Feb 23, 2011 113 reads by Navneet Kaushal

A Google Webmaster Central blog post announced that Google is changing the titles and descriptions or “snippets” of your website in search results. In the same post, Google also gave suggestions and guidelines on how to create good meta descriptions, descriptive page titles and prevent search engines from displaying DMOZ data in search results for your site.

As per the post, Google creates the titles and descriptions automatically, based on the content of the page and references made to it 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 you are a webmaster, you can improve the quality of the titles and descriptions or snippets shown for your pages by giving informative meta descriptions for each page. Below are tips from the post for creating good meta descriptions, descriptive page titles and preventing search engines from displaying DMOZ data in search results for your site.

Creating good meta descriptions

  • You can use the HTML suggestions page in Webmaster Tools to list the pages where Google has found any missing or problematic meta descriptions and accordingly make changes to fix them.
  • You should give unique descriptions for different pages that contains accurate information of the specific page. Site-level descriptions should be used only on the main home page and other aggregation pages. For the rest you can use the page-level descriptions.
  • Include clear facts and details in the description to provide users with increased relevancy. For example; “news or blog postings can list the author, date of publication, or byline information.” and product pages may give detailed information about the products – “<meta name="Description" content="Author: A.N. Author, Illustrator: P. Picture, Category: Books, Price: $17.99, Length: 784 pages">”
  • Generate the descriptions programmatically so that they are easy to read and diverse. Also, meta descriptions that has long strings of keywords don't provide users with a clear idea of the page's content. Therefore, they might not be displayed in place of a regular snippet.
  • Ensure that your descriptions are truly descriptive. This will also help in improving the quality and quantity of your search traffic in the long run.

Creative descriptive page titles

Each page on your site should have a useful and descriptive page title. They should be given within the title tags, if any title page is missing or the same has been used repeatedly in different pages, Google may use other text from the page.

Preventing search engines from displaying DMOZ data in search results for your site

Google uses the Open Directory Project as a source in generating snippets. Adding a meta tag to your pages will direct Google to not use this source. Similarly, in order to prevent all, the meta tags supporting, search engines from using this information for the page's description, you can use: <meta name="robots" content="NOODP">

For specifically preventing Google from using this information for a page's description, you can use: <meta name="googlebot" content="NOODP">

In case if you use the robots meta tag for other directives, you can combine them, for instance: <meta name="googlebot" content="NOODP, nofollow">

After adding the above meta tag to your pages, it might take some time till the changes that you have made to your snippets appear in the index.

You can also double check that the content in your title or snippet is not displayed on your site. In case it does, and you make changes to it, then the next time Google crawls your site, your Google snippet will be affected. If it does not, you can Google.com for the title or snippet by enclosing it in a quotation marks which will show you the pages that hints that your site is using this text. You can contact the webmasters of those sites and request them to change the same information (that hints that your site is using this text). If changes are made to their sites, Google crawler will recognize it the next time it crawls their pages.

This action by Google (changing of snippets) has not been received very happily by SEOs. There have been complaints by several webmasters on various forums and sites lately. Interestingly, Google seems quite firm on their stand about the same. Matt Cutts said that “We reserve the right to try to figure out what's a better title.,” in a video

Yet, why is Google doing this? How will the Google chosen title result in your site's clicks? How about its impact on your branding effort? And finally, who is Google to decide what is descriptive enough for the users? Questions linger.

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of PageTraffic, an SEO Agency in India with offices in Chicago, Mumbai and London. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet's expertise has established PageTraffic as one of the most awarded and successful search marketing agencies.
Navneet Kaushal
Navneet Kaushal
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