t get a bold for that term, nor would it be enticing to click on.
The reason I hate this “auto generation” idea so much, especially for content sites, is that it makes people think that SEO is something you can do on auto-pilot. You simply can not. While a good SEO plugin can help you take care of the technical boundaries that might exist, creating link worthy content is the process that will help you get rankings, all the time. Auto generating a meta description has never served any purpose to anyone just yet.
In an article on SearchEngineJournal today about meta descriptions and content management systems, Ann Donnelly points out that while that might be true for SEO, it’s not true for social, as a bad snippet there would get you low click throughs too. I couldn’t agree with her more, except that the same 150 chars above, would be a very bad snippet for Facebook or other social platforms too. She distinguishes two processes when there is only one: write a decent description / excerpt for your posts, all the time.
Meta Descriptions in my WordPress SEO plugin
In my WordPress SEO plugin the meta description gets a lot of emphasis. It gets that emphasis for a reason: it changes things. A good meta description, combined with a good title and a good post URL make for a result that people will want to click on.
This is of course entirely different when you’re talking about an e-commerce system. You can use many variables from your products there to create good, readable meta descriptions that offer information the searcher and sharer would be looking for.
Lastly; if you worry so much about meta descriptions, please do worry about what the rest of your snippet will look like too. The URL for this post is:
The URL for Ann’s post on SEJ:
I don’t think I have to argue that mine is a lot easier and nicer to share in social and to look at in a search result page. You see, good SEO takes thinking about all of these aspects and can not be replaced by a simple substring command.
Update: from Chris in the comments, this useful video of Matt Cutts describing how Google uses the snippet: