Last week, I was doing some research for a piece I was writing about anonymous social networks when I came across one of the most horrifying SEO (and PR) mistakes I've ever seen.
It was a meta description. A measly 50 characters. But it made me immediately think negatively of Whisper, and leave an impression that, days later, feels just as fresh.
Here's what it said (beware, it has NSFW language):
At first I thought it must have been a mistake, so I reloaded the search to find that it wasn't. I thought it must have been a secret someone shared on Whisper that somehow got autopopulated into the meta description ... but when you click through, you see nothing but Whisper's homepage.
I felt horrified. Someone wrote this? And Whisper is really featuring it in their meta description? Yikes.
I snapped the above screen shot to show my equally horrified colleagues, then I moved on with my day. But then this morning, I remembered the meta description and went to go see if Whisper had fixed it -- and there was a new secret snippet.
The website had probably been recrawled, and it seemed like it was just pulling in a random secret for their meta descriptions. But I still had one big question on my mind.
Is This a Strategy or Mistake?
I started to think about Whisper's SEO strategy. The whole concept of the product is to reveal secrets in public, but anonymously. So chances are, there'll be some shocking admissions there ... and that's part of the appeal. To get more people using the social network, Whisper would want there to be juicy, clickworthy secrets populating the meta descriptions, right? And technically it worked -- I clicked through to the website.
But just because the strategy could work well for clicks (just like link-bait headlines), doesn't mean it won't alienate people. I'm definitely in Whisper's target demo and I'm not easily offended ... but this still left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Not exactly a successful brand strategy in my opinion, nor a successful SEO strategy (I clicked through because of the meta description, but also wouldn't use the app because of the meta description).
Purposeful or not, there's still one giant, glaring takeaway for us. Regardless of what Whisper's strategy is, we should all remember to always always be aware of what's being populated in our meta descriptions. Don't rely on a machine to populate this crucial piece of real estate. Even though search algorithms don't really care about your meta descriptions, they're still a determining factor in whether a searcher clicks on your link, or passes you by for another result.
Editor's Note: Neetzan Zimmerman, Editor in Chief at Whisper, confirmed that this meta description was a bug and in no way an SEO tactic. They became aware of the issue a couple weeks ago and have been working to fix it. The meta description has been fixed.
Have you seen some truly horrendous meta descriptions? Do you think they could hurt (or maybe even help) you capture more search traffic?