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Managing your Online Reputation: Google Snippets and why they matter

5th July 2010
GWS Team

"Google Snippet - What's that?"

As much as some social media marketers seem to think that Google exists in order to showcase their linking abilities, Google’s ultimate aim is to help people find the pages that will be most helpful and relevant to them. 

One of the methods Google uses to help searchers find relevant results is the ‘snippet’; this is the little snatch of text which you see below the title of a webpage when you look at the Google search engine results page (or SERPs, if you want to use technical lingo).

What do we mean?

Take a look at this picture....

Google Snippet

You might imagine that this the text displayed here is simply a matter of Google’s discretion (or lack thereof, depending on how much you approve of what it says).

Alternatively, you might guess that it’s simply the official description of your site.

Actually, it’s a little of both. The Google snippet for your site can vary, depending on the search keywords typed into the box.

For example, a firm of divorce solicitors which also has homepage content about personal injury law, may well find that for these queries, Google bypasses the ‘official’ page description (what the website designer has placed into the homepage; usually includes the approved keywords) in order to search for text about personal injury law on the homepage and displays this in the snippet instead.

This text may be less relevant for the firm, it may be incomplete, or it may not make sense; for example, the term ‘will writing solicitor Bristol’ when checked recently, brought up one solicitor’s firm - not its homepage but a sub-page - with the following snippet:

Now, this is obviously not the optimum piece of content Google could be displaying for an experienced legal firm, in terms of attracting clients.

It’s clear that paying attention to your snippet is worthwhile, or you may find that the wrong impression is being given to those who come across your site via a Google Search.


So what can be done?

Unfortunately, there is no way of guaranteeing which text Google might pull out and use as a snippet.

But you can significantly help the process along.


1. Title and Meta-Description

Take the time - or ask your website designer – to set a meta-description and title for your homepage which contains your keywords, but in a carefully structured, positive sentence about your company - one which you would be happy having displayed.

This allows your target terms to be more easily read by Google and could improve the chances of your carefully crafted descriptions appearing in the snippet when your keywords are searched for.


2. Keywords and Headings

Make sure the text on all the pages is following this basic rule: relevant keywords should be in headings (H1 and H2) and should appear frequently in text on the page (without appearing to be spam).

In the page text, you should use plenty of synonyms for your keywords; varying both your sentence structure and your target locations. instead of identifying one descriptive term for your business and one location, use several.

For example: ‘solicitors’ ‘legal advice’ ‘law firm’ ‘lawyers’, and ‘Bristol’ ‘South-west’ ‘Avon’ ‘Gloucestershire’ and ‘Clifton’.

Try to ensure you have plenty of readable, positive text about your business, containing your keywords; not just slogans (500 words or more).


3. Google Analytics

Make sure you are signed up to Google Analytics and use it to work out which keywords drive most traffic to your page.

This is worth doing anyway for marketing purposes, but it also has direct value for ‘snippet-crafting’ as by understanding what people search for the most can help ensure on-page content is fully optimised for this purpose.

For example, if you sell branded T-shirts printed for businesses, but the snippet which comes up implies that you sell one-off printed T-shirts to the general public, and the keywords driving most of your traffic turn out to be something like ‘fun T-shirts’ or ‘order T-shirts online’, this suggests that your website not doing a good job of convincing Google that you are providing branded T-shirts for business.

As a result you aren’t reaching your target market, and are missing out on potential customers.

To correct this, make sure you not only tweak the meta-tags of your site, but also that the words which appear most often on the homepage convey the business-to-business, wholesale tone with plenty of targeted, descriptive text content.

This way, Google is more likely to put those words in your snippet and attract appropriate clients.



In sum: If you can tick off these three tasks: 

1) the sentences on your homepage are well-constructed and contain your target keywords

2) the page data are tagged in ways that clearly signpost to search engines what their content is, and how you want Google to describe your page.

3) You have checked Analytics, and found that what Google 'thinks' your site is about, is reasonably accurate; and your page content reflects keywords that qualified visitors will search for.

...then we can’t promise your snippet will be perfect, but it is certainly less likely to misrepresent your company or cost you customers / clients.

Good luck!

And if you have any further questions for GWS about Google Snippets, please leave a message on the blog and we'll do our best to help.

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