Optimizing Your Snippits, What Now?

March 26th, 2009 by

The big news this week in the land of search and honey is the talk of the recent updates to Google and the SERP data searchers are provided.  First searchers will now be presented with longer snippets (the block of text beneath the page link on the SERP) when searching using three or more terms in a query; additionally Google is getting semantic on us and is now displaying even more related terms based on your search.  Some welcome this change others aren’t so sure, but as a search marketer I’m left wondering…How do I optimize for this?

I’m a stickler when it comes to my SERP listings.  I like em’ pretty and I try to stick to 70 character meta titles and 156 character meta descriptions as much as possible.  With this change though I am left wondering, should they be longer? Furthermore if I’m not providing Google with a longer description where will they pull it from?  With those questions in mind I did a little research using my own analytical data.  I took a look at some of the long tail keywords I get traffic for and did some searches to see what my SERP listing would look like.

You’ll notice in the following images that each SERP listing was captured while I was logged in to my Google account, however I tried these logged out as well and got the same results.

My first search was for the term ‘criss angel is a douchebag’ one of the first things my blog ever ranked for and one of the first posts to ever get much traffic.  As you can see even though it is a six word query it still displays my short meta description as the snippet.

Criss Angel is a Doucebag SERP listing.

The next search I chose was related to one of my highest ranking terms and the term I have gotten the most traffic for of all time ‘Twilight Soundtrack Review’.  This query used the three character format which falls just below what Google mentioned and again I was left with a cutoff at 156 characters. I used this query for two reasons; one to see if longer posts might get longer snippets and two because I wanted to compare it to a later query.

Twilight Soundtrack Review SERP listing

Coming up empty handed for the first two I went ahead with some of the even longer queries that I recently received traffic for.  The next choice was a seven word query, ‘hush little baby don’t say a word’ and again only the meta description I provided showed up and in this case even fell short of the 156 character limit, at a whopping 124 characters.

Hush little baby don't say a word SERP listing

Finally I went for the fat bastard of long tail keywords that I found in my analytics data; weighing in at eleven words long I did a search for ‘what song on the twilight soundtrack was based on edward’s thirst’.  Fortunately this query gave me something to work with.  I was presented with a listing that displayed a snippet 239 characters in length, including the three sets of ellipsis and set of brackets.

Twilight Soundtrack Review SERP listing with a longer snippet.

There were a few interesting finds with this one:

  1. This result was for the same page we saw for ‘Twilight Soundtrack Review’, yet it displayed a longer and totally different snippet.
  2. The snippet does not use any of my meta description for this page.  The meta description was generated before I was using All In One SEO Pack for my blog and therefore is nothing more than the first 160 characters of the post and is what displayed when I did the search for ‘Twilight Soundtrack Review’.
  3. The snippet displayed a summary generated by Google that was made up of the last sentence of the page’s second paragraph, part of the last sentence of the 9th paragraph and then concludes with a portion of a pingback from another post that displayed in my comments.

My Take Away

Being a stickler for SERP display I think as a search marketer it’s still important to consider what visitors are going to see for shorter more targeted keywords, that being said I will continue to use 156 character meta descriptions.

This also shows that Google still hasn’t mastered the art and understanding of page segmentation as of yet.  The fact that they pulled part of their snippet from the comments section of my blog could pose as a major problem.  Let’s imagine a flamer hits your post, or someone mentions your competition and they show up in YOUR snippet…OOPS!

What have you found with this change?  Have you tried using your analytical data to see what your long tail keywords are displaying?  I’m curious to see what kind of discrepancies you are seeing in your SERP listings.

Will you change your SEO practices in hopes that longer descriptions will display with long tail searches and forfeit a cleaner listing when your site comes up for shorter keywords?

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2 Responses to “Optimizing Your Snippits, What Now?”

  1. Interesting- I like how you did some solid examples as samples to refer to- thx

  2. Mike Wilton says:

    Jeremy, I saw your post on this subject after I wrote this. Yours was interesting in that it used an expanded version of what was already there, which is funny to me since my longer snippet didn’t use any of my original meta description.

    For those of you interested in Jeremy’s post and his finds on this subject, visit: http://footinmouthdisease.net/2009/03/24/google-update-expands-context-and-snippets/

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