How To Look Your Best In Search Results

    November 27, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

Mom always said, "Put your best foot forward." It’s valuable advice, because often how you appear on a first meeting sends subtle signals about you and can influence what happens next. We should also be concerned the same way with how we appear, what information is presented about us, in the search results. 

How To Look Your Best In Search Results
How To Look Your Best In Search Results

Because nobody makes snap judgments like a searcher.

During a recent trip to Google’s Kirkland, Washington office, Matt Cutts and colleagues spent an hour creating impromptu videos on various search-related topics. The first to be posted involves "the anatomy of a search snippet," and how much control a webmaster has over what information is displayed in search results.

The answer to how much control is: quite a bit, actually. This article will explore Cutts’s explanation of the snippet, and ways to make the best of your search presence. Much of managing your appearance in the search results involves telling Google what to index and what not to index.

Homepage Title

The first thing you see in your search result is the title, and this is the first thing that Cutts also addresses. In honor of being in the Pacific Northwest, he used Starbucks’ search result as an example, which labels its homepage as "Starbucks Homepage." This is your first impression.

Cutts questioned whether the word "homepage" was a good choice (Google took the title directly from the page) as few would search for that word. Starbucks being so recognizable, it hardly matters, but for smaller business it’s a good idea to optimize wherever you can. "Starbucks Coffee" might have been a better SEO choice.

A usability expert might argue, though, that straightforward is best, and giving the searcher what he or she expects to see will have a direct impact on whether a link is clicked. 

The Snippet

The snippet is where the webmaster has the most control of what is displayed about his or her site. Google often pulls the snippet text directly from the meta description tags, and Cutts recommends experimenting with the text to see what yields the best results for individual sites.

Longer snippets, as we’ve noted before, help searchers with informational queries, and may also be of benefit for SEO reasons. Shorter ones work better for navigational queries.

Google may also pull snippets from other places as well, depending on the query or situation. If no description is available, Cutts says Google may grab information from the Open Directory Project or other directories. Or, to find the context of a query, Google may look to beyond meta description tags to increase relevance.

If there is content you don’t want to appear in the snippet, you can add the "nosnippet tag" to your HTML, which looks like this: <META NAME="GOOGLEBOT" CONTENT="NOSNIPPET">

Cache Page

The cache page acts as a backup if a website is for some reason unavailable. It will show an archived version of your site, show when it was last crawled by the Googlebot, and serves as a sort of content freshness indicator. Regularly updating content is a good way to influence what appears there, but also useful is the ability to tell Google what not to archive. To prevent the Googlebot from creating a cached version of a page, use the NOARCHIVE tag, which looks like this <META NAME="GOOGLEBOT" CONTENT="NOARCHIVE">

Site Links

Cutts was quick to assure viewers that site links were algorithmic and not payment based. In the Starbucks example, these would be headed "Store Locator" and "Career Center." So there may not be a lot of control over Google chooses as an important related page to increase searcher relevancy, other than using a NOINDEX tag for certain pages so the Googlebot knows what to skip, and making sure the language is clear as to what the pages you do want indexed are for.

If a page is seasonal or promotional only and you want Google to stop crawling that page after a certain time period, you can use the "unavailable_after" tag. Effective use of the tags mentioned also help control what appears on the "more results" page.