Is Google News ignoring meta “description” tags?

Once you’ve put all the hard work into ensuring your copy scans well on the page, and have devised appropriate keywords so that it can be found, how would you feel if some of your hard work was being ignored by one particular search engine you rely on for traffic?

Much is made of capturing the aboutness of news copy in html tags – and rightly so. It’s no secret that online newspapers receive significant amounts of traffic from search engines, and search engines in turn rely upon metadata to rank and present results from their indices.

So it came as a surprise this morning when I found that the short, punchy meta “description”text used to summarise some news articles, is not being displayed in their Google News results summaries.

Here are the stories in question:

Kidnappers claim deal struck to free British hostages seized in Iraq (Guardian)

meta “description”: “Months of covert negotiations could see imminent release of five Britons after two years in captivity”

Google News result result

Yahoo News result

Britain’s broke, Labour’s finished: mission complete, Agent Harman (Telegraph)

meta “description”: “Jeff Randall believes the Leader of the House of Commons must be part of a Tory plot to destroy the Government “

Google News result result

Yahoo News result

Title agony for Vectis Ladies (Isle of Wight County Press)

meta “description”: “Hockey, Vectis Ladies v Aldershot, Clare Downer, Saffron Hart”

Google News result result

In all three cases Google News ignores the meta “description”copy, and opts by default to lift the first line of these stories, using them to summarise search results. This is no major crime – but it is a cautionary reminder of the burden placed on news writers to capture the essence of their story in a punchy, eye-catching, 30-words-or-less, grammatically sound sentence.

This is perhaps an example of how Google News differs from it’s parent engine in their approach to indexing content – Google publicly makes a big issue of the virtues of meta “description” tags in it’s SEO Starter Guide, and on it’s official blog. However, the official blog for Google News doesn’t appear to mention the tag anywhere, and certainly not in it’s guidance on improving your result listings.

It is worth noting that Yahoo News results for two of the above stories (the Isle of Wight County Press article doesn’t appear to be indexed in Yahoo News) returned the meta “description” text in their search results.

As an aside, The Independent appears to use the “tagline” tag to capture it’s descriptive text, and uses the first line of it’s articles within it’s “description” tag. These “tagline”summaries don’t show up in Google News or results either, – but are presumably intended as much for the reader who has found their articles, as for search engines.

Which is a crucial point to bear in mind about this type of aboutness – these descriptors are important aides, in a medium where people are inclined to scan, rather than read.


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