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SERPs Use Meta Descriptions, Not Page Text

 1:05 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

I recently (a month or so ) overhauled the html on an ecomm site to eliminate embedded tables and move some html presentation to css. This lightened up the page weights by approx 50%. The text on the pages wasn't changed, except for adding a h1 around a 4-5 word phrase that is similar to each page title.

According to GWT, up until this change approx 25% of the indexed pages were in the main index (approx 600) and the rest were supplemental (there's a lot of very similar product page text due to the nature of the products). VERY soon after this change the number of indexed pages was cut in half, and now only 21 are in the main index (approx 2% of indexed pages).

Should I do the unthinkable and put all the bloated, embedded tables back? I know that's a stupid question, but...

AND... the even stranger thing about all this is this - the descriptions now showing in the serps are now ALL coming from the meta descriptions, not the page text, like they did before this change. The paragraph at the top of each page that used to be pulled from for the serps is still there, but it seems to be being ignored, along with the h1 text. The meta description and this paragraph are similar, but not identical. Can anyone explain what's up with this? I find it very odd.



 4:18 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

Google prefers to use the meta description in snippets whenever it relates to the actual search term. If an unrelated search also brings up that page, then something else may get used. Sounds to me like your overhaul got thoe pages out of a bad situation where they couldn't get normal treatment,

I assume you're looking at the snippet that's used in response to a site: search - and that is commonly the meta description since there's no keyword present in the query to kick in a different description snippet.

Right now Google's reporting features (such as site:) seem to be chaotic and buggy, so this moment is not the best for getting dependable feedback. You might double check a few things, but in this situation I would wait for a bit more stability in the Google SERPs before getting too worried.

See the thread Update Dewey: April 2008 Google SERP Changes [webmasterworld.com] for a discussion about the currently volatile search results and reporting results from Google.


 4:47 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

Hey Tedster;

The description meta contents are being displayed for many normal SERPS, not just the site: command.

The text that is being displayed for results are actually showing the description meta tag, not page content. This is happening in many SERPS, and actually, many of the pages once at the top for searches are gone. These results are new, and not very good IMO. I'll drop a response on Matt's post.

[edited by: tedster at 4:49 pm (utc) on April 3, 2008]


 5:00 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

Right - as I said above, Google prefers to use the meta description as long as it relates, even loosely, to the search term.


 5:15 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

How long has this been going on? This is the first I've noticed it for normal search phrases.

Do you think altering description tags will affect rankings?


 6:10 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

No, meta descriptions can affect indexing decisions, such as yes/no or main index/supplemental index. But they are not used for ranking and relevance scoring.

Snippet generation for the SERPs is done by an entire team at Google - and meta description have been playing a growing part, especially when they are well written.


 6:20 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

I'm a bit confused.....Is there something wrong with meta descriptions being used? I tend to prefer this text to be used as I can entice the user to click. Why would this be a bad thing?


 6:36 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the reply, tedster.

I figured the huge change in number of pages indexed might have something to do with whatever is going on, and I have read the thread you linked to.

But for me too, this is the first I've noticed the meta description vs onpage text with this site, too (the site is approx 4 year old). That's why I thought I'd bring it up here. Most of my snippets used to seem to come from onpage using the site operator. I always spent a little effort with onpage text vs META content to try to work in more keywords without being spammy in one place or the other, not just an exact duplicate.

However, I did a couple more keyword searches and those snippets are still using onpage text, not META content, even when the keywords are in the META content.

So I guess my question is now, with whatever Google is doing, which do we concentrate on more, onpage or META? I dislike just duplicating them.

Oh, and to answer, no, it's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just I was wondering what I did to have the snippets change all of a sudden, or if it's something up with Google...

[edited by: StaceyJ at 6:41 pm (utc) on April 3, 2008]


 7:13 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

Meta data is not used in ranking calculations at Google. So I'd say put your energy into developing more content and further link development - and also maybe think about a PPC campaign. Even at a low level, that can teach a lot about the keyword neighborhoods that a site lives in. Then take some action in organic efforts based on that learning.


 11:42 pm on Apr 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

"Is there something wrong with meta descriptions being used?"

No. It's far better to have meta descriptions show... assuming you don't write absolutely horrible ones.

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