DMOZ Descriptions Do Not Work For Google

Human beings sometimes work with concepts and may use different words to express the same idea. This human intelligence is not easily mimicked by a computer which is digital. True or false, that is the way the computer sees it. For example the Title and the Heading of a blog are two distinct entities. People sometimes get confused between the two and call the headline the title of the blog post. This is incorrect. The title is what appears at the top of the screen: the heading is the headline that appears in the view window of the browser. As is discussed elsewhere, the simplest explanation is that Headlines are for humans, while titles are for robots.

Where it can get really complicated is where the same word is used with two quite distinct meanings. Unfortunately this has happened to one of the most important words relating to a web page: the description. One place the word description is used extensively is in the Open Directory Project or DMOZ. This site started off just over 10 years ago as GnuHoo, switching to NewHoo, before being acquired by Netscape. Being featured in the Open Directory Project provides a useful link for any site in gaining search engine visibility. In consequence many people have gone through the DMOZ submission process.

The Open Directory Project has human editors who prepare descriptions for all web pages. However a submitter can offer a description, which may be used or may be slightly modified. The guidance given for such a description includes the following:

Keep the description of your site brief – no longer than 25-30 words. A well-written, objective description will make listing your site easier.

  • Write in complete sentences and/or descriptive phrases using proper grammar, punctuation and correct spelling.
  • Avoid using promotional language and strings of key words and search terms.
  • Another place where this word Description is used is in the Description Meta tag, which is part of the Head section of any web page. If the Description Meta tag is provided then this will often be used by Google in preparing the explanatory snippet, which is provided in any keyword query report page. Since a good snippet may channel prospects to your website, it is worth putting a little effort into getting it right.

    Google in its Webmaster Help Center offers the following advice on creating effective Description Meta tags.

    Include clearly tagged facts in the description.
    The meta description doesn’t just have to be in sentence format; it’s also a great place to include structured data about the page. For example, news or blog postings can list the author, date of publication, or byline information. This can give potential visitors very relevant information that might not be displayed in the snippet otherwise. Similarly, product pages might have the key bits of information – price, age, manufacturer – scattered throughout a page. A good meta description can bring all this data together. For example, the following meta description provides detailed information about a book.
    <META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”Author: A.N. Author, Illustrator: P. Picture, Category: Books, Price: $17.99, Length: 784 pages”>

    In this example, information is clearly tagged and separated.

    This clearly shows the conflict. DMOZ requires sentences. Google prefers tagged information. The content of the description meta tag should be written the way Google prefers it. To be absolutely sure that Google uses what is offered in the meta tag rather than the description that may exist in the Open Directory Project, the following meta tag can be used:
    <meta name=”robots” content=”noodp”>
    This prevents all search engines (that support the meta tag) from using the Open Directory Project information in any way.
    To specifically prevent Google from using that information as a page’s description, you can use the following:
    <meta name=”googlebot” content=”noodp”>

11 thoughts on “DMOZ Descriptions Do Not Work For Google”

  1. Good info. I think the “noodp” attribute is is particularly important. Without it, you give up any control of your displayed descriptions. I think I’ll shy away from including pricing in them, though. Difficult to maintain.

  2. A client site I was working on was displaying the ODP description in Google and it was absolutely horrible. The description certain was very brief (5 words) and not inviting to the people seeing the search listings. The problem is that over two months into using the noodp meta tag, Google still has yet to use the description contained in the page itself. It’s very frustrating. I wish they would include a “noodp” option in Webmaster Tools.

  3. I’m interested in this topic because i’ve written a few html meta tag descriptions as well as few dmoz descriptions. Although i’ve seen discussions of robots-noodp before, i still don’t fully understand the implications.

    Are there any simple rules about what snippet appears on a SERP for different SEs, for the different cases of meta tag description exists or not, dmoz description exists or not, robots-noodp exists or not?

    If the answer is too complex, maybe just stick to the case of google and where robots-noodp is absent.

    Many thanks.

  4. Thanks, Barry, for the reference. I see even the “simple” case is complex 🙂
    I’ll need to read your article a few times, i feel. Meantime, perhaps you could send me some of that nice Quebec cheese down the Trans Canada…

  5. About 4 years ago, DMOZ is still the best and must-submit directory in terms of SEO because Google used its description if the site didn’t have any Meta Description. But then Google developed its own Directory, and the Algorithms changed, now that if your site has a relevant Meta Description for the page, its almost 90% Google will use that Description as a snippet. The rest 10% is that Google uses any keywords that match the search query.
    Overall I think Google is right. We SEOers don’t have to depend to much on DMOZ any more. 🙂

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