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The Great Meta Debate

Posted on Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - SEO

On Wednesday, Danny Sullivan wrote about the confusion over Yahoo’s treatment of the meta-keywords tag.  It led to a spirited discussion (smack down!) here about the importance of meta keywords and meta descriptions.

First, meta keywords.  Did anyone think it was still a factor?  That’s what made Danny’s test so interesting, even though technically it only proved that meta-keyword is in play for outlier words mentioned on no other indexed page – basically, nonsense words.

Danny’s test might show that Yahoo uses meta-keywords as a “last resort” ranking factor when all else fails. If so, it wouldn’t be applicable to any term actually worth ranking for.  Who knows? But in any event, it was startling to see meta-keyword in use at all in 2009, and for Yahoo to get caught in a misstatement like that.

And now for meta descriptions.

There is no question that the meta description is a very important influencer of click-throughs in the SERPs, and it will always be.  But as a ranking factor, the jury is still out.

Although Google Webmaster Blog flat-out stated that it’s not a factor in rankings, you have to wonder, in light of Yahoo’s mistake.  Is any large-scale, complex algorithm really understood by any one person – every nuance, every special case?   (As we BSG fans are aware, let your technology run wild and you risk the destruction of all humanity.  Frakking toasters!!)

Those of us on the outside of the algorithms are left to speculate.  According to SEOMoz’s Search Engine Ranking Factors, there is “moderate consensus” that the existence of a meta description tag is of “minimal” importance.  Similarly, the existence of keywords in the meta description is of “very minimal” importance, and there is “light consensus” – in other words, some panel members thought it was important.

From their comments, Ian Lurie and Duncan Morris don’t feel that meta-description has any ranking influence.  It would be interesting to hear from the others.

Here at The Search Agency, we have one client that ranks #1 in Google for an obscure word that appears only in meta-description (not body text, not title tag, and not in URL).  There may have been some 3rd-party anchor text, however.

Does anyone else have experience with a meta-description tag that seemed to make a clear impact on their rankings in Google?

About Craig Cochrane

Craig is a Senior SEO Architecture Analyst, and has worked in organic and paid search for 4 years. He began as a site owner, and has been an in-house SEO/SEM for DailyStrength, a large health-based social networking site, and for QualityHealth, a consumer health and wellness site. Craig holds a BA from Harvard in Economics and an MBA in Entrepreneurship and Finance from USC. In previous professional lives, he developed primetime television series at Paramount Pictures and helped launch the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), a virtual reality research institute at USC.

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2 Responses to “The Great Meta Debate”

  1. SEOmoz’s Search Engine Factors page is very entertaining.

    There is “moderate consensus” on no-brainer items like Link Popularity. If a panel of SEO’s can’t uniformly agree that attracting a lot of quality links is important, all hope is lost.

    The same goes for “Keywords in Title Tag”. I’d love to know who said that’s not important.

  2. The key to this is simply data analysis. Rand crawls the web and looks at a lot of things. More valuable than his “who’s who” charity publicity list of opinion would be a stone-cold data analysis of all of the factors on his list, based on the pages Google returns for the top 100 results for 1k-10k keyword searches. You could put together a much more accurate ranking factors list by simply analyzing that data then letting all of his buddies weigh in.


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