Google’s snippet scissors get a little larger

Google rolled out a couple of updates last week, and here’s my take on the first of them, and how it affects you. If you’re using a search engine optimisation consultancy, make sure you ask them how their advice to you is changing as a result.

The more instantly obvious of the changes concerns the description or “snippet” part of the results. Traditionally Google has served up the title of your page and then two secondary lines of text, which would be your meta description tag if that contained the user’s search term. So a Google search for “4-20mA aerospace widgets” gives this as the first result (or at least it did at the time of writing!):

4-20mA Aerospace Widgets – introduction and glossary
All about the now-ubiquitous 4-20mA Aerospace Widgets, as used in military and commercial aircraft worldwide.
www.bmon.co.uk/guides/4-20ma-aerospace-widgets/

For one- to three-word search queries, like the one above, nothing changes. However, for longer queries (four or more words), Google may now serve up three or four secondary lines of text instead of just two. So a Google search for “4-20mA red military aerospace widgets” now gives this as the first result:

4-20mA Aerospace Widgets – introduction and glossary
All about the now-ubiquitous 4-20mA Aerospace Widgets, as used in military and commercial aircraft worldwide. … Here at the Red Widget Company [1] in the UK we took up the concept enthusiastically long ago, although, as mentioned, …
www.bmon.co.uk/guides/4-20ma-aerospace-widgets/

If you look further down the page, some of the snippets are even longer than that. It looks like the maximum length of the snippets has increased from 160 characters to twice that number. But what does this all mean for us? The first question I’ve been asked is: “Should I rewrite all my carefully-crafted 160-character meta description tags?” and my answer to that is no, because Google is still only going to show that much text on one- to three-word search queries, which are probably your most important ones. Even on the longer queries, it will still use the meta description tags, as the second example above shows – it’ll just augment them if necessary. But you do need to think more carefully if there are longer search queries which are important to you, and if there are, you need to ensure the words appear together at least on the page if not in the meta description tag or title.

Here at Business Marketing Online we’re taking on a limited number of clients over the next few months to help them with the “search engine optimisation” of their websites. We have a fantastic new tool which will map out your website in spreadsheet format, showing you all the titles, descriptions and headlines at a glance. If you’re interested, the first thing to do is to join our new-style £100/month “Insider Programme” – more details here.

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