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When you do a Google search, there is typically a snippet of sample content from the page. I seem to recall that the Meta Tags can influence this choice of descriptive sentences. Is that correct(?) and if so, is it the Meta Description Tag?

Also, how many characters is Google's descriptive sentences limited to?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Google will choose your search results snippets from the following places (not necessarily in this order):

  1. The page's Meta Description tag
  2. The page's Open Directory Project (ODP) Listing
  3. Page content relevant to the search query

If you do not want Google to use the ODP listing's description then you can tell them not to do so with the following Meta tag:

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

If you want to encourage Google to use your Meta Description tag then make sure it is unique to each page. Also make sure it contains an accurate description of the page's content.

In thew absence of an ODP description and Meta Description tag, Google will use a portion of the page's text as the description. This text will contain the closest matches to the search query. I have not seen any official limit to how long this can be but a couple of sentences seems about right.

On a related note, if you don't want a snippet to be shown with a particular page you can use the following Meta tag to prevent one from being shown:

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

See this blog post for Google's tips on using the meta description tag.

According to this site, "The meta description should typically be at most 145 to 150 characters in length as these are the maximum number of characters typically displayed at Yahoo! and Google, respectively."

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Thanks John, I could not recall the details. I seem to recall a good experience with the Description Tag. Can anyone attest to its likelihood of being used? –  John R Jun 26 '11 at 20:16
R - see @John Conde's point #1 - There's no "Description Tag" per-se, but the meta description tag is used when it is populated with content relevant to both the page and query. OT: nice to see the return of the old avatar @John Conde :) –  Mike Hudson Jun 27 '11 at 0:16
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Here is a link that might help you: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35624

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That was helpful, thanks! –  John R Jun 27 '11 at 1:37
"We're sorry, but the information you've requested cannot be found.". Maybe you intended google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35624. In this case the same page was previously cited in another answer. –  Guandalino Feb 8 '12 at 19:50
@Guandalino Thanks! I changed it in my answer. –  Alex Feb 9 '12 at 7:53
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protected by John Conde May 2 '13 at 11:41

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