Last week I wrote a post on how to properly utilize the Meta Description Tag for websites. One of my buddies argued that adding a personal touch to this tag for a large or enterprise size website is not scalable. He is absolutely correct. If you have a website that produces hundreds or even thousands of pages daily you would need to have a team in place writing Description Tags all day. That might not be the best use of your limited resources.
So what is the best way to approach this SEO problem? It depends on the origination of the published content. Let’s tackle the in-house created content first. Most likely if you are a large site or enterprise site you are publishing through a Content Management System (CMS). If you are a medium size site and you think you are growing you better start investing in a good CMS so do not click out of this article until you have finished reading.
Some publishing groups require their editorial staff to create a short description that is viewed by the user and is a one to two sentence blurb at the very beginning of an article known as “the hook.” The hook is supposed to capture and persuade the reader to consume the entire article. In most cases the subject matter of the article will be incorporated in the hook. For scale purposes have your web development team make the hook or short description populate the Meta Description Tag. Restrict this field to 150 characters and it would not hurt adding a comment for this field instructing the editor to conduct keyword research before crafting the hook.
This can be a risky approach as I discovered at MSN.com. Some editors that came from a print media background just cannot and will not let go of the old glory days of a newspaper. Their hooks certainly capture the reader but have nothing to do with the subject matter of the article or webpage. Another option is creating the Meta Description Tag from the first 150 characters of the article or page content itself. In most cases the page subject matter is discussed in the first few sentences of the content.
Here is a critical requirement to build into your CMS: Any Description Tag rule can be overwritten by a human editor. So an editor or SEO can go into the CMS and create a better optimized Meta Description Tag. The automated rule will never override the human revision.
Some sites will have content partners meaning they are syndicating content from other sites. In these situations you really need your SEO to work with the business development team. BizDev needs to understand they cannot create any contract impacting content publishing without building in a contract section for SEO. That contractual requirement will tackle how to populate every on-page SEO element such as the Description Tag.
Most likely your content partners also are crafting short descriptions or “the hook.” So again, you can either pull their content into your site and have the short description populate the Meta Description tag or you can choose to use the first 150 characters of the content. Since you have zero control over your content partner’s editors I prefer to use the first 150 characters of the article content.
Again, build a rule that allows one of your editors or SEOs to be able to revise a Meta Description Tag and that future content refresh processes DO NOT overwrite that revision. You also want to make sure the contract allows your staff to make SEO edits. Some content partners will refuse this ask so you are at the mercy of their “SEO.” Many times that means you are going to have SEO problems with that content. I have run into some crazy SEOs at very large publishing companies. Do not let them push your editors or BizDev guys around. Come forward and educate the content partner because most of the time they will see the light.