Internet Marketing Research

Google and the Meta Description Tag – Update

In one man’s test of the Google meta tag, Chris Beasley set out to prove that Google does not take meta descriptions into consideration when ranking websites. He created 10 pages about a dog named Homer. The only difference in the pages was the color of the dog; and the fact that half the pages had the word “dog” in the meta description.

The result? If you do a search on Google for a dog named Homer, Google returns 33,300 pages; but at the bottom of the first page are two of the pages Chris Beasley created. The first is “The Pink Dog” and the second is “The Black Dog”; both pages contain “Dog” in the meta description. To a normal person, this would suggest that Google does indeed prefer the meta description tag. After all, random ranking in competitive search results is impossible. So, he proved himself wrong. End of story. Right?

Not with Mr. Beasley. In either an attempt to mislead the SEO industry, or out of ignorance, Beasley claims that by doing a site search, Google returns random results. That is to say, neither the pages with meta description pages nor the pages without meta description pages outrank one another. They are mixed and show no pattern of ranking or order.

In fact, they are ranked thus:

The Pink Dog – With Meta Description
The Black Dog – With Meta Description
The Brown Dog – No Meta Description
The Violet Dog – No Meta Description
The Indigo Dog – With Meta Description
The Yellow Dog – No Meta Description
The Red Dog – No Meta Description
The Orange Dog – With Meta Description
The Green Dog – With Meta Description
The Blue Dog – No Meta Description

Note: This is how they are listed when the searcher chooses the “repeat the search with the omitted results included.”

The default site search listed the pages in a slightly different order, omitting the “Blue Dog” page:

The Pink Dog – With Meta Description
The Black Dog – With Meta Description
The Brown Dog – No Meta Description
The Violet Dog – No Meta Description
The Indigo Dog – With Meta Description
The Yellow Dog – No Meta Description
The Red Dog – No Meta Description
The Orange Dog – With Meta Description
The Blue Dog – No Meta Description

Now, why would Beasley publish a finding based on a site search? Google’s “site search” feature lists sites randomly, without applying the ranking algorithm. So why base algorithm test findings on a search wherein the algorithm isn’t applied?

If you are new to SEO, and wondering how we can know that Google doesn’t apply the ranking algorithm to site searches, please take a moment to read our page on Google Site Search.

SEO professionals know that Google does not apply the full ranking algorithm to “Site Searches”. So Beasley is either intentionally attempting to mislead his audience; or he is an ignorant, arrogant buffoon.

Insofar as Beasley refuses to honestly report the findings of his test, I shall report the findings on his behalf.

In normal search results where the ranking algorithm applies – searching Google without limiting results to the domain in question – Google listed only two pages, both of which contained “Dog” in the meta description.

From these results, and from another inhouse testing we’ve conducted, we’ve seen Google ranking pages with relevant meta description tags over pages without meta description pages, and also over pages with meta description tags that did not contain the search phrases.