Marketing 3 min read

Google Ignores Meta Descriptions over 70 Percent of the Time

Jeramey Lende /

Jeramey Lende /

Search results snippets on Google feature meta descriptions to explain the page’s relevance to a specific query.

As such, SEOs and publishers usually work to ensure that these descriptions are unique and descriptive. But the search engine doesn’t always use them.

For reasons that vary from relevance to branded queries, Google could ignore the written meta description. Instead, it’ll display relevant content excerpts in the search result snippet.

This raises an essential question.

How frequent does Google display content excerpts in place of the provided meta descriptions? In other words, how often does the search engine ignore meta descriptions?

That’s what Portent, a digital marketing agency, sought to answer in a recent study.

Previous research by Ahrefs suggested that Google disregards a page’s meta description 63 percent of the time.

“I thought that figure was pretty high. I believe it, but I don’t want to believe it,” says senior SEO strategist at Portent, Evan Hall.

So, the team performed a similar version of Ahref’s study and arrived at a similar result. It turns out that Google ignores meta descriptions roughly 70 percent of the time for pages on the first page of search results.

Here’s a breakdown of the findings.

How Often Google Rewrites Meta Descriptions for First SERP

For the study, the researchers focused primarily on the first page of organic search results, excluding featured snippets.

By Search Positions

Google is likely to rewrite a specific meta description depending on where the page ranks on the SERP.

Portent’s findings suggest a slight increase in meta description rewrites from position four — of search results — to six. According to Hall, it could be because Google is trying to boost the relevance of those results.

I speculate that since positions 1-3 get the most click-through rate, Google might be trying to boost the relevance for 4-6 to get more clicks before users leave the page or search for something else,” he said.

By Search Volume

The researchers analyzed trends to find the link between rewrite rate and search volume. As it turns out, Google is less likely to rewrite the meta description for keywords with high search volume.

Hall believes it’s because sites that rank for these high search volume keywords tend to focus on writing great meta descriptions.

I think it’s because SEOs tend to focus on writing meta descriptions for head terms more than the long-tail,” he explained.

Display Length

According to the study, Google displays varying meta description length based on the device — mobile or desktop.

On mobile, the search engine displayed between 118 and 121 characters for snippets without publication dates. On the other hand, mobile snippets with publication date fall between 95 and 105 characters.

For desktop, the meta description characters that Google displays peaked at 156 and drops off sharply at 165. What’s more, the number could plunge to 142 characters if the snippet includes a date.

Best Practices for Writing Meta Descriptions

While Google doesn’t use meta descriptions 70 percent of the time, it’s vital not to give up on writing them. Instead, Portent recommends the following practices.

  • The first one hundred words of the meta description should contain the most vital information.
  • Meta descriptions for blog posts should be between 138 and 148 characters.
  • Meta descriptions for other regular pages should be between 150 and 160 characters.

Read the full study here for more data and insight.

Read More: Study: Google Products Dominate the Search Engine’s First Page

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