The Truth About Duplicate Meta Descriptions [UPDATED]

Google’s search engine currently recognizes and uses seven different meta tags. Of those tags, the most important ones are the title and description tags.

The importance of having unique title tags is already understood by most webmasters.

With duplicate title tags, you end up with pages that appear the same to users browsing search results. Having two pages compete for the same terms is confusing to Google and will only harm your rankings. It’s also confusing to users who may skip over a page that may have solved their problem and benefited you.

When talking about duplicate meta data, the less obvious answers concern duplicate meta descriptions. The impact of duplicate meta descriptions can be felt in the way your audience reacts to your website, but when it comes to meta description Google SEO, the answer may not be what you’d expect.


Duplicate Meta Descriptions: Are They Harmful?

Conventional wisdom says duplicate meta descriptions should be avoided at all costs. In fact, according to Mat Cutts of Google, it’s better to leave meta descriptions blank rather than duplicate them, as he says in this video here:

However, that video is from 2013. And a lot has changed since then. While duplicate meta descriptions should be unique for practical purposes, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to have the same one on a few pages. Moreover, meta descriptions aren’t that impactful on SEO at all. Rather, a good meta description is much more important for click-through rates.

So, how should meta descriptions be treated in 2018? We’re glad you asked!


Updates to Google’s Meta Description Display

In December 2017, Google officially acknowledged it’s changing meta description lengths from about 160 characters to anywhere from 300 to 350 characters, with most of the descriptions being about 325 characters. Moreover, Google has said that, even if you create your own meta descriptions, it won’t always be displayed. Instead, Google will sometimes change the description to a different few lines of content on your page it feels will benefit search engine users more.

In a way, that does mean leaving a meta description blank if you can’t think of one is more beneficial than a bad meta description. But at the same time, it means you have much more room to control the narrative around your site. By creating high-quality meta description on your own, you have a better chance of delivering the message you want to potential site visitors, increasing the chance of a better click-through rate.

Even with these changes, however, duplicate meta descriptions aren’t the boogeyman they’re made out to be. In fact, in some cases, they can be incredibly beneficial.


When Should You Use Duplicate Meta Descriptions?

While duplicate meta descriptions used to mean Google saw the pages as the same or competing with each other, recent algorithm changes have given a bit more leeway on the issue. There are a couple reasons why you may want to duplicate your meta descriptions. However, if you don’t fit into one of these reasons, you’re better off creating unique descriptions or leaving it blank.

First, you may want to temporarily use the same description on a few pages that could each rank for the same search term. That way, you can remove the factor of different descriptions to see which page ranks better, then keep the meta description for the winning page.

Second, if you have pages that don’t have copy on them, such as a video or photo library with media on unique pages, you may want to use the same broad meta description across all of them. However, this should only be done if you don’t have time to create unique descriptions, since a potential website visitor is more likely to click on that unique page if they know exactly what it’s about.


Rules of Thumb for Meta Descriptions in 2018

Keep these rules of thumb in mind as you work on your meta descriptions this year:

  • 300 characters is a good length to shoot for.
  • Duplicate meta descriptions should only be used under specific circumstances, and even then, should only be used on a few pages at most.
  • If you can’t come up with a meta description, leaving it blank is a safe bet. If you have created a great page that would rank well otherwise, Google will likely create that description for you.
  • In your meta description, give an engaging explanation of the page that will make people want to visit your site.
  • If content, including meta descriptions, isn’t your thing, get help from the professionals.

Meta Description Checklist for 2018

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