Why Isn't Google Using My Title and Meta Description?

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been known for using the title and meta tags from the very beginning. Most know that the influence, or weight, of meta tags has greatly decreased in importance to Google's algorithm.  Even so, we still use the meta description tag as an important part of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for each page and post on a website. So what happens when you Google your website and the title and description don't match what you wrote?

As it happens, Google doesn't always honor the title and meta description tag in its' search results. It sees these tags as a suggestion rather than the best description for the page.

Google started to keep a closer eye on this information a few years ago when websites started using the title and meta description tags to create an 'eye-catching' headline. Just like keyword stuffing, some sites were using this to get better results with titles and descriptions that did not properly represent the information in their content. Unfortunately, this means that sometimes legitimate titles and descriptions are overlooked and replaced by Google's random selection of terms for the page.

So, what can you do if this happens to your site? While it's not possible to force Google to use your meta description, there are ways to increase your odds of Google listening to your suggestion.

1. Ask Google to Re-Index Your Site
Sometimes, you just need an 'update' based on the description that you recently entered. If this is the case and Google is simply taking it's time to crawl your site, you can use Google Webmaster Tools to request them to index the site in the next few days rather than waiting. Just follow these steps:

  • Go to the "Crawl" section under the site in question
  • Select "Fetch as Google"
  • Click "Fetch"
  • Select the option to "Submit to Index"
  • Make sure the option "Crawl this URL and its direct links" is selected
  • Click "Go"

2. Rethink Your Meta Description
Make sure that the title reflects actual content found on the page. If you are targeting the site for certain terms or phrases, it makes sense to use the ones found in the content in your meta description. Also make sure that you are using the correct structure - a sentence. Using phrases is not a proper use of the description tag, and Google can tell if you try to trick it!

3. Don't Duplicate Your Meta Descriptions
While it is tempting to make the descriptions on every page of your site the same to index better for your target terms, it can actually increase the chances of Google ignoring your suggestions. Make sure that you have individual, unique descriptions for each page based on the terms found in the content.

4. Block Your ODP Listings
Sometimes, Google uses descriptions provided by the Open Directory Listings, as it is a trusted source. If you fear this is what's happening, you can block the provided ODP descriptions using this snippet in your header:

<meta name="robots" content="NOODP">

5. Block the Description Entirely
We do not suggest this method as it usually does more harm than good, it is possible to remove the description entirely from your Google results. We only use this method if all other methods have failed and the description has further negative implications, such as legal liability. If you absolutely must get rid of the description that Google is using, you can use this snippet in your header:

<meta name="robots" content="nosnippet">

6. Just Let It Be
While the description that Google ultimately chooses may not be the optimal solution that you want, it may best to leave it alone. Google has several features that allow users to quickly scan results for the terms they searched, including bolding of the search terms found inside the results. In fact, you may be surprised just how few users actually read the full description anymore. If people are finding you for the search terms you want, that's what's truly important.

As always, Google is ever changing as is how we all use technology of all kinds. Techniques that work today may not with the next algorithm change, but if you use white-hat Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, you will give your site the best chance for indexing well now and into the future.

Have your own tips and tricks? Let us know how you react to Google's snippet choices in the comments section below!