Why is Google showing the wrong meta description?

Tyler Scionti

  | Published on

September 29, 2023

You've put a great deal of time into optimizing your website, so there's nothing worse than having nothing to show for your efforts.

Meta descriptions are critical to your success in search, so seeing the wrong one showing for your site can be devastating.

Why would Google show the wrong meta description in Google search results? Why would your meta description not update.

We'll answer these questions and more.

What is a meta description?

Meta descriptions are the short description that appears underneath the site title in search results. Google shows these as a preview of the page, and most content editors allow you to set a custom description.

Meta descriptions do not appear on your page though, they're set in a tag in the page's HTML structure that only Googlebot can see (or someone checking out the source code of your website):

The descriptions are a great way to entice searchers to click on your search result over the others, as you can see here the content can vary pretty widely depending on the search term.

Descriptions should be short and pithy, and include a CTA (call to action) that encourages people to click through and check out your content.

Sometimes Google does not show your custom description though.

Why would Google do this? And what is Google using instead of your meta description?

Why Google is not showing your meta description

There are a number of reasons Google would not update the meta description for your page.

Typically Google might be showing an older version of the meta description or outright ignoring it and show a snippet of the page content. Neither is ideal, so here are the common reasons why Google is showing the wrong description and how to fix them.

There is more than one description present in the page source code

This is rare because most website builders as they are pretty good at preventing something like this from happening, but it can happen.

Sometimes you have multiple meta descriptions and Google is really confused.

You may find you have multiple meta description tags present on the page, which ends up confusing Google. To see if this is the problem right click anywhere on the page to generate a small menu and select 'View Page Source' from the menu.

This will open up a code view of your page - don't be alarmed it's just the HTML structure for your website!

To search for the description tags click cmd+F (or ctrl+F for Windows) and search for name="description" if you get multiple results then you have multiple meta descriptions on the page and will need to work with your webmaster to remove the extra one.

If only one result appears, then we've ruled this out as a cause and need to move on to the next options.

Google is showing an old meta description

Google is pretty fast at crawling websites, but often they're not as fast as we'd like.

If you just recently updated the meta description of your page there is a chance that Google hasn't re-crawled it and updated their index.

You can tell when Google last crawled your page by typing cache:yourwebsiteurl to see the version that Google last analyzed and noting the 'appeared' date on the resulting page

If the date that Google last viewed your page is before the date you made changes to your meta description then this is the likely cause for the wrong description showing.

All you can do in this case is wait for Google to re-crawl the site, though at most this should take a few days to a week on average.

If the date is after your most recent changes though we can rule Google's cache out as a cause.

Google prefers other content on the site for a description

If you don't have multiple descriptions on your page, and Google's cache is up to date then it may just be that Google prefers other content on your page for the description and is ignoring your custom meta description.

This one sucks.

Mainly because there's not much you can do to appeal Google's decision.

At the end of the day Google (and other search engines) can show whatever they want for the meta description and while we'd like to think they always listen to what we ask, the meta description is more of a suggestion than an express command.

If Google continues to show the wrong meta description then some optimization is in order. Try tweaking your meta description - check out what the top ranking sites are using for your focus keyword, try shortening your description, change up the wording - anything you can do to mix things up.

How long does it take google to update meta description?

If you've tried to update your page's meta description, now comes the waiting game to see when Google will update it in its search results.

If Google 'likes' the meta description, you can expect to see the new meta description in your search listing once Google re-indexes the page. Google is pretty fast at indexing content, but it can take days or even weeks for Google to re-index a page and reflect the changes in search results. Fortunately, you can manually request Google to re-index a page with Google Search Console by inspecting the URL and requesting they re-inex it.

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