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Basically, for pages that may not have a description or tags set, is it better to have

<meta name="description" content="" />
<meta name="keywords" content="" />

or just skip the tags altogether for those pages that don't have the information set?

  • Keywords can be dropped in all cases. Google nor Bing! uses it. – Martijn Mar 22 '17 at 12:58
10

FYI, meta tags have no effects on rankings so no meta tags is the same as empty meta tags is the same as full meta tags.

Having said that, empty meta tags are the same as no meta tags. Either way you are not providing search engines or any other crawler any information normally provided in those tags. If I had to choose one or the other I would simply omit them as it means a (slightly) smaller file size and less parsing for crawlers.

  • John, reading your answer and Stephen's, I was a bit surprised and decided to google an specific page in one of my sites. I specifically searched for 3 keywords in the description tag and one in the title. The search result displayed the title of the page with the description tag underneath it, and not part of the text in that page. So my question is how is it that no meta tags is the same as full meta tags, and how is it that it offers no value? – riseagainst Sep 19 '13 at 19:19
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    Google has clearly stated that meta tags don't affect rankings. What I didn't say was that they don't use them. The keywords tag is almost certainly unused, but the description tag is known to be used for display snippets in the search results. That's why I didn't say they weren't used. I only said they don't affect your rankings. – John Conde Sep 19 '13 at 19:21
  • Ok thanks. So, even if they don't affect rankings, they might help you on search results right? As in the test I just did, it is still worth to have them, correct? – riseagainst Sep 19 '13 at 19:24
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    It will give you some possible control over how your pages appear in the search results. It just won't be factor in determining where those pages rank. So if you have good copy in your meta description tag you may see a higher click thru in the search results. – John Conde Sep 19 '13 at 19:25
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    ya im aware of their irrelevance these days but im required to include them on some pages for the project im working on, but its a dynamically generated site that bases off a template, so either I write a conditional for the whole tag to show up or just inject content into the tags, being blank when blank. I just dont know if having blank content attribute values actually hinders anything in anyway (you know how google is, they find ONE thing they dont like and they blacklist ya lol) – RedactedProfile Sep 19 '13 at 20:37
6

There is no benefit to having an empty meta description or meta keywords. They take up a few bytes in the page source. You might as well leave them out.

On the flip side, it shouldn't really hurt when those fields are empty compared to not having them. If your CMS requires that they are there and you don't want to write content for them, it would be OK to leave them empty. Especially the meta keywords, they are not used at all by Google anymore. Writing a good meta description is generally a good idea because it often gets shown as the snippet in the search results. Writing a good meta description can help pull in users that see your listing.

1

Keywords Meta-tag

I completely ignore the keywords meta-tag since most search engines ignore it. There are some exceptions such as Yandex. It is fairly safe for the major SEs to ignore this tag. However, it costs you nothing to have one if it is convenient.

Description Meta-tag

As for the description meta-tag, both answers from John and Stephen are both correct. However, there are a few facts I would like to add.

What people forget is that search engines are actually to be taken in two parts. This is extremely important to know. One is the index with the fetch queue and any algorithms and metrices related to weighting the site and pages and has nothing to do with the query engine. The query engine is the other half that has algorithms and metrices of it's own. The difference is that the index stores metrics and the query engine does not (effectively) except for the query itself so that it can be studied. Each has it's purpose. For example, when a page is fetched and indexed, various algorithms are applied and metrics stored. Granted. The difference is that this is done in a relative vacuum with no ability to compare the page or site to others. This is what the query engine does. It takes the query, applies algorithms against to the query, creates a series of queries, and then applies algorithms to the result sets to create a single cohesive result. Why this is important to know is that ranking and metrics are applied in two parts and that each set has a specific purpose that do not over-lap.

The description meta-tag, if managed properly will be shown as the SERP snippet. We all know this. What is often forgotten is that the description meta-tag has enjoyed certain privileges in Google along with the title tag from the very beginning and for a good reason. The Google query engine actually makes several queries and blends the query results into a single weighted result set to pass to the filters. Of these queries, there is at least a query against the title tag, the description meta-tag, the h1 tag, and the content itself. Add to it, queries for different analysis scenarios found in the search query itself and potentially others.

The fact is that the description meta-tag is indexed just like the title tag, however, it does not provide weight to the page content itself within the index. This differs in some respect to the title tag in that semantic topical scores and other semantic analysis of the title tag will in some form or another be applied to the content through martices or metrics of metrics. This allows weighting of the title tag, the content, and the two combined. This is not the case for the description meta-tag.

Where the description meta-tag shines is if terms used in the search query are found in the description meta-tag. When this happens, additional scoring may be applied in the search query filters. Not much, however, the description meta-tag can boost placement in the SERPs over other similar ranking pages that do not have the search terms in the description meta-tag. It is a boost, but can only boost one or two positions within a reasonably narrow window of conditions where it is relevant. Still, it is important.

For that reason, I always suggest over time that the site owner track the terms actually used to find the page or similar pages on their site. Then the description meta-tag should be adjusted to use the primary search terms in as natural and conversational a way possible. You will know you are having success if the majority of the search queries for a given page will highlight search terms within the SERP snippet. This is the last step in the SERP filters and used only in rendering the page. Any thought that direct search terms matches against the description meta-tag would be almost completely wrong.

Consider also that for description meta-tags that are not managed well, Google will use search matches within content for the SERP snippet.

As for whether a description meta-tag should be used or not, it depends. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. It may not always be practical to edit a description meta-tag to be truly effective. For static pages such as articles, it is very possible and likely to generate a highly effective description meta-tag, however, for dynamically driven pages, it may not be. Because in some cases the search engine will chose a compelling content snippet based upon the search query, some site owners choose to not use a description meta-tag to force the search engine to use a content snippet. And why not? Search engines are fairly good at it! It is in this respect that not having a description meta-tag becomes an effective tool.

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    "...additional rank is applied in the search query filters. ... the description meta-tag can boost placement in the SERPs" - can you please clarify, this sounds entirely incorrect. (?!) As referenced in Goyllo's comment below, Google states that, "we still don't use the description meta tag in our ranking." - "ranking" being the relative placement in the SERPs. – MrWhite Mar 23 '17 at 9:30
  • @w3dk I guess I should be clear. I do not believe that any metrics are stored in the index in regards to the description meta-tag. This may have been jettisoned long ago. I will dig through my documents to find where Google talks about blended queries and the result sets. I do strongly believe however, that in tightly competitive scenarios that specific filters can apply a 1-2 position jump based upon work I did researching the effects of specific tags nearly 5 years ago. However, this may be a moot point now with stronger emphasis on reducing duplicate content. Will edit later. Cheers!! – closetnoc Mar 23 '17 at 15:58
  • @w3dk The abbreviated copy of the original Google research paper does talk about blended results. I no longer have the full version which is likely where I got the 2%. The full version is no longer available without paying for it and I am notoriously cheap when it comes to paying for things that were once free. I may have this in another document. I have so many and why I want some sort of library/index software. I have a lot of painting and cleaning to do quickly. My new tenant dropped a bomb and asked if she could move in this Saturday instead of closer to the 1st. Yipes!! – closetnoc Mar 23 '17 at 16:16
  • @w3dk I am not sure still don't use is exactly true. Not strictly. – closetnoc Mar 23 '17 at 16:18
-1

I came across this and it's years later. Just had to clarify, because John Conde's answer to your question couldn't be more wrong. I've been working in SEO and digital marketing for almost 10 years.... and John says:

FYI, meta tags have no effects on rankings so no meta tags is the same as empty meta tags is the same as full meta tags. Having said that, empty meta tags are the same as no meta tags. Either way you are not providing search engines or any other crawler any information normally provided in those tags. If I had to choose one or the other I would simply omit them as it means a (slightly) smaller file size and less parsing for crawlers.

  1. As for "proof" or references, just do a search on the importance of the Title and Description tags for organic search rankings. I've never heard anyone claim something like that, and put it out there as "fact". Meta keywords are no longer relevant; that is true. The Google algorithm simply ignores that tag. But the Meta title and desc, both are key factors that affect rankings. Just do a search for "SEO ranking factors". John, please don't mislead people. They may believe you and make huge mistakes that affect business.

2, As for omitting them because it's a slightly smaller file size and less parsing for crawlers? What??? The difference in size is negligible to say the least. It's like pores on your face. If you removed 10 pores, could anyone tell there was a difference? I know my analogy is ridiculous. But the statements made by John Conde are beyond ridiculous. I don't know where it's coming from.

Thanks. JM.

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    Hi, didn't downvote, but wanted to give a possible motivation: In this forum you don't respond to other posts (that's what comments are for). The TLDR; Pretend your answer is the only answer. Links to actuals sources is preferred :) – Martijn Mar 22 '17 at 13:09
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    The question wasn't about <title>, tags, it was about meta keywords and meta descriptions. Titles certainly effect rankings. Meta keywords certainly do not. Meta descriptions are sometimes shown in the search results, but are not indexed. They can effect rankings only indirectly through click through rate. – Stephen Ostermiller Mar 22 '17 at 14:27
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    By all rights, your answer should be closed. You are not answering the question which is if it better to have empty meta-tags or not. The answer is, It depends upon the goal. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not. Can you answer the question and not rant at one of our users please? – closetnoc Mar 22 '17 at 15:46
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    Jacob go to this official article and search about description and you will get answer that google is not using meta description in their ranking factor. Even john said many times in his hangout. I advice you to don't believe on public ranking factor which is purely non-sense and just want to impress you so you link them/buy their software. They just want to be part of trends. – Goyllo Mar 22 '17 at 17:43
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    @Goyllo You are starting to sound like me! That could be dangerous. Cheers mate!! – closetnoc Mar 23 '17 at 0:08

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