As part of a college website design project, I once built and ran a website that encouraged readers to vote for candidates from third political parties (US). Pages on the site included one about notable third party candidates of years past, another listing third party candidates in current elections, and, among others, a page listing every political party in the United States.
In the interest of helping my site's users, I figured I would provide brief descriptions of each party under the link to their site. I could've simply written these descriptions myself, but summarizing the platform of over 50 political parties is no small task. Equally important was making sure that my own personal beliefs didn't interfere with the descriptions, especially considering the fact that a few of the parties listed were, quite simply, terrible.
I needed the parties to come up with the descriptions themselves. Then I remembered something from my college courses: the meta description. This little tag sitting behind the scenes of the website is made for such a situation; it's very reason for existence is to provide a brief description of (and hopefully entice readers to visit) the website that search engine users can read!
"Perfect," I thought, "I'll let the parties speak for themselves." Well before I became versed in SEO, I set out to hunt down meta descriptions, only to find out that almost nobody uses them. In this particular instance, I think maybe 3 or 4 sites actually had them.
To be honest, I can't blame the others for not using them. There are few aspects of SEO that I don't enjoy, but writing meta descriptions is agonizing. You're limited to something like 155 characters to not only provide a summary of the page, which can be nearly impossible, but to be effective you have to also entice the user to click your link.
What's more, the meta description doesn't affect (at least not directly) search engine ranking. And just for an additional kick in the pants, Google will often just ignore it and pull text from the page instead.
All of that being said, I spent a good portion of today writing meta descriptions. Why? Because they are important. While Google may sometimes go looking for other text on the page, there are times when Google will use the meta description first or when another site will pull the description. When that happens I want to do everything possible to get the user to click on my site instead of my competitor's.
I'll continue to go that extra mile to win the search engine user, even if it means writing meta descriptions.