I’ve been talking about how to write a meta description and the “Google snippet trick” for a long time. In fact, this blog post originally ran in 2008…
…And now it’s time to update it.
A couple weeks ago, Bill Slawski posted about a patent Google was granted in March 2012. His article, How Google Might Generate Snippets for Search Results is a must-read – and gives us a clue on how we can better construct our content.
Here are some interesting tidbits from the post (italics are mine.)
If there is a page with a lengthy introduction (or an abstract) – and the words in the search query are present – Google may pull the snippet from the start of the page.
If the page has a conclusion – and the words in the search query are present – Google may pull the snippet from end of the page.
Different paragraphs are scored differently – and where the snippet is pulled from depends on the paragraph score. According to Bill’s article, “Other signals, such as the lengths of paragraphs, amount of punctuation, bold and italics, and more can also influence the choice Google makes.”
(For complete information, I encourage you to read Bill’s post. Do it now. I’ll wait.)
Below is the updated post with brand-new info. How does this change the way you’ll write content in the future (or will it change anything at all?) Post your comments below – thanks!
The meta description is like the Title’s trusted sidekick.
Batman had Robin. Sherlock Holmes had Watson. The Title has the meta description. The Title helps the page position in the search engines (and if it’s written correctly, it is also written like a enticing headline.) Yet, it’s the meta description that truly tells the story. It serves as a “tease,” giving your readers a taste of what the landing page is about.
SEO writers love to sweat over their meta descriptions. After all, it’s a great place to highlight important benefits and drive click-through. But there’s one catch: More often than not, instead of the submitted description, Google displays a “snippet” of text that appears around the search term.
That means that your carefully crafted descriptions (where you’ve painstakingly outlined your benefits and calls to action) don’t show on the search engine results page. Rather, Google takes a “snippet” of text that appears around the search term (like this):
Feeling frustrated and want to curse out the Google gods? Relax. This is a situation that you can (kind of) control. You just have to know how Google works.
The key is using your keyphrases in a very specific way that increases the probability of a good description – even if it is in a snippet form.
(And by “good,” I mean the description includes a call to action, a phone number, a benefit – anything that would encourage click-through.)
Please note that these tips provide general guidelines about how to “look” at your copy a certain way, and how to tweak your writing accordingly. This isn’t meant as a “must-follow-at-any-cost” formula, nor am I advocating a certain keyphrase density.
- Review the keyphrase focus for the page
Chances are, you have two “main” keyphrases, and up to three “bonus” keyphrases. Yes, you’ll want to exact match the keyphrase (you don’t need to overdo it, according to this video.) Mixing and matching the individual words in the keyphrase works, too.
- Use your most important keyphrases in your headline/subheadlines
Headlines should be benefit-rich, reader-savvy and oh-so enticing. And yes, they should also include a keyphrase whenever possible (maybe even two keyphrases if you can make them flow and fit.) Remember, people will quick-scan your headlines before diving into your content, so how you write them counts.
- Think “snippet text” as you’re writing/editing
Remember, the words around the search query appear as part of the Google snippet. Whenever possible, you’ll want a benefit statement, call-to-action or an interesting fact near the first instance of your main keyphrases. That way, there is compelling snippet text that could entice the reader to click through from the search results page and read more.
- Try to include your second most important keyphrase within your first couple paragraphs
This is typically very easy to do. If you can’t include the exact match keyphrase, try to include the individual words within the keyphrase.
- If it’s possible to include any “bonus” keyphrases in the first couple paragraphs, do it
(But not at the expense of your copy.)
The same “rules” apply – whenever possible, use the keyphrases in a way that would be compelling in a snippet.
- Include keyphrases throughout your body copy, including synonyms and keyphrase variations.
Yes, you can include synonyms – which often makes the copy much easier to write (plus, it helps the copy read much more naturally.) Here is some additional information on why synonyms are your friends.
- Don’t forget to add keyphrases towards the end of your document
If Google doesn’t pull the meta description from the beginning, it may pull it towards the end (especially if you have a longer conclusion.)
- VERY IMPORTANT POINT
If you find that adding keyphrases (or a variation of them) makes your copy read funny – delete them. The purpose of the Google snippet trick isn’t to destroy your content in favor of (possibly) getting a great Google snippet. The purpose is to control what you can control around your meta description – and try to tilt the odds in your favor. DO NOT randomly add keyphrases “just because.”
Be warned — the Google Snippet Trick doesn’t always work – and where Google pulls the snippet is based on many factors. But it works often enough (and is easy enough to do,) that implementation is a snap.
And heck, it allows you to somewhat control a previous uncontrollable situation (what Google includes as the description.) What could be better?
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