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Helping Google to present us how we’d like

I saw the Google result for the website of a major sports club last week, and it was so wrong it was embarrassing, not to say awkward. But it demonstrated a trap that it’s easy to fall into.

For some time now, for corporate websites, Google has tended not to display a site’s supplied title and description, because it thinks it can do better. And to be fair, quite often it can. Until a few years ago, the search engine always showed every page’s supplied title, because it saw itself as a formal “index to the web”. For the vast majority of corporate websites, the supplied home page title was simply the company name, or something like “[Company Name] – official website”, and that was the right thing to show.

I suspect however that an increasing number of companies started setting their home page title to something like “[Company Name] – we’re better than other companies”, and the results started to look more messy. Google knew whose website it was, and that its users wanted to see simply “The Blue Widget Company”, so it replaced the supplied home page title in its results with just the company name, and things became much neater.

But what about the description? It’s many years since Google displayed a site’s supplied description by default. Instead, it tries to find some text from the page which relates more to the actual query. If that query is just the company name, and the site’s supplied description seems like a neat summary, it might use that. If not …well, there’s usually something good on the page that it can extract to use.

However, an increasing number of corporate home pages have very little textual content on them. The sports club I referred to actually had almost none at all – it was a series of graphic panels which were fine from an aesthetic and usability standpoint. Unfortunately, it also had no supplied description for Google to consider as a fallback. Many website designers consider the ‘description meta tag’ to be unimportant nowadays. In this case, it was a big mistake. The only text on the page which Google could grab was a temporary ‘advert’ at the bottom of the page for a Christmas event the club had organised for children. And that’s the text it used. The result made both Google and the sports club look very silly.

The lessons to be learned here are to frequently check the presentation of results for a search where our company should appear (and not just for a search on the company name, but also on ‘blue widget suppliers’ or ‘widget suppliers in Lincolnshire’ or whatever); to ensure we have a ‘description meta tag’ on our home page; and to ensure we have some real text on the home page which describes the business, even if it’s not prominent to visitors.