Search Engine Results: control how your site looks

When you use your search engine of choice you usually see a small excertp of text related to the site, one like this:

Generally the text in there is a part of the actual content of the page, but sometime it isn’t. This post aims to give easy directions on how to control what will your potential visitors see…
(This guide takes in account Google, Yahoo! and MSN Search Engines Results)
The traditional way to set this text is with the meta tag description:

This description…

Must be succinct: 160 characters at most (including spaces).
Should be the description of the actual content of the page. Hence, each page should have its own meta description with content related to the current page.

Usually if SE’s don’t find this meta tag, they use a snippet of the content of the page (watch those h1 tags) or turn to to fetch the description (or Yahoo! Directory in case of Yahoo!).
Since some of the most crappy descriptions can be found in DMOZ, google annouced in 2006 a new meta tag content value to tell Googlebot to behave and ignore DMOZ’s descriptions (MSN also reads this one).

Later, Yahoo! followed and implemented it into slurp allowing to also ignore Yahoo Directory’s descriptions.

You can combine them like this:

If you’re wondering how to change DMOZ descriptions… well that can really be a pain: depending on the category your site is in, it will have more moderators working. So it just comes down to having luck after you suggest a change using the “update listing” link.
There’s a lot of information on the web over what other uses are given to meta tag description by search engines.
Last, but not least: here is a description of the Robots Exclusion Protoco suported by Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft

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