SEO question: meta descriptions for user-generated content

(Priscilla McClay) #1

None of our user-generated content has meta-descriptions, and I’ve been told that having them would improve SEO. The only good way I can think of to do this would be to have them automatically generate, taking the first couple of lines of the post.

Google already pulls through the first couple of lines of a post when they show up in search results, so from a user experience point of view, it seems that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. But from a technical point of view, is it better for SEO to have a designated meta-description, rather than Google having to pull through a snippit itself?

Any SEO experts have any input on this? There’s a lot of SEO advice out there, but I’ve found very little that addresses the specific challenges of a site that’s mainly made up of user-generated content.

(Sarah Hawk) #2

I wouldn’t call myself a SEO expert by a long shot, but my guess is that the benefit of custom meta descriptions is that you can specify which keywords are in the text. People don’t generally get straight to the point when posting, so the auto-snippet may just be full of fluff.

Let’s call in @dominic_woodman for his more expert opinion.

(Priscilla McClay) #3

Thanks Sarah. But how would they be custom? Users wouldn’t be creating them, so - unless I was to go around adding them to every post - surely they would need to be automatically generated somehow? Doesn’t every post need to have a different meta-description, rather than just sticking the same keywords on all of them?

Sorry if I’m asking stupid questions, here - I’m trying to learn about SEO but, as I’ve said, I can’t find many resources that are specific to communities.

(Joe Velez) #4

Auto-generate them (first few words of content) but get the option to edit these yourself whenever you can.

It’s always good to customize the description on active topics - especially viral and high ranking pages.

(Priscilla McClay) #5

Thanks - that’s helpful. If anyone knows of any good guide or resources with examples of best practice for forums, that would be great, too.

Here’s an example of our forum posts in search results. ‘Bereavement’ is a keyword for us, so here it is showing up in the category title (in the breadcrumbs), although not in the title or snippet.

(Richard Millington) #6

Going to tag in @jennita.

(Dominic Woodman) #7


So the main benefit of a meta description equivalent to ad copy on an ad. It gives the user some more information and makes them more likely to click.

Unlike titles where Google will typically respect what you give (your page is probably about one topic and your title will be better than what it could generate automatically), a meta description (as you pointed out) is far more likely to be changed by Google if it thinks it can find something that fits the users context.

For example suppose you have a post on the prices of cars and you have a post which talks about:

  • Ford car prices & Landrover car prices

If that’s the most relevant post on your site for car prices, Google will probably try and pull the Ford information for a user searching about Fords and a Landrover for the person searching about Landrovers.

You couldn’t possibly write a meta description to fit that, but it can help users with those kinds of sub-topics. (In your example it looks like you’ve searched for “dreading christmas” (judging from the bold) and it’s pulled the part of the post which mentions that.)

There will however, always be a set of queries which do get your custom meta description (in the above example it might be a generic one about car prices) and for these queries the question is: can you find a neat way to automatically or with minimal effort summarise a topic?

Doing it automatically will always be hard, I would at least set a meta description equal to the first couple lines of the main post (like Joe mentioned), it will hopefully prevent Google doing anything dumb like pulling in a menu and then pick your top posts and try and summarise those.

It’s not the most high return activity, but worth doing if you have any particularly valuable posts.

(Priscilla McClay) #8

We have now got the meta-descriptions implemented, although only the automatically-generated ones, we can’t customise them at the moment. We’ve been implementing a few different SEO improvements over the past six months, and we are gradually seeing our traffic from organic search increase, although I still think it could be a lot better.

(Sarah Hawk) #9

Any in particular that you think are having an effect?

(Priscilla McClay) #10

It’s hard to tell for certain, since the effects aren’t instant with SEO. But besides the forum post meta-descriptions, some of the key things we’ve done are link building, especially with and domains, adding an XML sitemap and cleaning up the meta data on the non-UGC pages. Probably fairly basic stuff compared to what some people are doing!