Google loves to test new features on small segments of users without announcement. In the past we’ve seen favicons show up in natural results, we’ve seen AJAX serving results to make listings a little more dynamic, and we’ve seen a social search component that lets users customize their search engine results page. Sometimes these experiments make it into production (for example, the latter became Search Wiki), and sometimes they fall off the Google grid.
A few months ago some lucky searchers found longer snippets being returned. On 3/24, Google announced that the longer snippets was now a reality. This is great news for businesses owners.
The snippet is the little chunk of text that shows up under a listing in the search engine result pages. It’s not much bigger than a Twitter post, but is very valuable to searchers who are looking intently for answers, entertainment, or products. If the title of the webpage catches the searchers’ attention, they will often scan the snippet to validate whether the listing is worth clicking or not. When the keywords the user searched for are present in the snippet, they get bolded – this is an added bonus and a great attention grabber. Something about the bold text just lures searchers in – often semi-consciously!
Google documentation wants this snippet to be a summary of the content on the page. They say, “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.” For all of these reasons, SEOs choose to write the meta descriptions carefully, embedding the keywords and messaging searchers are looking for in 155 characters or less.
So what happens if the meta description is deemed irrelevant or unworthy by Google’s algorithm? Or, if there’s simply no meta description found? Then Google will try to post content from the web page that it deems the best summary for the search query. Once in a while they’ll even reach out to the Open Directory Project for a description. Sometimes Google succeeds, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they overlook a great existing meta description for a terrible, algorithm determined alternative. Unfortunately in those cases, there’s nothing anyone can do put wait and pray that Google changes its mind down the line (though rewriting the meta description tag can sometimes influence Google). In the end, this is entirely at Google’s discretion.
The mighty powers that be at Google have decided for longer keyword searches, the user will benefit from additional lines of text in the snippet. This makes perfect sense. If the query is “Best Athletic Shoe Store For Women”, a longer snippet flushed with more detail could really help a searcher find what their looking for – not to mention improve the click-through rate and conversions. When the searcher is ultimately looking to buy a pair of shoes, our job as SEOs is to make sure our pages are recognized as the most relevant match – not just by Google, but by the user as well – and ultimately satisfy the searchers needs the first time. That’s where the magic happens. That’s where the sales are made. And that’s why a longer snippet is another great tool in our arsenal.
Read more about the longer snippet on Google’s Blog.
I provided an article on YouMoz, over at the great SEOmoz -
SEO Marketing is Even More Important in Today’s Climate.
Hoping for some good comments.
Google defines a good link as an “editorial” link; that is, a link a webmaster naturally posts to share a value with his/her readers, or to provide a recommendation. With all the new shorthand messaging services around, smaller viewing screens in smartphones, smarter analytics technologies, and the fleets of new savvy web users communicating in a whole new web-language, shortened URLs are becoming incredibly popular. You’ve seen them all over Twitter. This is a perfect example of an arena where editorial links are extremely abundant. Google should love them!
So why is it that so many don’t pass link value? Granted, many are technically built with 302 redirects, but engines have the discretion to treat a 302 redirect as a 301 redirect. Still, most SEOs would agree that they’re not seeing much – if any – SEO boost from the shortened URLs as a whole. I can’t say I’ve definitely noticed any link love myself. But until I did my homework, and realized there were more 301 redirect shortening services than there used to be, I may not have been using the right service anyway. So let me show my work a little bit…
Before you pick a shortening service willy-nilly, maybe think about whether you’re looking for link value or not. This doesn’t guarantee Google will follow the 301 redirect that is built into some of these shortening services, but it’s the best chance you have. The following are 10 of many. This list was pulled out of TweetDeck, currently my favorite Twitter messaging tool.
|TinyURL||Maybe – it’s a 301 but does not appear to pass link value (see update below)|
The shortening services usually don’t let you add keywords to the URL (though some do – TinyURL lets you add a custom alias). And yes, shortened URLs can be used for SPAMMING too, but what is natively built into Google’s SPAM filtering algorithms would surely be able to evaluate these shortened links too. One cool thing is that many of these services give you basic tracking of a shortened link via a free account registration (some of which let you kill the link to control timely promotions or temporary pages). Definitely useful and valuable in some applications I suppose.
*** Update: 3/18/09
Oggie mentioned this link in the comments:
So after some testing, Shark SEO says TinyURL does not pass link juice despite the 301. At least anchor text relevance. Is this due to something in Google, or something triggered by the TinyURL service? I’m going to try to test this out myself, but I think I’ll stop using TinyURL as my link shortening service of choice.
Related: Small Business SEO Services