SEO 101: Feeding Google Juicy Description Snippets

How can you get Google to pick up the description snippet you want? And why should you care? If you use META descriptions, good. If not, read on. My views on this isn’t authoritative but if you disagree, post a good counterexample.

  • Don’t use H tags just to make text look bigger. Enuf said.
  • Avoid wrapping text in HREF if you want it snippetized. Google skips over H1 and H2 on this page (snippet:” Movies, Shows, Reviews and More. … Today’s Headlines. From Beyond: Frightmare · Fan Fiction: Up To Snuff · Slasher Friday: Katiebird*”), including a chunk of text wrapped in HREF: “Horror Brain is very proud to present a wonderful screenplay written by Aaron Boehm.” Another example: On this page (snippet:”A guide to Locke’s Essay. … Introduction. John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is a classic statement of empiricist epistemology.“), the first H tag wrapped in HREF - “A Guide to Locke’s Essay”is ignored.
  • Keep H and P together. Don’t insert HR between them, or wrap them individually in DIV. If there’s a huge chunk of text on a page, will Google always find it, even if its buried under MENUs, TABLEs and DIVS? No. Here’s an example (snippet: “TPC’S List of World-wide Tropical Cyclone Names. Atlantic Names: 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 Arthur Ana Alex Arlene Alberto Andrea Bertha Bill Bonnie”) where Google doesn’t. Google starts snippetizing text right under H2. On this page (snippet: “by David Striar Years ago I found myself struggling with the question of what I should do with my life. While I was drawn to the arts, especially to music”), the text “The journey by David Striar” gets chopped in half because of an HR between “The Journey” and “by David Briar.” Google ignores a few leading P text with A HREF embedded and chooses text from a bigger P on this page (”I rarely search for companions that understand my unearthly ways, but I do know that you are out there, and that I alone do not possess the only key to the”), similar to the previous page. The only difference between the two pages is that on this page, the heading text is wrapped in its own P, and Google skips them because they’re too short. This tells me P is a separator just like DIV.
  • Use H on every page to tell Google where content begins (as well as what the page is about). SEO 101 sometimes fancy lookin’ sites seem to ignore.
  • Lots of TABLES suck. Here’s an example (snippet: “Skip navigations, DHS Seal, FEMA, Background image - Flag, Background image - DHS seal, Background image - DHS seal. Disaster tab · Emergency tab”) of a pretty densely structured page with lots of TABLE elements. Google can’t find a good snippet so it defaults to indexing ALT text.
  • Use CSS to move content up in the source. Another obvious point but some people believe Google has no problem finding text on a page. Answer is it depends on your page layout. Check out this fema page (snippet: “Sorry but your browser does not support JavaScript. Please download the lastest version of your browser. This JavaScript controls primary navigation …”)where Google snippetizes NOSCRIPT text instead of the content. There’s only one H tag, and its followed by paragraphs of text. Content is inside a TABLE though and is buried deep on the bottom of source.On this page, (”About The Division Of Emerergency Management. State Emergency ResponseTeam. Prepare and Stay Aware! FL Hazard Lookup, NATURAL, - Hurricane, - Lightning …”)IMG ALT and text in SELECT listbox in the first TABLE gets picked up; Google doesn’t even get to the content text. There’s a META description, but its not long enough for Google.
  • Use lengthy META description tags (over 50 chars long). If Google finds that your META description is too short, it’ll scrape text off your page. This spells trouble if Google ends up snippetizing your nav links instead of content. Ideally, you want to design your page so that it doesn’t even require a META description tag.
  • HTML Validate to get rid of nesting problems and other major errors. Replacing XHTML declaration with HTML Transitional for example seems to wack out Google’s parser, and ill formed TABLE may also cause problems. For example, Google indexes nav text here instead of content probably because the content text is wrapped in TD and is missing a TABLE tag. IMG alt picked up here. The first IMG alt is ignored because HTML is broken.
  • Write full paragraphs. Google prefers full sentences and paragraphs to link text or short phrases. Google defaults to snippetizing the MENU links on this page, because it doesn’t find any good chunk of text. On a similar page with identical structure, Google correctly skips over the MENU links. Here, I used to have a short sentence and Google used to snippetize my blogroll, but after beefing up my text, Google indexed the right text.
  • Wrap navigation links in a DIV, avoid any use of H tags in that section of code, and get rid of unlinked text. Not bulletproof, but worth a try.
  • Don’t add ALT text for images if the image isn’t page specific. Use ALT=”" instead. This is especially if your page is ill-formed (i.e. without an obvious content starting point), which increases the chance of meaningless ALT text for logos or whatever getting snippetized.

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2 Responses to “SEO 101: Feeding Google Juicy Description Snippets”

  1. Hi, I’ve see quite a lots of website that doesn’t have description tag or put the same thing as title tag and their ranking is good. It seems description tag is not an compulsory in SEO. Do you think so?

  2. “their ranking is good.”

    I don’t believe Identifcal META descriptions trips dupe content filter or cause ranking problems but it is interesting to see how Google “snippetizes” content when there’s no META description. Still, to optimize CTR off the SERPs, you do want to either use unique META descriptions or structure your page content in a way that will help Google show relevant description snippets in the SERPs.

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