How to Avoid Using Poisonous Meta Tags

Head meta description tags have become less important as search engines have become more advanced. However, it now seems that you can make a mistake in your head meta description tags that is so damaging that you would be better off not having them at all.

This mistake is so common that sites with millions of visitors per month are making it. That’s because it only seems to have started having a negative effect in Google recently.

You should know by now that the <title> tag is the most important on page SEO you can do. You should already be varying that on every page as the topic dictates. If you are not already – it’s time to start. But that one was obvious . . .

The <meta name=”description”> tag has been thought for a while to be almost meaningless in Google. However, it now appears that having identical head meta descriptions on your sites web pages could be hazardous to your Google SERPs. It seems that a shared description could put your pages on the fast track for going supplemental.

While we have shown that supplemental results can outrank non supplemental results in Google, wouldn’t you rather not have large portions of your site go supplemental in the first place? In fact, our analysis show that you would be better off removing the description tag entirely than having it the same on multiple pages.

That means it’s time to start caring about those head meta description tags for yourself, and for your clients. While there are some plugins to do this in wordpress, you could just edit your header meta description line to look like this:

<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="YOUR SITE NAME <?php single_cat_title(); ?>: <?php echo category_description(); ?><?php echo htmlentities($excerpt); ?>">

Update: you will need this in the header for it to work:
<?php if(is_single()) :
foreach ($posts as $post) :
$excerpt = $post->post_excerpt;
<?php endif; ?>

This is how SEO Black Hat was setup. However, this setup requires that you diligently:

A) Write Category Descriptions in Manage -> categories -> descriptions and

B) Fill out the “Optional Excerpt” every time you make a post.

We were good about A, but have been rater lax about B. Now the task of making sure every post has a description must begin.


Make sure your <head> is on straight and make sure you are giving your clients good <head>. Because, as it turns out, <head> is important.

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14 Responses to “How to Avoid Using Poisonous Meta Tags”

  1. amrithallan says:

    Thanks for sharing this tips. It’s only recently I’ve restarted paying attention to meta tags. Long ago that used to be of great importance but somewhere in between I lost track. Then I recently I observed Google was picking up all the wrong (misplaced, actually) text from my websites for the search results. I immediately changed the description tags. The new results are yet to show up in Google.

  2. anty says:

    Instead of “YOUR SITE NAME” you can use .
    But I don’t get any text with all the other code snippets. Does anyone has an idea why this can happen?
    Thanks for sharing this ideas with us!

  3. anty says:

    aw, my code snippet of my above post was stripped, so here is another try: <?php bloginfo(‘name’); ?>

  4. QuadsZilla says:


    A) Write Category Descriptions in Manage -> categories -> descriptions and

    B) Fill out the “Optional Excerpt” every time you make a post.

  5. anty says:

    Thanks QuadsZilla, but I did both points, I have read your post 😉

  6. With the decrease in importance of the description tag, would an option be to omit this tag and just let the search engines display a snippet of tag that matches the query?

  7. Sean Fraser says:

    I’ve never understood why sites that are able to use descriptions, don’t use them. I’ve found that meta:descriptions have always assisted search rankings. And, more importanly, search users get a first impression from your site with descriptions. That’s a site’s first conversion point.

    Each search engine renders site “descriptions” differently: compare Google versus MSN versus Ask. MSN includes header elements; Google doesn’t.

    Adding meta:descriptions on blogs is – Fairly – simple. CMS templated sites are possilbe but tricky.

  8. rjonesx says:

    This is absolutely true – Google is using title tags and meta descriptions to determine a large proportion of its duplicate content penalty. We have seen this across PR8 sites with thousands of pages, so it is definitely affecting anyone and everyone.

  9. Alexandra DST says:

    I do the same on my websites but I prefer to put the name of the site behind the important keywords in the title, not before, otherwise I would have every single title starting with the same words which is, I think, a mistake.
    I also use different meta descriptions to avoid duplicate content between product pages which are very similar to each others.

  10. Alexandra DST says:

    Interesting post from Aaron on SEObook about ThreadWatch similar results due to same titles and meta descriptions:

  11. […] …oder besser gesagt Murmeltier-Jahr. Ich bin heute echt ins Grübeln gekommen. Der Grund der Verständnislosigkeit: Aaron Wall und Quadzilla posten fast gleichzeitig die “heisse Neuigkeit”, dass es besser ist, Meta-Informationen (vor allem den title- und description-tag) zu varriieren. Laut Aaron verschenkt man sonst gute Chancen oder schadet der Seite sogar. […]

  12. deviant says:

    So would it make sense to go through all older posts and add exerpts or has the damage already been done?

  13. nuevojefe says:

    I recommend trying to input some small string of text that isn’t found on the page in that exact form, but is obviously relevant and uses topical keywords then follow that up dynamically with X amount of characters of text taken from the body of the post followed by Ellipsis points at the cutoff.

    That usually makes a unique, non-entirely grabbed from the body, full description that is likely to include proper keywords if you focus on including important stuff at the beginning of posts most times.

  14. […] SEO BlackHat havde et godt indlæg i denne uge om ovenstÃ¥ende problem. Ifølge hans undersøgelser (og de plejer at være grundige og fornuftige) kan identiske META-koder pÃ¥ alt for mange af dine sider give problemer. Det ser alvorligt ud til, at sÃ¥danne identiske META-koder kan være være medvirkende, eller udslagsgivende, Ã¥rsag til at Google vælger at placere sider i det der kaldes “supplemental index”. […]