SEO gurus have been saying that meta description tags aren't worth very much anymore in Google's eyes. Blogger, Google's blogging platform, doesn't even let you put any in. So as a business owner with lots on her plate, one less thing to worry about on the website is almost a blessing. Or is it...
Before I continue, let's review what meta description tags are. You can click here for meta description tags broken down with pictures, but I'll recap. The meta description tag is unique to every page. It describes what is on the page, and definitely uses the keywords you have placed into your content, alt tags in images, linked content, etc. While it might not have very much pull anymore when a search engine is evaluating your page (aka if you don't have one, it won't kill ya), it is used other ways that is important to actual people's eyeballs when they are evaluating your page. You won't see it on the page itself, but it can be displayed in other places, such as in the search engine results (see these pictures for an example).
While the meta description tag might not be a heavy weight on the technical side, it is a heavy weight for a person's eyeballs, which now includes eyeballs in Facebook. When you "Post a Link" in Facebook, or leave a link on someone's "Wall," Facebook will automatically search for and pull available pictures from the webpage. You'll get to choose which image you want displayed. It also grabs the first line of copy from that page and displays it, as a teaser. However, if you have a meta description tag, it displays the content in the meta description tag.
Example: Galia Gichon is giving a financial seminar "Whip Your Finances Into Shape" with the Freelancers Union. I posted it as a link on the Ladies Who Launch Group page in Facebook. The first sentance was pulled: "Baffled by where your money is going? Does retirement seem unreachable? Anxious about uneven income? Tired of living paycheck to paycheck, or
just without a realistic financial plan?" After a quick look at web page's source code, as far as I can tell, there is no meta description tag. So Facebook pulled and displayed the first line of the page.
However, when I answered someone in Facebook about where to find my sexy sleep masks (just got in a new batch!), I gave her the direct link, and my meta description tag was pulled: "Perfect for travel, Saturday morning sleep-ins, and afternoon catnaps. This silk sleep mask is reversible with a lining to block out the light, thanks to the black silk dupioni." If you go to this page, you'll notice that you can't see this text on the page. It's under the hood, in the code. Only search engines and other computer robot things can see it, and then spit it back out when called for.
So, it's just a new light shed on your meta description tag, so that as you write it, you'll have a better idea of who and when it might be read.
And, if you have a website based entirely in Flash, this will not work for you! Flash basically acts like a projector, throwing a website on a screen with no way to pull the little elements from it, like pictures and text. If you want to learn more about Flash based websites, I wrote a whole post about it here.