That’s So Meta
Over the last year or so we have noticed that Google has been making some changes to how the SERP looks. One area where they have been doing some AB testing is with the meta descriptions. First, we noticed that the descriptions had got longer. Then they went back to normal. Then they disappeared totally, and Google shared the first paragraph of the article instead. So we decided to do an experiment. What would happen if we picked three random pages and made the meta description the same as the opening paragraph?
Back in 2013 Moz said that this would not be a good idea, but a lot has changed since then, so we ran a test over the last 3 months to see how these pages would fare. Would Google stop ranking them? Would traffic totally drop off? We didn’t know what to expect.
The three pages we picked were in the mid-level pages. Not our best pages, but not our worst. They were all getting traffic organically and during the three months, we did nothing extra to promote the pages. In fact, we actually removed one of the pages from our site before the end of the experiment (for reasons unrelated to SEO).
The changes were pretty dramatic. All of the pages received around a 30% increase in the number of impressions. We realized that this was even more impressive when we noticed that our site as a whole had actually had a drop in the number of sessions.
While impressions were up by 30%, clicks were not. The number of clicks decreased by around 40%. So Google was showing the pages more often on the SERP, but the users were less interested when they saw the “meta descriptions” so they didn’t click. We think this is because the first paragraph of the pages wasn’t optimized like a meta description. It was just a ‘first paragraph. So perhaps it didn’t entice enough to earn us a click.
Takeaways and Next Steps
Our main takeaway is that we should be treating our opening paragraphs as if they are meta descriptions. Google may, or may not, choose to show our first paragraph on the SERP. But until we know the logic behind that decision we have to cover our bases and optimize both. And, as we have seen from our test, if we want to use the same content in the meta description and the opening paragraph, we won’t be punished. So, time to redraft the first paragraph of this article…