SEO

google search page

Optimizing Meta Descriptions for Google’s Longer Search Results Snippets

by Mark Hawks January 9th, 2018

Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have got a new look—again. This time, however, website owners stand to benefit because the latest format gives more real estate to the organic results.

On December 1, 2017, search industry vet and current public liaison for search at Google Danny Sullivan confirmed via Twitter that the company has officially increased the length of its search results snippets from 160 characters to 320. Search snippets are the lines of text that appear under the clickable titles and URLs of websites on the SERPs. They’re meant to help people understand how the pages Google serves are relevant to their search queries. 1 Google often uses a webpage’s meta description to create its snippet, so the longer format left many SEOs wondering, “Should we rewrite our meta descriptions?”

As is often the case when communicating directly with Google, the answer wasn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” At first Sullivan advised not to update meta description tags because Google automatically generates snippets based on the specific search query and content of the page, sometimes excerpting the page content instead of using the meta description. About a week later, John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, offered a more nuanced recommendation during a Google Webmaster Central hangout. It turns out there are some advantages to optimizing meta tags for the extended snippet format.

Google’s Advice on Updating Meta Descriptions

To update or not? Optimizing your meta descriptions for Google’s longer snippets could give you greater control of how people preview your site in the SERPs, which could prove to be a competitive advantage, was Mueller’s overarching message during the Google Hangout. Ultimately, even if you update your meta description, Google may not choose to use it. Since the search query and the content of the page determine Google’s selection of text for the snippet, it might excerpt content from the page instead. However, if you leave your meta description at the old, shorter length, Google might add to it with page content to make a longer, more informative and contextual snippet. Giving Google the meta description you would want them to show is a better bet for potentially controlling the message you send searchers about your page.

When considering updating your meta descriptions, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your meta description clearly and accurately explain the goods, services, or information offered on the full page?
  • Does your meta description convey your unique value proposition in an appealing way?
  • Is someone else more capable of best describing your page’s offerings than you?

If you answered “no” to these questions, then you may want to consider updating your meta descriptions—taking advantage of the longer character limit this time around. While adding more information to your meta description won’t impact rankings, it could help better inform users of your offerings and sway them to choose you over competitors.

Tips for Optimizing Your Meta Descriptions

More space—that’s the key thing to remember when updating your meta descriptions. All the same rules for writing meta descriptions still apply, but now you have more characters with which to compose a compelling preview of your page and hopefully attract users to click through to your site. That said, here are some old and new tips to keep in mind as you optimize your meta tags to seize this SEO opportunity.

Prioritize

Make a list of the landing pages on your website that receive the most search traffic. Re-optimize the meta descriptions on those pages first.

Evaluate

View your site and meta descriptions in the SERPs as users would see them. Use the search console or search analytics to find the top queries that are sending searchers to your pages. Search those queries to view how your site’s meta descriptions appear in the results. Do you see ways you could make them more relevant to the intent of these queries or other opportunities for improvement?

Length

Again, you might want to check out the meta descriptions for the pages that are ranking well for the query you’re optimizing for. How many characters are they using to summarize their pages’ content in an appealing and relevant way?

Content

Meta descriptions should clearly summarize to searchers what the content of the page they’re considering clicking on is about. They should be descriptive and unique to each specific page.

CMS

If your content management system (CMS) has rules set for the character length of meta descriptions, you’ll want to modify them to accommodate the longer snippets.

Keywords

One of the main goals of search results snippets is to help users determine whether a page is relevant to their query. Google bolds keywords in meta descriptions that were used in the searcher’s query. Having keywords in your meta tags can suggest greater relevancy to users and possibly entice them to click through to your page. They can also help you stand out from the competition.

General guidelines on writing meta descriptions can be found on this recent Google blog post, on the company’s help page, and in its SEO starter guide.

Why Optimize Meta Descriptions

Optimizing meta tags can have immediate and long-term benefits for sites.

In early December, only around 51 percent of the search results had at least one longer snippet in the top 10. This could be because many SEOs have yet to optimize their meta tags for the longer search results snippets. Those who update their meta tags sooner stand the chance of occupying more real estate in the SERPs and standing out from competitors. For now, there is a competitive advantage in the sheer space alone. As more sites catch up and longer snippets become standard, the message of the meta tags will become increasingly important in helping sites to stand out.

Sources:
1 – https://www.seroundtable.com/google-extends-snippets-320-characters-24862.html

google mobile first index

How to Prepare for Google’s Mobile-First Index

by Auroriele Hans January 3rd, 2018

The search marketing industry may not have seen as many algorithmic changes as in 2016, but one trend has remained consistent throughout 2017 and will only become more important as we enter 2018: mobile search. Last year brought the mobile-friendly algorithm update, the expansion of Accelerated Mobile Pages, and the announcement that Google would shift to a mobile-first index. The company has confirmed it is slowly rolling out the mobile-first index and offered some tips to help website owners prepare for this major change.

What Is the Mobile-First Index?

At present, about 80 percent of the crawling GoogleBot performs is done via a desktop crawler for most websites; a mobile crawler accounts for the other 20 percent. Google is also indexing and ranking these same sites based on the desktop version of their content. In cases where a significant disparity exists between the desktop and mobile versions of a website, the mobile searcher user experience could be compromised.

We’ve known for a few years now that more than half of search queries globally originate from mobile devices—recent reports have put the number closer to 60 percent. 1 Google has a huge stake in mobile search: not only does it control 95 percent of the market but mobile search is also one of its major sources of revenue growth. Given these statistics, it’s easy to see why the company would want to provide the best experience possible to mobile searchers.

Currently, Google is moving sites that are ready to the mobile-first index: the mobile version of GoogleBot is crawling 80 percent of the site and the desktop version the other 20 percent. For these sites, Google is primarily using their mobile version for ranking, indexing, snippets, and the content on the cache pages.

How to Get Your Site Ready for the Mobile-First Index

In a recent blog post, Google offered some tips to help website owners prepare for the mobile-first index.

Design & Serving

Perhaps the biggest change you can make is to adopt a responsive web design with dynamic serving. Make sure that your dynamic serving is set up correctly, with all desktop content and markup included.

Content

Offer the same amazing content experience on the mobile version of your site as you do on the desktop one. Don’t forget to include images with alt-attributes, text, and videos in formats that can be easily crawled and indexed.

Metadata

Google uses the titles and meta description tags you provide to evaluate the content of a page and appropriately index and serve it. This metadata should be consistent across the desktop and mobile versions of your site.

Structured Data

Structured data helps search engines categorize and index your content and can improve the presentation of your pages in SERPs to searchers. Ideally, you’ll want to have it on the desktop and mobile versions of your site and make sure the URLs are updated on mobile.

Interlinking

If your site has a separate mobile URL (m.yoursite.com), maintain the rel=canonical tag on the link pointing from the mobile page to the corresponding desktop page. On your desktop version, use the rel=alternate tag on the link sending Googlebot to the mobile page.

Multi-Regional and Multilingual Sites

Do you have multiple versions of your website to accommodate users that speak different languages or users in different regions? The hreflang attribute signals to Google which language you are using on a certain page. For example, if you have an English and a Spanish version of your page, the hreflang attribute will direct Google’s search engine to serve the correct version based on the searcher’s location. You can use the hreflang attribute to account for variations of one language, such as differences between how Spanish is spoken in Spain and Mexico. 2

When using the hreflang attribute, implement the tag on links from a mobile site for one language or country to the mobile version of the site for a different language or country. Do not use the tag on links from the mobile version of a site to the desktop version in a different language. Instead use the tag on links in between desktop versions of a site in different languages.

Server Capacity

If using an m-dot or similarly separately hosted site, make sure the servers hosting the site can handle a higher crawl rate. Sites utilizing responsive design and dynamic serving don’t need to worry about this issue.

Making the Switch

If you haven’t made your site mobile friendly yet, it should be a top priority. Even though Google has indicated it’s slowly rolling out the mobile-first index, mobile devices account for more than half of searches now. Providing a poor mobile site experience could have you sending customers to your competitors. Once Google is only crawling, indexing, and ranking the mobile versions of sites, not being ready could prove detrimental to your site’s performance in SERPs, and, in turn, digital marketing business goals

If you’ve already made the necessary changes to your site, you can check your server log files to see if it’s been moved to the mobile-first index. The mobile version of GoogleBot would be crawling about 80 percent of your site and the desktop version of GoogleBot would account for the other 20 percent.

Sources:
1 – https://searchengineland.com/report-nearly-60-percent-searches-now-mobile-devices-255025
2 – https://moz.com/learn/seo/hreflang-tag

Real-Time Google Penguin Algorithm Update Announced

by Jon Heinl September 28th, 2016

Google has finally confirmed the rollout of the latest Penguin update, “Penguin 4.0.” After much online chatter about the impending update in recent months, Google announced last week that the improved Penguin algorithm is on its way and will meet two popular webmaster requests: since the signal is now a core part of Google’s algorithm, it will refresh in real time, so webmasters who’ve improved their sites could see rankings changes as soon as pages are recrawled and reindexed. Secondly, Penguin is now granular, meaning it could impact specific pages or sections rather than entire websites.

Penguin Targets Webspam

Google has made it clear that websites should be designed with users in mind first and then search engines. Many of its algorithmic changes have been to penalize websites that rely on “shortcuts or loopholes” that can boost rankings but diminish user experience. The purpose of Penguin is to push websites that violate Google’s quality guidelines down in the search engine results pages, effectively decreasing their web presence. Some of the tactics, or webspam, Penguin targets include keyword stuffing, duplicate content, overuse of exact-match anchor text, and link schemes.

Removing Webspam

What should you do if you suspect your site has seen a rankings drop due to Penguin? Clean it up! In the case of manipulative backlinks, you’ll need to ask site owners to remove them and/or submit a disavow file to Google telling them to ignore those bad links. Just make sure not to accidently include high quality links in that file.

The nice thing about Google making Penguin a core part of its algorithm is that you won’t have to wait long to see the results of your efforts to get rid of webspam. Website owners used to have to wait months or even years (almost two years since the last Penguin refresh) for Google algorithm updates. Faster results may not be accompanied by better rankings though. Without the webspam artificially boosting your site—or if you accidently disavowed good links—your site position may not improve as much as you hoped. The good news is that practicing white hat SEO from now on could likely be rewarded with better rankings.

Google Now Using RankBrain for All Queries

by Auroriele Hans July 7th, 2016

“Machine learning is a core, transformative way by which we’re rethinking how we’re doing everything.” –Google CEO Sundar Pichai 1

Google’s machine learning artificial intelligence system, RankBrain, has gone from processing fifteen percent of searches last year to one hundred percent of searches currently. Active since April 2015, RankBrain is now considered the third most important ranking signal after links and content. 2 Don’t worry digital marketers: you don’t have to become machine-learning ninjas now that Google is using the technology to process every single search query—though its engineers may well be expected to.

Jeff Dean, Senior Fellow in the research group in charge of the company’s machine intelligence deep learning team, Google Brain, noted that while ‘Rankbrain is involved in every query,’ it doesn’t affect all rankings—but ‘a lot’ of them.

What Is Machine Learning?

We’ve increasingly heard the phrase in the world of SEO, but what is machine learning? A form of artificial intelligence, machine learning occurs when engineers use algorithms and data to “‘teach software to accomplish” tasks on its own rather than relying on them to continuously program it. Compared to older methods of programming dependent on thousands of lines of static code, machine learning is a much more dynamic model requiring frequent modification.

Google has been experimenting with machine learning for years, incorporating the technology into products like Gmail’s Smart Reply before discovering in 2014 it could help its search engine return more relevant results based on user engagement. RankBrain went live the following year.

How Could RankBrain Influence SERPs?

RankBrain could help Google’s search engine uncover user intent for unique queries. As of 2013, fifteen percent of the three billion searches the company processed every day were completely novel: no one had searched for them before—at least not on this particular search engine.

Google’s search refinement tools prior to RankBrain included stemming and synonym lists and databases describing related phenomena for search engines, all of which, at least initially, required human labor. RankBrain is designed to identify patterns in complex and seemingly unrelated queries, infer similarities, and continuously build on this knowledge to help it interpret future rare or unprecedented searches. 3

Once the intent of a search is uncovered, RankBrain may associate it with a more popular query Google already has user data for and return results for that query instead; for example, when you search for “best tacos in Long Beach,” RankBrain might show results for “best Mexican food in Long Beach.”

RankBrain could help Google provide relevant, high quality results for the large chunk of queries its search engine has never seen before.

How Does RankBrain Impact You?

Since the engineers at Google are still experimenting with RankBrain, SEOs and content marketers are unlikely to see definitive guidelines anytime soon.

While Google’s Senior Vice President of Search, John Giannandrea, believes machine learning will transform everything from vehicles to medicine to, well, humanity, RankBrain is ultimately designed, for now, to reward excellent content. The recommendation for digital marketers echoes that of years past: focus on creating outstanding content.

Additional Sources:

1 – https://backchannel.com/how-google-is-remaking-itself-as-a-machine-learning-first-company-ada63defcb70#.bby98xiwg
2 – http://searchengineland.com/google-loves-rankbrain-uses-for-every-search-252526
3 – http://searchengineland.com/faq-all-about-the-new-google-rankbrain-algorithm-234440

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