Google urges webmasters to create better search snippets for users

Closure of Dmoz prompts Google advice

Much of the focus for SEO lies in physically moving a specific webpage through the listings and one to page one of the search results. When that page one index is achieved, a top 3 ranking becomes the challenge. If you keep your eye on the prize, it could well be that you’ve actually dropped the ball – and left your search snippet to be a line or two of generic text that does little to draw the search user through to your site.

If you’re guilty of letting your search snippets take a back seat to other SEO activity, some new advice from Google could convince you to dedicate a little more time to this vitally important, but often overlooked, component of your optimization efforts.

The search engine has published a new post this week which seeks to coach website owners on the art of better search snippets. Gary Illyes, from Google’s Search Team, likens the search snippet to the synopsis of a book, saying that much like that book jacket, the search snippet gives the reader a sense of whether or not they’ll like what they find if they dive in.

How are search snippets created?

Search results snippets are there to help the search user get a sense of what your page is about. This in turn, helps them decide if they should invest the time to click through and if they are likely to find the product, service or piece of information they were looking for.

Until a few weeks ago, search snippets came from three sources

  1. The content of the page itself
  2. The meta description of that page
  3. Dmoz

It’s actually this third item that prompted Google’s most recent post – with Dmoz now closed for business, the search engine can only rely on the page itself to judge its content and provide a relevant preview in the SERPs. This causes a problem for some sites.

With meta descriptions long since banished as a ranking factor, some site owners leave their descriptions blank as they have no SEO value and are only seen by search engines. Others will duplicate a generic description across multiple site pages. Google says these descriptions ‘tarnish’ the user experience and may be ignored.

An additional problem in creating useful search snippets comes on pages that have little content. An image heavy page may have lots of pictures and very little in the way of actual text. With a lack of text comes a lack of context, meaning the search engine will again struggle to glean an accurate search snippet from the page.

So what can you do to improve your search snippets?

If you can add more content to pages that have little contextual information, do so. This will usually be used as the first port of call for search snippets.

If it isn’t possible to add more content or, if you’re guilty of overlooking your meta descriptions because there was no SEO value to be extracted, it is time to revisit them. Each should be unique and descriptive with an individually crafted meta description developed for every page, across your website.

The length of the meta description displayed as a search snippet will be determined by the device type, so you will need to keep them concise, succinct, useful and descriptive for users across a range of screen sizes.

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