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Google Just Improved Its Ranking Algorithm Re: Snippets?


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#1 njoynlife

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 08:39 AM

Maybe I either read too much or take some of what I read out of context, so my apologies if I’m not reading something correctly! I received a newsletter from one of the “leading SEO professionals” who promotes their analyzer/optimizer/link building software.

These are few sentences from their latest newsletter:

Google now shows an extended snippet for queries that consist of three or more keywords. The idea behind this change is that these multi-word queries are very targeted and complex. The usual short snippet might not contain enough information…..The longer snippet contains much more information….It seems that Google ignores the meta description tag for the snippets. That means that you must include a call to action in your web page titles….The longer snippet contains much more information. As Google tries to provide the user with the most relevant information in the snippet, the snippet might already contain the answer to the user's query….

Would someone kindly explain this better, or is this just a confused sales pitch to get people to use their software?

Thanks for your time and comments,

D




#2 Randy

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 10:03 AM

QUOTE
It seems that Google ignores the meta description tag for the snippets.


Historically the part quoted above is wrong. Google has used the meta description as the snippet text if the meta description contained the search phrase. With the longer snippets, which to my knowledge only show up when you're searching for longer phrases, may be forced to use content from the page instead of the meta description simply because all of the words in the search phrase don't appear in meta description. I haven't tested it specifically yet, but my guess is if the meta description included all of the words in a long search phrase, the snippet would still show up displaying the search phrase. I've got a <cough>few</cough> sites so I'm sure I can find one that'll display the longer snippet for long search phrases to use for a quick bit of testing.

I think you may be reading too much into it. First off the longer snippets are only going to show up for rather longish search phrases. At least 3 and many time more words. So if you have the 3 words in context in your meta description it'll probably still show up as the snippet. If not, it'll pull parts of sentences from your content.

Since these rather longish phrases are going to normally attract significantly fewer searches and significantly less traffic potential, it would be tough to peg all of them. So it would likely be a waste of time to worry about longer snippets too terribly much.

For those wondering what we're talking about, the original Google announcement from about a month ago is here.

#3 NASA

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 10:45 AM

does it matter I've given up with meta description tags.

It seems many times the SE's ignore it and use text from the page itself, so for my latest site, I didn't bother with derscriptions and thought I'd let the SE's decide.

Do descriptions help with SERPs if they contain KWDs?

#4 Randy

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 11:03 AM

If meta descriptions are a factor in ranking they're not a major one from anything I've seen NASA. It's been awhile since I tested it but at one point I did add and remove keyword phrases from my meta descriptions (for both competitive and long-tail terms that had at least some competition) and my rankings didn't move any more than they do otherwise.

The engines do index meta descriptions though, so I guess there could be some minor ranking effect if the circumstances were right.

I honestly don't remember if I tested meta descriptions with a made-up term or not to see if it could rank on meta descriptions alone. But given that there was no discernible movement in the SERPs from taking the terms out and putting them in for the words people actually used I doubt you're leaving much if anything on the table.

I simply use meta descriptions to get across the marketing message I want in the SERPs.

#5 NASA

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 11:08 AM

well I guess my PR sculpting and no meta descriptions will be an interesting test lol.gif

#6 Randy

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 11:13 AM

Back to the original question, I found something of an example while I was trying to come up with one. Long tail phrase with some of the words being competitive if you stopped there, ending off with one branded phrase nobody uses and that isn't in my meta description.

I got the extra long snippet to show up and in that case it pulled my meta description, which contained everything except the last branded phrase, then gave me three little ellipses and pulled the branded page in a sentence from the content of the page where it is used.

So from the initial results it looks like they'll still pull from the meta description if it contains your phrases, then get the rest from the content. I suspect it'll pull the meta description once I add the branded phrase there. (Gonna test it. Don't let me forget to post back!) And I suspect if all or most of the words in the search phrase appear in close proximity in the content it'll get pulled from there, just like it does in the smaller snippets if the meta description contains only part of the phrase but it's all there in close proximity in the content.

#7 Ron Carnell

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 12:07 PM

QUOTE
I honestly don't remember if I tested meta descriptions with a made-up term or not to see if it could rank on meta descriptions alone.

I did, and it doesn't. At least on Google, the meta-description is completely ignored in terms of ranking.

That doesn't mean it's unimportant, though. On the contrary, getting a #5 ranking doesn't help very much if everyone is clicking on #1 through #4. Getting the SE to show your fine tuned call-to-action as the snippet is the equivalent of an SEO conversion. And we all know conversions are better than rankings, right? smile.gif

QUOTE
I suspect it'll pull the meta description once I add the branded phrase there. (Gonna test it. Don't let me forget to post back!)

In my tests, Randy, Google stopped using the expanded snippet if it found all search terms close together. It will be interesting to see if you get similar results?

There is, nonetheless, a strategy in there. Hint: There is no arbitrary limit on the length of a meta-description. smile.gif

#8 Jill

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 01:11 PM

QUOTE
I did, and it doesn't. At least on Google, the meta-description is completely ignored in terms of ranking.


That's not what my tests have shown, Ron. (Didn't we already have this convo once?)

#9 Ron Carnell

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 04:30 PM

Yes, Jill, we did. I think I'm going to have a meta-keywords tattoo put on one hand and a meta-description tattoo put on the other. That way, maybe I can remember which is which? smile.gif

Meta-keywords = ignored

Meta-description = not ignored

I think I got it. smile.gif




#10 Randy

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 09:19 PM

QUOTE(Ron)
In my tests, Randy, Google stopped using the expanded snippet if it found all search terms close together. It will be interesting to see if you get similar results?


That makes complete sense to me Ron. And what I half expect to see happen.

In the first test it might be able to get all of 'em without expanding the snippet. I just added a second sentence to the meta description with the branded phrase. I'll play with it some more after it's been processed the first time to try and keep the test consistent on the same page and same terms.

In any case, it's good to see Google active again making changes to their UI. Even if I'm not sure I necessarily agree that some of them (the single line sitelinks discussed in another thread) it's still good to know they're trying new things.

#11 Randy

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 09:19 AM

Well the first test is in and interesting, even though I don't understand it at all. lol.gif

With the branded phrase in the meta description I get no expanded snippet. But the arrangement is a little odd. Here's a representation of the search phrase I'm using.

<main competitive phrase (2 words)> <two modifying words that appear on the page but not in the meta description> <branded phrase that's totally non-competitive>

The main 2 word phrase appears in the first sentence of the meta description. Words 3 and 4 don't appear in the meta description but are on the page. The branded phrase is what I added to a second sentence in the meta description for this test.

What shows up when I search in a little odd. It's a shorter snippet.

The snippet starts off with the 2nd sentence of changed meta description, with the branded phrase bolded. The first sentence of the meta description does appear at all in the snippet, even though it contains an exact match to the first two (more competitive) words in my search string. Instead they ellipse me and jump down to the 2nd paragraph of the content, picking out a sentence that includes my 3rd and 4th modifying words (that aren't in the meta description) and also the plural version of the first word of the more competitive phrase. The second word in the more competitive phrase doesn't appear at all in the snippet!

Strange. Not sure what it tells us, if anything. Though I am surprised that they seemed to key in on the less competitive words in the snippet, to the exclusion in this case of the more competitive words.

The two more competitive words do appear in the page title as an exact match. I wonder if they're factoring that into what ends up showing in the snippet too?

#12 Nueromancer

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 11:11 AM

QUOTE(Jill @ Apr 21 2009, 07:11 PM) View Post
That's not what my tests have shown, Ron. (Didn't we already have this convo once?)


Realy ive always seen them as just a call to action to make the serp pop and get more clicks

#13 Jill

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 11:33 AM

Randy, I'm having trouble following your test. Could you perhaps illustrate it with an example (just change the real words perhaps)? That would be helpful!

#14 Randy

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 12:06 PM

hysterical.gif Yeah, it's hard to follow because I kinda saw what I expected to see, but then saw something stranger and can't wrap my head around how to explain it.

Okay, let's say my search phrase was literally:

Red Lederhosen Elastic Waist Goat-Hide

Where Red Lederhosen is the competitive two-word phrase, Elastic and Waist are simple modifying words and Goat-Hide is a totally non-competitive brand.

My really generic meta description before used to be a couple of short sentences that said something to the effect of:

1000's of Red Lederhosen to choose from for any occasion or event. Get your all natural apparel here.

The page title was and still leads off with something like:

Red Lederhosen Are The Best!

With this setup the longer search above showed the title as expected. The snippet then was like:

QUOTE
1000's of Red Lederhosen to choose from for any occasion or event. ... Our Goat-Hide garments have elastic in the waist so they'll still fit if you gain or lose a few pounds.


Where the first part of the snippet was from the meta description and the second part was from the page content. But all of the words in the search phrase got included in the snippet.

The only change I made to the page was to the meta description. I added another sentence that referenced the "Goat-Hide" branding. So the title and page content stayed exactly the same. The new meta description had an extra sentence so that it now reads:

1000's of Red Lederhosen to choose from for any occasion or event. Goat-Hide is available in many hues, including reds, tans and greens.

Now that this has been indexed a search on the same phrase as before returns the Title tag exactly as before. The snippet is a short one, not an expanded one. But it now reads like:

QUOTE
Goat-Hide is available in many hues, including reds, tans and greens. ... The waist in made to stretch because it is made with elastic...


Hopefully the example will make it clearer for you.

The part that I found interesting is that they totally removed the most competitive phrase from the snippet totally, even though it's still there in the meta description. It does also appear in the page title though, so it shows up in the SERP that way.

#15 Ron Carnell

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 12:22 PM

Personally? I think Google just plain got it wrong. smile.gif




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