the Google “Snippet” System in Action

    March 12, 2003

Dear Dan,
My name is Brandon Stone. I’m senior tech and webmaster for a company called Martin Yale Industries. We manufacture office and graphics equipment. I took over the company website about a year ago. It had previously been ignored for about five years. So, I went out and bought a copy of FrontPage and taught myself to build webs. I have been building for about 2 years now, and have had a lot of success in the search engines. Thanks to WebProNews, that is. Without WebProNews, I don’t think that I would be anywhere near as keen as I am. I definitely don’t think my company would be #1 for “desktop graphics equipment” in Google.

Now, here’s my problem, or maybe an observation rather. If you go to Google, and do a search for “martin yale” this is what you get:

Producers of Graphics and Business Equipment and Desktop Office … … Site Map. Site Search. Martin Yale. Master. Premier. … Click Here to See All Martin Yale Products. Click here to see our line of Paper Folders! … – 16k – Mar 3, 2003 – Cached – Similar pages

This is a descriptive listing from the links off of our home page. Straight forward enough.

Now, if you do a search for “martin yale 1501x,” which is a machine we make, this is what you get:

Producers of Graphics and Business Equipment and Desktop Office … … Martin Yale 1501X Paper Folder. Master 3020B Paper Punch Premier 1632 Letter Opener Paper Trimmers Paper Folders Letter Openers Paper Punches. – 17k – Cached – Similar pages

Now, these are both listings for the same page, one showing the links from our home page, and the other showing the alternative text for the pictures, and the links that the pictures are attached to. I have never seen this before, and it suggests that Google caches more than one shot of the page, and the description that it produces for a page is directly related to the search that is being done. Have you seen this before, and do you have any idea how it can be harnessed in Google as a tool?

Thank You in advance for any thoughts you may have.

Martin Yale Industries

Dear Brandon,

Once upon a time, search engines displayed the page title and META description for every page in their search results. There were a couple of problems with this approach. First, the META descriptions weren’t always relevant to the search that had been conducted. Second, a lot of webmasters duplicated the same META description on every page of the site.

In an effort to give searchers a better idea of what the listed page has to offer, Google uses “snippets” taken from the page, using text that appears around the keywords being searched. If the keywords don’t appear on the page at all, they will normally use the META description instead.

Google indexes the full text of the page, including the ALT attributes of any images. So what we’re seeing here is the Google “snippet” system in action. When you search for “Martin Yale,” that appears in several places on the page, so it’s easy enough for Google to put together a snippet. With the more specific search, Google uses the nearby text, which happens to be ALT text and links.

As for whether this can be harnessed as a tool, that’s a little tricky. Most of us would prefer to control the text that Google displays. By conducting enough searches and looking at how the snippets are put together, it’s not that difficult to guess at the right way to put the copy together so that it flows.

It would make sense to create an optimized page for each category of product, linking to the product pages. These pages appear to exist on the site already (although they are not really optimized). The links are not to product pages, though, but to PDF files with an image of the product sheet. Once optimized, these category pages are likely to do well in generic searches by product type, for example, “paper folders.”

For this particular site, creating an *optimized* product page for each product, with the name of the product (and relevant keywords) in the title, heading tag, and first paragraph of text, is likely to result in the snippet coming out of that first paragraph. In addition, these pages are likely to outrank the home page in any product specific search.

Currently, the interior pages (product sheets) are not indexed by Google. I would suggest a little more emphasis on acquiring external links, especially to the product line / category pages, would improve this situation in a hurry, and no doubt dramatically increase the search engine traffic to this site.

Dan Thies is a well-known writer and teacher on search engine marketing. He offers consulting, training, and coaching for webmasters, business owners, SEO/SEM consultants, and other marketing professionals through his company, SEO Research Labs. His next online class will be a link building clinic beginning March 22