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”>

Google Blog Post Snippets Are Now Dated Just For You

Malte Landwehr commented on an earlier post on the changes in Google snippets for blog posts. He noted that the Google snippet dates on his blog posts appeared in a German format and therefore required more characters than the English version. He surmised that this meant that less of the Description meta tag could be used in creating the snippet.

As far as we can tell this does not seem to be the case. Below are shown the starting text in the SERP snippets for the same blog post in four different language versions of Google. In each case the date is shown in the language of the searcher. In each case also, the snippet used the same 138 characters from the Description meta tag.

Google – English –
Google English snippet

Google – French –
Google French snippet

Google – Finnish –
Google Finnish snippet

Google – Saudi Arabia –
Google Saudi Arabian snippet

Danny Sullivan has questioned in Sphinn whether this is a real phenomenon. However it seems to be the case for blog posts that appear in more popular searches. The posts on the same blog that preceded and followed this post, which are less popular, still currently come up in SERPs without dates. Whether this dating becomes the general rule or disappears at some time can only be a matter of conjecture at the moment.

If you have any views on what is happening here, then please add your comments.

Do Google Snippets Work Better Than Twitter?

Brevity is the soul of wit – Oscar Wilde

A surprising number of people, and indeed some surprising people, are now using Twitter to give status reports on what is happening in their corner of the universe. The strict imposition of no more than 140 characters and spaces seems to concentrate the mind most effectively. Tweats are of course produced by human writers. Twitter can certainly be rated a success.

Google snippets are those short pieces of text that appear under each item in a Google Search Engine Report Page (SERP). They too have a strict limit of 155 characters and spaces, just a little more than a Twitter tweat. Google snippets are produced by computers. Perhaps it’s time for Google to re-examine its snippets reasoning, because it is questionable how successful it is.

If you believed the Google documentation, you might believe that Web page Descriptions would be a key summary of the content of Web pages in their keyword search results:

We frequently prefer to display meta descriptions of pages (when available) because it gives users a clear idea of the URL’s content. This directs them to good results faster and reduces the click-and-backtrack behavior that frustrates visitors and inflates web traffic metrics.

They even go so far as to encourage you to Improve snippets with a meta description makeover:

The quality of your snippet — the short text preview we display for each web result — can have a direct impact on the chances of your site being clicked (i.e. the amount of traffic Google sends your way). We use a number of strategies for selecting snippets, and you can control one of them by writing an informative meta description for each URL.

In practice it doesn’t turn out exactly like that. You need to choose very carefully the exact words of your Descriptions if they are to be used at all, as you can see in (You Must) SEO Those Descriptions For More Google Visitors.

A post by William Slawski suggests why this is happening. It relates to Google’s fixation on inlinks to a Web page. So they may well Use Anchor Text to Determine the Relevance of a Web Page. In such a case, perhaps they wish to justify their reasoning by including it in the Snippet they construct to show the item is Relevant. Bill’s advice if this is affecting your Google appearances runs as follows:

If you run a web site, you may have visitors coming to your pages based upon the content anchor text in links pointing to your pages instead of the text upon your pages themselves. If the term is one that you want to be found for, you may want to consider adding some text to the page, if possible, using that query term, to provide a more persuasive snippet for the search results.

Perhaps if you put that persuasive language in the Description, it has a better chance of surviving that snippet creation process.

Standing well back, you might even question how customer-centric Google snippets are. Are they really the best way for searchers to find what they’re looking for? Perhaps they are motivated by a wish to prove that some apparently obscure item should logically appear in the SERP. Why else would you add in text taken from other related Web pages? The resulting snippets often seem much more attractive to computers than to the human readers they are intended for.

So do Google snippets work for you? Would you like to see Google change how it helps you to find what you’re looking for? Perhaps your comments here could trigger some rethinking.

Related: How to Optimize your Search Engine Snippets – Michael D Jensen

Headlines Are For Humans, Titles Are For Robots

For good SEO, choose the right title.

As we all spend more time in social media, such as Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon or Sphinn, the ability to write catchy headlines becomes as important as it ever was. If someone skimming through a list of possible topics is intrigued by your headline, then they may dip in to find out what it’s all about. That’s why Brian Clark suggested you should be writing Magnetic Headlines. If you were using WordPress to write your blog, then you would presumably put that catchy headline in that field labelled Title. It all seems so easy, but in fact it’s a little too easy. In what follows to avoid confusion, we’ll call what appears in that WordPress Title field the Headline.

Although your Headline may be written to attract human beings, it may not work well in a search engine keyword ranking. Since the largest proportion of the traffic to your website will come via search engines, it may be worth using something that the search engine robots will find attractive. The problem is that WordPress uses the expression in that Title field in a number of different ways. It is of course used as the headline in the < H1 > heading for your blog. It is also used as the Title element in the head of your blog page. This is the text that appears in the bar across the top of the screen. If you have nominated Pretty Permalinks, then the WordPress will also use the same text to develop the URL for the post.

Creating Optimal Titles

This is where the dilemma arises. The Title in the head of the blog page is very important in search engine rankings. The URL may also have a slight effect on these rankings. Optimizing the text for search engine robots will likely produce something, which is not necessarily one of those Magnetic Headlines that was being suggested.

Luckily help is at hand from a variety of sources. For example, Stephan Spencer and his colleagues have developed SEO Title Tag 2.1.3, which allows you to specify a Title for the blog post, which can be different from the headline. A more complete solution is provided by the All in One SEO Pack PlugIn from Uberdose. This not only allows an independent title but also has a number of other useful features. Even used ‘out of the box’ with default settings the PlugIn will achieve a good part of what is needed to optimize your blog posts for the Search Engines. Katy Castro has a good description of how to use it.

Getting the Meta Description Right

An equally important element in getting search engine traffic to your blog post is the text in the Meta Description for the blog post. The All in One SEO Pack allows you to prepare a separate description for each page. If you don’t, the default is that it will take the first 155 or so characters from the start of the post and use that. That avoids a problem Google has in indexing blog posts that all have the same Meta Description. Checking your website with the Google Webmaster Tools website will tell you whether duplicate descriptions is a problem for your blog.

By writing the most engaging description of your blog post in 155 or less characters, you increase the chance that this is what Google will show in its search engine report pages (SERPs). Most such snippets are a jumble of words that Google selects to try to show that its selection may be relevant to the keyword search. A well-crafted sentence will encourage many more visitors to click through to your blog post.

Although the Keywords MetaTag is of limited value nowadays, the plug-in does allow you to specify what keywords are most appropriate. Again if you do not specify keywords, the plug-in will select keywords by default from either the categories or from any tags that post may have.

The URL Of The Blog Post

A secondary factor in the optimization of the blog post is the URL for the blog post. Selecting the Pretty Permalinks option is one important step here for a WordPress blog. Unfortunately as mentioned above, this is again derived from the Headline of the blog post. You will find the text used in the Post Slug element in the right hand column of the Edit screen. It is derived by taking the Headline of the Post, putting all letters in lower case and adding hyphens between the words. This is not something where the All in One SEO Pack PlugIn helps. However as the WordPress Codex recommends, if you want to create a more memorable URL, then you can create such a one using lower case words and hyphens. Often taking the Title you have derived for the All in One SEO Pack PlugIn and converting it will be a good way to go.


Users of the All in One SEO Pack PlugIn are effusive in their praise of how well it works, even using it ‘out of the box’. If at least for your more worthy blog posts, you go the extra mile by crafting individual entries for the PlugIn, then you will see a significant increase in your visitor traffic. If you want to see how such a post appears, you can check this post. The headline was of course, Headlines Are For Humans, Titles Are For Robots. However in the Title bar at the top of the screen, note the Title of the post, Write SEO Titles For High Rankings. A version of that also appears in the URL. Check the description by viewing the source code. It’s all extra effort but a very good use of your time.