The tutorial I am reading claims that the description of a web page (the little blurb google does about your site when you see it as a result in a search) is stored in a metadata tag as so:

<meta name="description" content="Description of a website>"

However, when I look at the source of any actual websites, I don't see any tag such as this, but they do have descriptions. My question is, where is the description stored?

Take a look at this sample website: http://cheerleaders.union.rpi.edu/. When you google "rpi cheerleading" you get a description of the website, the text of which is not taken from the web page, and the page source does not have a description tag. What gives?

  • 1
    Google is probably extracting the description text from another place, like the body text. Can you show an example where you see a description in Google but no meta description tag?
    – Pekka
    Jul 7, 2013 at 7:56
  • As far as I konw you have it right. Can you give an example?
    – Mike W
    Jul 7, 2013 at 7:57
  • 1
    @Pekka웃: python3porting.com (doesn't have a description and indeed Google extracts the beginning of the content text and uses that as a description. I, like Maksim, can't find a site that does use a description.
    – Lennart Regebro
    Jul 7, 2013 at 8:01
  • 2
    "rpi cheerleading" ... I didn't know that Raspeberry Pi had cheerleaders :D
    – balexandre
    Jul 7, 2013 at 8:13
  • 1
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about seo
    – John Conde
    Jul 7, 2013 at 12:25

4 Answers 4


I'm afraid all the previous answers are wrong! The chain of events of how a snippet is displayed in a search result is as follows:

  • If you have a valid tag and it matches the content of the page, it will display this. Meta description tags are not useless as people have posted below - only meta keyword tags are.
  • If you don't have a valid meta description tag but you DO have a listing in the Open Directory project (DMOZ) associated with the URL, it may display the description from this as the tag.
  • If you don't have a valid meta description tag OR have a listing in the Open Directory project (DMOZ) associated with the URL, but you DO have one in the Yahoo Directory, it may display the description from this as the snippet.
  • If you don't have any of the above, G will try and generate a snippet from the on-page content using analysis of the most likely useful content.
  • If it deems ALL of the above to be irrelevant (very rare) it may list menu items. This is a sign of very poor site quality.

The example given page (http://cheerleaders.union.rpi.edu/) has a snippet of

Includes an introduction to current and past squads, pictures, a roster, related links, and upcoming events.

Following step 2, this page does NOT have a meta description tag but IS is listed in the Open Directory Project at http://www.dmoz.org/Sports/Cheerleading/College_and_University/NCAA_Division_III/. You will see exactly this snippet listed for RPI.

To override this behaviour, you would write your own meta description and put the following meta tag in the head of the page:

<meta name=”robots” content=”NOODP,NOYDIR” />

which is officially supported by Google:


It doesn't have anything to do with:

  • rich snippets.
  • meta property tags.
  • tags being over 200 characters long (the limit is 160, and they just concatenate anyway.)

If you read here, it says

Google's generation of page titles and descriptions (or "snippets") is completely automated and takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the web. The goal of the snippet and title is to best represent and describe each result and explain how it relates to the user's query.

So this shows that Google doesn't always show description which is picked up from that particular page, it may show the description set by the user in web masters tool, or they can also pick up description from the websites which links to that particular website, yes bots are smart these days...

Apart from that you might like to check out about microformats as you've mentioned that you are learning about SEO.


This of course up to the search engine. Google tends to take the first bit of text in the content. I don't know if Google uses the description if available, but many of these metadata fields are used for search engine optimization, so I can imagine that they don't.


Description for spiders :

<meta name="description" content="Description of a website"/>

Description for facebook :

<meta property="og:description" content="My facebook description" />

Description for google plus :

<meta itemprop="description" content="My description for google +"/>

Description for twitter :

<meta name="twitter:description" value="My description for twitter card"/>
  • 2
    This doesn't answer his question though.
    – Pekka
    Jul 7, 2013 at 8:10
  • Google can get description from description from meta tag, but can remanage your description if your description is incorrect. If you page not have a description tag, google get all text in your page and set description over 200 characters
    – d.danailov
    Jul 7, 2013 at 8:15
  • but see the example in his question. The description text is nowhere in the HTML page on the cheerleaders site. How do you explain that?
    – Pekka
    Jul 7, 2013 at 8:17
  • cheerleaders.union.rpi.edu i not see description tag. Google description is "Includes an introduction to current and past squads, pictures, a roster, related links, and upcoming events." I think : In this case google crawler all site and try to set best words to describe cheerleaders from all pages.
    – d.danailov
    Jul 7, 2013 at 8:25

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