Adding a meaningful description to web pages

One of the things that I noticed whilst reviewing the Google results for this site, was how the description for every page was shown using the first text available on the page – mostly the alternative text for the masthead photo (“Winter market scene from the small town of Porjus in northern Sweden – photograph by Andreas Viklund, edited by Alex Coles.”):

Screenshot showing duplicate descriptions

Clearly, that’s not very descriptive and so it won’t help much with people finding my site, linking to me, and ultimately improving the search engine placement for my pages, so I need to get a decent description listed for each page.

The WordPress documentation includes a page on meta tags in WordPress, including an explanation as to why they aren’t implemented by default (my template did include a meta description for each page which included the weblog title and tagline though). Even though meta tags are not a magic solution to search engine placement, I wanted to find a way to add a meaningful description for each page using <meta description="descriptionofcontent"> and also <meta keywords="pagecontext"> (although it should be noted that much of the available advice indicates that major search engines ignore this due to abuse). Fortunately there is a WordPress plugin which is designed to make those changes – George Notoras’ Add-Meta-Tags. There’s plenty of speculation as to whether or not Google actually uses the description meta tag but recent advice seems to indicate that it is one of many factors involved in the description shown in search results (although it will not actually affect positioning).

I already had meta tags in place for content-type, robots, and geolocation but I added some more that I was previously using HTML comments for:

<meta http-equiv="content-language" content="en-gb" />
<meta name="author" content="Mark Wilson" />
<meta name="generator" content="WordPress" />
<meta name="publisher" content="markwilson.it" />
<meta name="contact" content="webmaster@markwilson.co.uk" />
<meta name="copyright" content="This work is licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA" />

Incidentally, a comprehensive list of meta tags and an associated FAQ is available at Andrew Daviel’s Vancouver webpages.

After checking back a couple of weeks later, the same search returns something far more useful:

Screenshot showing duplicate descriptions

Unfortunately my PageRank has dropped too, and it’s possible that the duplicate entries for http://www.markwilson.co.uk/ and http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/ are causing the site to be penalisedGoogle’s Webmaster guidelines say “don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content. The presence of those duplicate entries is actually a little odd as checking the server headers for http://www.markwilson.co.uk/ reveals an HTTP 301 response (moved permanently), redirecting to http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/.  Of course, it could be down to something entirely different, as PageRank is updated infrequently (there’s more information and links to some PageRank anaylsis tools at RSS Pieces but I use Page Rank Checker) and there have been a lot of changes to this site of late… only time (and building the volume of backlinks to http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/) will tell.

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