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  1. #1
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    What text does/should search engines display?

    I checked Google just before I posted this and am even more confused. I was going to post this on a search engine forum instead, but my ultimate question is more related to web page design...

    I THOUGHT that when you type a term into Google's search box, each hit returned the first text it found on the page. So, if you had a web page titled Arizona, and this was your first paragraph...

    "Arizona is a beautiful and diverse state. It features deserts, mountains and the world's most famous canyon."

    ...Google would display "Arizona," the first sentenced and the beginning of the second sentence - unless there was some text higher up the food chain in your source code.

    For example, if you had an advertisement at the top of your page, then Google might display the ad first.

    In the meantime, I though Google no longer paid attention to the description meta tag. At least, that's what I heard; I guess I never really checked it lately.

    Anyway, I just looked up a few of my pages in Google. One of them did display the text from the Description meta tag. The other displays the SECOND sentence in the first paragraph, skipping the first sentence. That's a new one for me.

    But this is the question I'm leading up to: Do most web designers design pages in such a way that the main content is first in line when the search engine spiders come calling? Or is it generally considered too much trouble to bother with? Or is there some special trick for getting that main content to register, even when it's preceded by ads, navigation links, or whatever?

    I've long used really simple page designs using tables. I'm now playing with a table-less design. The right column actually comes BEFORE the main content, structurally; it's just floated to the right. So I'm assuming any text in the right column is going to register in search engines before the main content.

    Sorry for the rambling question. I just want to know how other people deal with this problem - or if they just ignore it. It looks like I also need to check out search engines again, as Google seems to be doing things different than I recall...

  2. #2
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    I think what you are referring to is your page description from the meta tag. Google will normally either use your meta description or your description from DMOZ, if you have a listing there.

    <-edit->
    Yes, I have heard it's best to have your content first in the code, but arranged however you want on the page. It also helps adsense better select ads if you are using that.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbowers View Post
    I think what you are referring to is your page description from the meta tag. Google will normally either use your meta description or your description from DMOZ, if you have a listing there.
    Yes, I must have been misinformed. If Google does use the meta-description, rather than the content that appears in the body of my page, then I guess I really don't need to worry about how I design my pages.

    Thanks.

  4. #4
    In memoriam gold trophysilver trophybronze trophy Dan Schulz's Avatar
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    Google will use the META description tag if it feels the description is the most relevant summary of the page with regard to what the user is searching for.

    Off Topic:

    by the way, nice avatar.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Schulz View Post
    Google will use the META description tag if it feels the description is the most relevant summary of the page with regard to what the user is searching for.
    Hmmmm...that's interesting. Good to know.

    Off Topic:

    by the way, nice avatar.
    Off Topic:

    Thanks. Had it for years but never used it as an avatar until a few days ago.

  6. #6
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy bigalreturns's Avatar
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    There are 3 things Google can use as a snippet in the SERPs:
    1) Meta description
    2) Excerpt of the page's content
    3) DMOZ description

    The decision is separate for separate queries, and the reasons are kept quiet by Google, but I think general opinion is that the most relevant snipper possible will be shown, which is probably based on keyword occurence. According to Google, if a good meta description is used, then this will be most often used.
    The only thing we can directly control is whether or not the DMOZ description is available to Google to use - if we specify the meta tag shown below, then Google will not use your DMOZ description in their SERPs.
    Code:
    <META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOODP">
    For any SE that uses DMOZ and supports this tag, or :
    Code:
    <META NAME="GOOGLEBOT" CONTENT="NOODP">
    to specifically target Google. For more info see the Google SiteMaps Blog
    Apart from this, the only way to manipulate the snippet is by trial and error really.
    More reading in Google's Webmaster Help Center - a decent guide on writing good meta descriptions as well.

    As to what they should display, I'm not certain where I stand. I certainly don't think a DMOZ description should be used, mainly because the site is archaic, often innaccurate, and offers site owners very limited oppurtunity to update. It also leaves a portion of the SERPs, i.e. the snippets, in the hands of a 3rd party who may have ulterior motives.
    Meta descriptions seem a good choice on the surface, but the problem of spam, or creative misleading of visitors to improve CTR comes into play. Good for clued up site owners, but bad for Google's search results.
    I think really the best option is excerpted content from the page's content. There is no opportunity for abuse without risking harm to the pages ranking, and the fact that it is just excerpts means it would be difficult to manipulate anyway. There is some form of "guarantee" if you like, that what the user sees as a snippet will appear on the page they end up at, which can only be good for the user.
    "The proper function of man is to live - not to exist."
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  7. #7
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    Thanks for all the tips. The message I get from all of this is that it does NOT matter whether your main content comes first in the code or not. It obviously doesn't matter if Google derives its description from your meta tag description. And if Google selectively derives its description from your content, I assume its Googlebots can somehow distinguish between text and ads/navigation links.

    Of course, I'm not sure how DMOZ derives its descriptions. I know some people claim their pages rank just fine in Google, even though the content doesn't come first. Others don't seem to care.

  8. #8
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    I'm for everything the other people said about the meta description. I always try to write it professionally, and short as its the first thing visitors will see at least for my primary phrases provided you have all the individual words of your keyphrases present. Other then that it will pick the content it feels is most relevant, which usually isn't.
    Daryl Quenet, Web Developer / SEO Consultant
    Web Design Canada, Link Building 101, Dr MadCow's Web Portal

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by drmadcow View Post
    It's the first thing visitors will see at least for my primary phrases provided you have all the individual words of your keyphrases present.
    I'm a little confused by that sentence. What do you mean by "keyphrases," and where should they be present? Are you referring to the key words meta tag, and are you saying you should also include your key words in your description meta tag?

  10. #10
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    Say your targeting a phrase like Rusty Broken Nails, this is a keyphrase the combination of words your targeting. So always try to have each of these words in your description so that is what is presented under your title in the SERP. So a description like "The Broken Nail Ranch is your source of all things rusty, such as nails and tools." contains all the words in the key phrase although in a different order so Google would display this. Cheers.
    Daryl Quenet, Web Developer / SEO Consultant
    Web Design Canada, Link Building 101, Dr MadCow's Web Portal

  11. #11
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    Ah, good to know.

    Thanks.


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