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”>

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Ideal Google Snippets To Target Your Prospects

The NUB Of Getting More Internet Sales, as described in a recent SMM newsletter, is to make sure that you provide the very best solution for those prospects in your niche who are feeling pain, in other words who are extremely dissatisfied with their current condition. Of course if that Google I’m Feeling Lucky button worked properly, then prospects could Google what they were looking for, and click on the I’m Feeling Lucky button. Few do, since presumably they are not convinced that Google will get it right.

In consequence, Google presents a list of possible website link titles and adds a snippet of information on each. Google describes the snippet process as follows:

Google’s creation of sites’ titles and descriptions (or “snippets”) is completely automated and takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the web.

We use a number of different sources for this information, including descriptive information in the META tag for each page. Where this information isn’t available, we may use publicly available information from DMOZ. While accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, they won’t impact your ranking within 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.

If your website is the one that prospect really should be finding, then both you and Google are hoping the snippet will encourage them to click on your link. The only information Google has on the prospect’s needs are what was put into the keyword query. If different prospects describe their identical need with different keywords, then the Google automatic snippet mechanism may create different snippets. To maximize your chances of getting those clicks (and thus the visitor website traffic), you must try to identify the most likely keyword query your prospects might use.

The Google Adwords Keyword Tool has recently had search data added to it and is particularly useful here. By checking the search data for possible keyword queries, one of the more popular can be selected. Writing the snippet is then an exercise in getting the essence into as short a body of text as can be used by Google. If the web page is a regular website page, then 155 characters and spaces are available. It is now Google practice for blog posts to use the date at the start of the snippet, so this reduces the available space to 138 characters and spaces for a blog post description.

Whatever text is used does not need to be in sentence format as the earlier Google reference mentions:

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.

Although it has often been the practice to write sentences for descriptions, Google seems to be recommending putting in only the meat. That could certainly include Calls To Action or telephone numbers. Whether Google’s automatic snippet mechanism will use such information can only be confirmed by trial and error.

Related:
SEO Those Meta Descriptions For More Google Visitors 23 Mar 2008

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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 – http://www.google.com
Google English snippet

Google – French – http://www.google.fr/
Google French snippet

Google – Finnish – http://www.google.com/ig?hl=fi
Google Finnish snippet

Google – Saudi Arabia – http://www.google.com/ig?hl=ar
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.

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Google Snippet Rules Change For Blogs

A previous post discussed the importance of Google snippets in bringing visitors to your Web pages. It is of course important to rank towards the top or even #1 on a Google keyword Search Engine Report Page (SERP). However if the Google snippets for the items at #2 or #3 are much more engaging then perhaps the searcher will click there instead.

The creation of those Google snippets is an entirely automatic process. In other words it’s a computer-generated snippet. Google does try to help you to get better snippets. Matt Cutts has even made a short video about snippets (just over 8 minutes) – tip of the hat to Kathryn Katz. A key element in getting good snippets is the description meta tag. There is an interesting discussion currently going on in the Cre8asite Forums about that. One most useful piece of advice from Ron Carnell is to have a sentence of not more than 155 characters and spaces in that meta tag. Since this is the length of a typical Google snippet, then it is highly likely that your engaging sentence will be used as the snippet.

That was true until about four days ago. Suddenly there has been a switch in the automatic snippet creation process, at least for blog posts. It is not yet universal for all blog posts but seems to occur for ones that frequently come up in keyword searches. Here is an example:

Google blog snippet

The snippet for such blog posts now starts with the date of the post displayed in the language of the searcher. In English this uses up about 17 characters of the snippet including the ellipsis (…). Since the total length is still 155 characters and spaces, this leaves only 138 characters and spaces for you to write that engaging sentence.

It’s still early days so whether this change will be applied to all blog posts or will remain a permanent feature for Google is still in question. Yahoo! and MSN/Live still seem to be working with the longer 155 characters snippets. Anyone with a WordPress blog who uses the All-in-one-SEOpack plugin is faced with a dilemma. It suggests that descriptions should not be longer than 160 characters, but that number should now perhaps be reduced.

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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

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