The Anatomy of a Search Result

- August 6, 2010

Meta data is a critical component of SEO. Meta data consists of primarily the title tag, the description tag and the keyowrd tag of a page.   This information, when properly used for SEO, can help to tell the search engine spiders and the searcher a bit more about what they will find on the page.

Let’s start by breaking down a listing in a search engine results page.

The clickable, blue link in Google’s search engine results pages is the title tag.   This is usually the actual title tag of your page, which is also visible when viewing the page (shown in the top of your browser).   As you can imagine, since this is the clickable link, it’s important to make sure that it includes keywords.   This can help with rankings and it can also encourage someone to click through to the page of your site listed.

The snippet of text just below the title is displayed to show a bit more information about the page to the searcher. This text can be pulled from a few places.   If Google’s spiders are not able to crawl the page or if they are not finding text that they think will be valuable to the searcher, they may rely on the Open Directory Project for this information.   Other times they may use the description tag that you assign to the page.   Lastly, Google may pull this text from a place within the page’s content.   For instance, if the specific search query is most related to a piece of the content located at the bottom of the page, Google may display content from the bottom of the page as the search snippet.

One bit of confusion is that Google will not always display the description tag that you have assigned to the page.   As mentioned earlier, if a piece of content on the page is more relevant to the search query, the search engine may choose to display that instead of your description tag.   This does not mean you should ignore the description tag by any means.   It can still add weight to your page. As Google is trying to create the best experience for the searcher, there are some elements such as the descriptive snippet, that they will tweak in order to create what they believe makes best search experience.   The next question that usually arises is: can I tell Google to only use my description tag?   Since it’s an algorithm that determines this, you can’t. However, if the text pulled is from the Open Directory Project, you can use the META NODP tag, which essentially lets you opt out of the Open Directory Project title and description.

Other elements of a snippet that are within the search engine results page are the URL and sometimes site links. The URL is pretty self explanatory — it is the destination URL of the page listed in the search engine results page. The site links are additional non-paid links into a few other pages on your site that Google feels is relevant for searchers.

Review your website’s meta data and be sure that the content on your page and meta data are in sync.   Even conduct searches for your keywords and see what displays in the search results. This can help you to find out what Google is telling searchers about your pages.

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