Why does Google not display my meta description in the search results?

Abby Fraser | 8th December 2020 | Organic

There are frustrations across the SEO industry with how Google handles metadata within search results. SEOs write optimised and creative meta descriptions for web pages to entice users to engage and click through to a website. Annoyingly, these meta descriptions are sometimes not displayed to users. Google actually rewrites your meta descriptions more than 50% of the time, so how can you best stay in control of your metadata to ensure the best results?

What is a meta description?

A meta description is an HTML attribute that provides a short description of what your page is about. Google displays meta descriptions along with their page titles in the search results when a user enters a query. These short paragraphs or descriptions are an opportunity to advertise your offering and content as well as entice the user, so it’s important to be as compelling as possible. High performing metadata can have a significant influence on click-through rates, leads and social shares, so it’s important to get it right.

What does a meta description look like?

Meta descriptions on desktop:

Meta descriptions on mobile: 

How does Google decide what meta description to show in the search results?

Google will decide what metadata to display in the search results by analysing the on-page content and then comparing this information with the user’s search query. Because of these factors,  the user’s search query can therefore end up determining what meta description is shown by Google and whether your bespoke description, or Google’s suggestion, is deemed more relevant to the user on this occasion. 

One method of controlling what content can be used in your meta description, even if Google decides to rewrite it, is to use a data-nosnippet attribute to wrap the copy you do not want to be displayed in your meta description. An example of this is shown below.

<div data-nosnippet>this copy will not be displayed in your meta description</div>

Why might Google not show your meta description?

There are many scenarios in which Google won’t display your own title tag or meta description in the search results.

When Google’s John Mueller was asked for reasons why this might occur, he offered three scenarios;

  1. Poor use of a meta description by not using it to summarise a web page
  2. To more accurately match the search query
  3. Google is trying to match the search query with the content, but the match isn’t in the meta description

Due to this, it is imperative to follow SEO best practice when creating title tags or meta descriptions to increase the chances of your own content being used in the search results. 

How can I increase the chances of my bespoke meta description being displayed in the search results?

To maximise your chances of Google displaying your meta description, it’s crucial to follow best practice:

  • Ensure the description accurately reflects what is written on your page. 
  • Make sure your meta description falls with Google’s length requirements. Best practice is to keep meta descriptions to 160 characters or less. Google now shows up to 320 characters in search results, but still does not recommend increasing meta descriptions to 320 characters.
  • Avoid duplicating meta descriptions across multiple pages. Your metadata should be unique and descriptive for each page of your website to increase the chances of Google displaying it. 
  • Adding structured data to your page can also help Google determine what your content is about. Structured data can be added to identify your content as recipes, reviews or FAQs, to name just a few. 

When it comes down to it, Google will always have more control over what is displayed in its search results than us SEOs will. The best approach to increase the chances of your description being visible is to follow meta description best practices and ensure you’re providing the best user experience possible. 

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