Using Short Descriptions for Search Engine Optimization

Recently, Keith Schengili-Roberts and I presented a webinar on the importance of DITA short descriptions. As an advocate of short descriptions I have posted on the subject a few times in the past. The webinar, which summarized those postings, was well received.

Besides reviewing best practices for writing short descriptions, we discussed how effective short descriptions are an opportunity to help users easily find the correct information for which they are looking. Satisfied documentation users lead to satisfied product users. Satisfied product users lead to good product reviews. Good product reviews lead to good sales numbers.

In putting the webinar together, Keith pointed out another important reason for using short descriptions that I had neglected in those posts. His point is that short descriptions appear within search engine results. An effective short description is important to enhancing search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO is the process of improving the rank a site or (in the writer's world) topic has on a search engine result page (SERP).

Let's take a look at the examples we presented in the webinar.

Searching on "build manifest feature" resulted in the SERP shown above.

Of the three results, which do you think you would click? Manifestly (sorry), it would be the first. It tells you right away that this article knows what a build manifest is. The second result is a poor short description because it simply repeats the topic title. And in the third? Well there is NO short description. No telling what you are going get there.

You can find a recording of our webinar at And you can find a presentation Keith gave on DITA and SEO at