Where does the Description come from?
This post is in response to a discussion I've been involved in over at HR, and I want to pick the brains of some folks here.
As we all know, along with the title, the description that a search engine uses for your site in a SERP can have a significant impact on whether or not someone chooses to click on your link.
Apparently, the rules have changed recently.
We are now seeing a preference for DMOZ descriptions where available, as well as an apparent devaluing of text snippets, which I always kind of liked (easier to see garbage phrases associated with pporly made doorway pages etc)
I responded to a question about descriptions in a thread over there and a member pointed out that, based on my own data, the rules had apparently changed since the last time I looked at them. So I checked further. Here is the data I came up with:
The problem now is that many people use the same description for DMOZ as they do for their homepage description, so now we have to be very careful about assuming that the description that is being shown is being pulled from the meta description and not DMOZ, since they may be identical.
Since I know my site is in DMOZ and has a different meta description, I'll use it as a test subject. I know my meta tags are valid and not broken, due to testing I did earlier for an article and meta-tag tool, so that will eliminate that as a possible factor for anything.
Note that this site sells SEO services, but I'm not currently taking new clients, so please don't consider this as promotional - it's just the site I know best.
Page: mcanerin.com homepage
Meta Description: Website promotion company specializing in cross-border internet marketing. Offices in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Las Vegas. Free ranking report, SEO tools
DMOZ Description: Offers Internet and website promotion, search engine optimization and search engine submission. Includes location.
Page Title: Website Promotion | Internet Marketing - McAnerin Networks Inc.
Keywords Tested: mcanerin, internet promotion canada, website promotion canada, internet promotion USA, mcanerin internet marketing, mcanerin seo, mcanerin website promotion
Keywords for this have been chosen a combination of either being in or not in the description, as well as causing the site to show up easily, rather than actually being keywords I target for marketing purposes, which is irrelevant here.
The name "mcanerin" does not appear in either description, but is in the domain, title and many incoming links. It is also in the body text and headers on the page being tested.
TESTS (using Google)
mcanerin: Offers Internet and website promotion, search engine optimization and search engine submission. Includes location. (DMOZ Description)
mcanerin internet marketing: Website promotion company specializing in cross-border internet marketing. Offices in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Las Vegas. (Meta Description)
mcanerin seo: ... Ian McAnerin, founder of MNI, is one of the best known SEO's in Canada, and speaks frequently. He has also has written many articles and is currently ... (Text Snippet)
mcanerin website promotion: Offers Internet and website promotion, search engine optimization and search engine submission. Includes location. (DMOZ Description)
internet promotion canada: Offers Internet and website promotion, search engine optimization and search ... Website and Internet Promotion. In the US and Canada, website promotion can ... (Combination of DMOZ + Text Snippet)
website promotion canada: ... In the US and Canadawebsite promotion, can take many forms, including search engine optimization ( SEO ), directory and search engine submission, ... (Text Snippet)
internet promotion USA: Offers Internet and website promotion, search engine optimization and search engine submission. Includes location. (DMOZ Description)
I found it very interesting that although "mcanerin" was used frequently on the page, Google usually chose not to use a text snippet containing it.
By itself, it triggered a DMOZ description. Combined with words contained only in the meta description, it triggered the meta description, and combined with words only contained on the page, triggered a text snippet.
The rules seem to be:
1. Use the DMOZ Description as default
2. If the terms appear in both descriptions, use DMOZ
3. If some terms appear in order (exactly) in DMOZ but not all, use DMOZ
4. If some terms appear in DMOZ but not in order, use DMOZ + a text snippet containing the remainder.
4. If none of the terms appear in DMOZ but do in the meta, use the meta
5. If the terms do not appear in either description, use a text snippet
6. If the terms appear exactly (order does not matter, but must be beside each other) in the text but not in either description, use a text snippet.
There may be other rules, but that's what it looks like so far.
I was interested to see the results of a site that is not in DMOZ, so I used a client. Due to client confidentiality issues, I won't disclose the URL or keywords used. The client is a PR 7 pharmacy that does not have it's DMOZ application reviewed yet. It ranks very well organically for it's keywords, however.
Search 1: keyword is in both text and meta description exactly. Description is shown.
Search 2: keyword is in text only. Text snippet is shown.
Search 3: keyword is in both text and meta description but out of order: text snippet is shown
Search 4: exact keyword is in meta description only: shows meta description, but not of home page? Shows the meta of a PR 0 page buried in the depths of a dynamic system. This is the same meta description as the home page (PR7). Odd...
That last search is unexpected. Can anyone confirm this behavior with a different site?
That's my information so far. I'd be interested in seeing what others get.
I made a chart suggesting the order of priority - please not that this is under heavy testing and is probably not accurate yet - I'd appreciate additional information that might make it accurate.
"Exact" means the keywords are right next to each other, "Spread" means they are in the same sentance or paragraph, but not next to each other. "Partial" means that only some of the words exist in the description.
Possible Order of Preference (not fully tested)
1. DMOZ Exact
2. Meta Exact
3. Text Exact
4. DMOZ Spread
5. Text Spread
6. Meta Spread
7. DMOZ Partial
8. Text Partial
9. Meta Partial
No On-Page Usage: DMOZ, then Meta. Will only use a maximum of two sources in the case of partials.
I'd appreciate any thoughts or data you may have that may shed some light on this.
Ian, I was torn between merging your post into this existing thread, Google Dynamically Changing Page Titles, but thought it made sense to leave this as a fresh standalone discussion. Anyone reading should also see details in that past thread, however. Some other relevant threads and an illustration from rustybrick are covered in this SEW blog post: Google Using ODP Titles In Addition To Descriptions
Excellent post Ian - Thanks for sharing your findings. I believe these will be very useful to those who may be confused about where/how/why their descriptions are appearing in Google.
Danny - 1000 posts, congrats! That's a lot of time and effort.
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