When Google returns a page of search results, you'll be familiar with the description that sits underneath the link to the website. This description is usually taken from the meta description field of the page in question. But that is not always the case.
The description underneath the link comes from the page's meta description, as we can see in the following image:
However, there is no guarantee that Google will use the meta description provided. Here is an example for a very closely related search query for "Leicester web design agency". The resulting snippet is quite different as you can see in the image below, even though the same page is being linked to.
Why Does is Matter?
Click through optimisation is the attempt to maximise the number of people who click on your link on the Google (or other) search result page. One way to maximise click throughs is to make your description as enticing and relevant as possible. It helps if you can also write a clear call to action. So, for a local search, such as "web agency Leicester", we made the assumption that the user is looking for a local agency - so we made it clear we're Leicester based by including our telephone number (0116 279 3822) in the meta description. It is also a call to action - they can call us without having to click through to find our contact details - one less click and a real win-win!
What is Happening?
Essentially Google is determining the best snippet to show to the user based on a number of inferences that Google makes about the search - user intention, etc, and then provides what it thinks is the best snippet to display. So Google is taking data from the page content as well as the meta description and melding them into a site description. What this means is that your carefully crafted meta descriptions and call to action can be mangled or ignored altogether.
What Can We Do?
This can be very frustrating to your attempts to improve click through rates via carefully crafted meta descriptions!
One thing we can do is to monitor search result snippets and attempt to make the meta description more relevant for the widest possible number of search queries. In reality however, this is rarely possible, especially if your page's subject is broad.
Perhaps the best we can do is to realise that we cannot rely on our meta descriptions being displayed as we'd like. We therefore have to make sure that there is equally strong page content that is aligned with our intensions in the original meta description. This might act as a prompt to Google to use this content if it deems the meta description is not appropriate for that particular search.