On longer snippets

Google’s made two changes to its search results. The first is an attempt to give you more useful suggestions for your search. For example, when you search for ‘oil’, it will come back with ‘did you mean unburned Venezuelan crude oil?’ at the very bottom of the page under the heading ‘Searches related to oil’. This is practically useless to me, partly because Venezuelan crude was NOT what I wanted to mix with Balsamic Vinegar but also because I have Google set to return 100 search results per page. I usually don’t scroll all the way to the bottom. Lazy. *Thinks* Why can’t my browser make scrolling to the bottom a one click operation? We would call it ‘Page Down’.

Chris Crum from WebProNews
describes this as Google trying to improve ‘intent-based’ searches and makes the point that they still haven’t solved the ‘Java dilemma’ that Bruce Cray talked about last year. Bruce said some people searching for ‘Java’ are looking for the programming language, some for Indonesia and some for coffee beans. Hint: most are looking for the programming language.

I would guess there is enough intelligence in Google’s algorithms to detect dramatically different contexts. Perhaps Google could give you a disambiguation opportunity, like Wikipedia do…

When the page loads they could give you their best guess as to what you’re searching for, but also give you a line of disambiguation options. Choosing one of those options would then re-do the query but add in whatever word is necessary to remove the ambiguity in the original search query. So that’s another issue I’ve over-simplified to my own satisfaction.

The other change is to increase the length of ‘snippets’, the (normally two) lines of description that appear in each search result. As of now, Google extracts longer descriptions if the user’s search query has lots of words. Which makes sense because people are writing longer search queries now than they used to. And two lines is often not quite enough to give you context.

There are two ways that snippets are chosen. If you write a Description tag on your web page, in most cases, Google will use what you wrote in that tag as the snippet. If you don’t write one, Google will pinch whatever phrase/sentence it thinks best matches the keywords searched for.

So if you’re trying to get people to click on your web page, it’s a good thing to get a four line description rather than a two line one, right? Question is, does this mean you should re-write your Description tags as four lines instead of two?

My guess is that it will not be necessary. Mostly what’s happening under the new system is that if Google finds lots of matching keywords it is ignoring your Description tag and pulling out the phrases surrounding the keyword. Indirectly, Google are increasing their control of the way search results are displayed and lessening the influence of the webmaster.



  1. So lemme get this straight… it’s still worth using relevant keywords in a reasonable amount, and it’s still worth metatagging “Description” onto HTML copy… but there’s no longer any guarantee that you can control how your page gets described by Google?

    I can see this being a double-edged sword. It savages lazy bums who don’t write Description metatags, and it savages spammers who attempt to put together an irrelevant description for their pages… but sometimes, I’d like to provide more information about a page for people doing searches rather than what’s already written in visible copy. For example, a shortened summary, or a brief abstract.

    Gawd. what happened to “Do No Evil”? =T.T=

  2. The main thing is, it rewards people for content that precisely matches the search query. For long search strings anyway. Without a big research effort, it’s hard to say whether it alters the way they choose description wording in shorter queries. I think this will become clear in time.

  3. ah, yes, and that’s why I’m not in the SEO business.

    P.S. fed this article into the P22 Music Text Generator at 900bpm. Liked the result. Very ashamed of self – this is not the right way to convert a blog into an audiocast.


  4. Yes. That sounds like how I think. And much more entertaining than most podcasts I’ve listened to.

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