When SEO specialists talk about “metadata” they are often referring to a few key features of web development. When creating any page on a website you can create three meta tags that are designed for search engines to read. These tags are page titles, meta descriptions, and meta keywords. However, meta keywords were devalued over time by Google and other search engines because they were often used for keyword stuffing (a black hat SEO tactic that involves spamming keywords).
What Is a Page Title in SEO Terms?
The original point of page titles and meta descriptions was to give search engines data to display on SERPs (search engine results pages). Whenever you use Google each website displayed has a few features. At the top, there is small text that displays the actual URL you are clicking on. Under this in large blue letters is the page title. Historically this is provided by the website manager. If a page title is not provided, websites tend to default to the h1 tag on the page. Under this would be the meta description, which would also be provided by the website creator. This gave website developers an incentive to not only create these metatags but to optimize them for search. Having titles and descriptions that matched what people were searching could increase your visibility on search engines.
Google’s Auto-Generated Meta Descriptions
A big change in search engine optimization was when Google started “rewriting” meta descriptions. Instead of using the meta description provided by the website developer, Google would often display snippets pulled from the content on the page. The idea behind this page is that there are instances where it is more beneficial to pull data from the page than to use the summary you may have created.
Why Do Meta Descriptions Get Rewritten By Google
Google employees have given a few different reasons for why the algorithm might change your description. The first and most obvious reason is that some websites don’t provide a meta description or don’t provide it in the correct format. But even if you provide a great meta description, it can still be overwritten. This is because that algorithm believes other content on your web page better matches the search intent of the user. You will often see bolded sections on SERPs that represent how much of the website’s content matches your search. By auto-generating meta descriptions, Google can ensure that the best part of your page is showing to a user.
Here’s an example; let’s say a user Googles “should I use shredded or sliced mozzarella on my pizza?”. One of the search results is a page for a pizza recipe. The website developer may have written a meta description like “learn how to make an authentic traditional Italian pizza with fresh ingredients”. And while that might target some searches and keywords, it doesn’t target the specific question being asked. But what if on the recipe page there was a section on recommendations for cutting mozzarella. Google can now take a snippet of that section and add it to their SERP. In fact, when you click the link, you will often be sent not only to the page but to the specific section Google wanted to highlight for you.
Are Meta Descriptions Still Important To SEO?
For years, most of the news on meta descriptions was about how long they could be, with SEO professionals wanting the character cap to be raised. But when auto-generated meta descriptions came out it felt like all the work on meta descriptions was devalued since Google would just display whatever they felt best matched the search. However, the opposite is true. What this really indicated was a shift in content planning. It wasn’t enough for just your metadata to be optimized. All of your page’s content is now a potential meta description. When you look at it that way, the “character count” issue with meta descriptions has disappeared. Every paragraph is an opportunity to work in keywords designed to draw users to your website.
Changes To Page Titles on Google
Recently Google announced that they plan to auto-generate page titles as well as descriptions. And once again we are seeing many SEO specialists panic because it feels like they have less control over what displays on search engines. However, you can apply the same logic as above. Now every h1 and h2 tag on your website is an opportunity to create an additional page title. In a sense, you are a/b testing metadata by increasing the number of header tags you have as well as how well-written content is. Google’s auto-generated metadata means that you could arguably reach larger audiences with a single piece of content by answering multiple questions or providing more data.
For example, you might find this article if you Google about auto-generated page titles on Google Search, or you might find it for “are meta descriptions still important to SEO”.
Is Metadata Still Valuable?
It can be tempting to say that the more Google auto-generates what displays on their search engine, the less value traditional metadata has. However, the opposite can also be argued. Instead of seeing this as Google replacing your metadata, it is important to understand this change as Google creating more opportunities for content writers to highlight keywords.
Improve Your Search Traffic
To rise in search and maintain your rankings you need to stay on top of everything that changes in Search Engine Optimization. It can be difficult to manage this while also managing your business. That is where our team excels. Contact our office to learn more about how our team can help keep you on top of search rankings.