Why Google rewrites meta description

I am currently in the middle of a keyword review for a new client. I have gone to town on the keyword research, we have hashed out the targets, and now it is time to apply them to the website. Hold on to ya butts – it is time for some candy, sweet meta.

Meta-Descriptions
Meta-Descriptions

I love copy writing. Sure I have a preferred writing style, and I obviously have my favorite topics, but it largely does not really matter to me what I’m writing. I enjoy putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) for short pieces, long pieces, social media content… and even meta descriptions. Something about hitting that perfect character (or rather pixel) limit with a well-structured, super-optimized, and grammatically-correct bit of copied that makes me feel Top Banana.

And then Google goes and ignores it in SERPs.

Why isn’t Google using my meta description?
There are a few reasons this could be happening, and you will probably not be surprised to find that they are all about the user.

1. Your meta description is stuffing with keywords
In the past, metadata was heavily abused by webmasters in trying to improve their positions in organic search. The meta <keyword> tag is pretty much totally redundant because of keyword stuffing, but the meta <description> is still useful because if it contains keywords that match the search query, they are normally shown in bold to stand out. But it’s important to make that description reflect what’s on the page, and not just cram it full of keywords.

Google won’t deem a Spam meta description useful, and so will try to rewrite it so it is useful.

2. The keyword in your meta description doesn’t match the search query
A variation in the term typed into search could spark a meta description rewrite. Basically, Google is pretty good with understanding how different keywords work together within a topic, but if the keyword in the meta description doesn’t match the query, and Google feels a piece of onpage copy will better answer the user, it will use that in SERPs.

3. The content on your page doesn’t match the search query
In a similar way to the above, Google’s algorithms might rewrite a meta description if the page doesn’t contain the search query. According to John Mueller, adding modifiers to search queries can cause Google to rewrite the meta descriptions. That is, in order to be relevant, the algorithm tries to serve a description using the modified keyword from wherever it can find it on the site.

Google’s algorithm chooses when to rewrite meta descriptions
What determines a meta description rewrite is how useful it seems for users, or how well it answers a search query. And that is determined by how Google reads the relationship between the search query and the on page content.

Careful keyword research, and wise keyword application are the first steps in having Google use your perfectly crafted meta descriptions. Writing them should be a user-first activity, which means being descriptive, enticing, and informative – no old skool SEO keyword stuffing – but you are still at the mercy of Google’s algorithms. Using keyword variations and modifiers on the page will help encourage the search engine to choose a good alternative.

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