Search Engine Standards for Titles and Descriptions?

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Source Title:
Proposed Search Engine Standard For Titles & Descriptions
Story Text:

Danny Sullivan has called for a Search Engine Standard for Titles and Descriptions saying that publishers should be given some respect for the use of their pages, and not have data pulled arbitrarily from other sources such as the ODP or just "made up" when the publisher has provided those details....

Here's a sizeable quote to put that into context as it's not 100% accurate, but gives the general gist of what he's saying:

It's becoming more noticeable now how search engines may pull your title or description from the Open Directory. And I'm finding myself more and more annoyed by it. I kind of feel like if a search engine wants to generate a title and description from my pages, it should come from -- well -- my pages

Interestingly, we have a long history of this already happening. Yahoo long, long has substituted its own titles and descriptions from the Yahoo Directory for pages showing up in its crawler-based results. We also had history of LookSmart titles and descriptions being used in the former Inktomi results, in place of actual page content.

For whatever reason, Google's greater use of Open Directory data to replace content derived from the page itself is making me personally rethink all this substitution. Certainly we've had a number of people confused by it. What do you think -- OK for this to continue? Time to regain control?

I was out at Yahoo two weeks ago and talked with them about the issue. They were wondering what I thought the solution would be. Personally, I think it goes something like this:

  1. Always use the page's actual title
  2. If the page has provided a meta description tag, NEVER go beyond the page to create a description
  3. Consider the meta description tag strongly as the description to be returned, especially if the search terms for the query appear within it
  4. If the meta description tag seems inadequate, then form a description by taking text from anywhere on the page.
  5. If NO meta description tag was provided, and you don't feel the page has enough content to form a description, then you can go to a secondary source to create a description.

OK, here's my logic. The knee-jerk is to say always use the title and meta description tag. But I know how many times I've appreciated a dynamically generated snippet of text that highlights the relevant part of the page. I think that works for both the user and the publisher, rather than it being the meta description tag over everything.

The meta description tag still serves a purpose. First, including the key terms you feel the page is relevant for should increase the odds of your own description showing up, if the page ranks well for those terms. Second, it says to the search engines that you DO NOT want them to go beyond your page to get a description. In other words, disagree with what the Yahoo Directory or the Open Directory has to say about your page? This is a way to insist to the search engines that they not replace your own words.

Jill Whalen is in the thick of it with an opposing view...

Danny, I absolutely agree with your 5 things, and if the engines were in my control, that's exactly how I would do it.

However, at the end of the day, it's their engine, their results, their searchers, and I think it's kind of arrogant of search marketers to expect them to do things the way we want when it comes to the free results.

You'll have to read the whole thread, and Jill's post to put it into context, but i think you'll agree it's an interesting debate...

So, should Search engines be subject to some kind of guidelines or standards for how they display a sites title and snippet in the SERPS?

Comments

 

I do agree and "wish" our titles and descriptions would be shown, doesnt this open the search engines up for SPAM abuse again?

 

So I guess we should all start calling the Mona Lisa "Painting of the Girl with an Interesting Smile", or the Venus Demilo "Statue of the Woman with no Arms" and the statue of David "Man with no clothes". Because they are more descriptive, and more representative of the work ;-)

It's pretty amazing how things like autolink and greasemonkey have absolutely no respect for the creator of the work. I guess it's part of where we are as a society, and why things like tagging and folksonomies are so popular.

Call things what you want, whoever you are...

Interestingly enough (OK, to me at least) the painting's actual title was "Mona Lisa del Gioconda" (or alternatively "La Gioconda") and it is only through people calling it what they want that we use "Mona Lisa".

I'll take a deep breath and say I'm with Jill on this one.

(Now commonly known as Venus di Milo, the sculpture is also known as "Venus of Melos" or "Aphrodite of Melos".)

 

Lets hope they don't decide to review the Magritte Painting "This is not a Pipe".

Titles

I guess I am on the side of the SE's and directories in this.

Only a very very small percentage of webmasters use the title and description at all or they spam the hell out of them.

In the directories I run, I put up the title and description I want. It is my directory, my reputation, my bandwidth.

If the Webmaster does not like the title or description I give them they can always ask for their listing to be changed or they can ask to be removed from my directory if I don't want to change the listing. I have the final say in what goes on my site and that is not going to change anytime soon.

What Danny forgets, is that most people are not educated in SEO/SEM or even good site design.

Standards?

Imagine that! The search engines actually agreeing on a set of standards of some sort? I seriously doubt this will go anywhere past the conversation mode. As stated above, there are many who neglect these areas, even so called SEOs. I've seen SEO sites with 100 pages and 95 of them share the same page title. Doesn't help much in this particular standard, does it?

And then you've had those who have been preaching that the meta description is of no value. Imagine their faces now while they are reading these proposed standards. I can see it now... "Wow, we have over a million pages indexed without descriptions. What do we do now?"

It's a great topic for discussion but one that will bear no fruit other than a few people realizing that they probably need to correct their titles and add meta descriptions.

 

Quote:
It's a great topic for discussion but one that will bear no fruit other than a few people realizing that they probably need to correct their titles and add meta descriptions.

I wholeheartedly agree with that p1r, I've noticed that Danny is very, very search oriented, even to the point of not seeing the wood for the trees on occasion...

Pleasee dont' spend the next ten posts defending him, i like him, a lot :)

How did we end up here?

Years ago, back in the stone ages, search engines used the title and description for their results.

Then came the indexing of dynamic content. Many who were building dynamic pages didn't bother with generating a meta description. Many of the titles they generated were also questionable. That left the search engines in a bind.

Then came Google and their "snippets". That changed the SERPs landscape. I think we can lay the blame on Google for this one. ;)

I still see pages upon pages of poor titles and no meta descriptions. And, a good portion of them are dynamically generated. For many, it is difficult to dynamically generate meta descriptions. But, a little bit of creativity in that area goes a long way.

Do you want to influence what Google shows as a description for your site when you search for specific keyword phrases? Then your page needs to be tightly focused and the title, description, heading and first few paragraphs of indexible content should all be "married".

It's nothing new, but many have missed the boat in this area as they are too busy trying to determine the next algo shift. :)

 

Quote:
Do you want to influence what Google shows as a description for your site when you search for specific keyword phrases? Then your page needs to be tightly focused and the title, description, heading and first few paragraphs of indexible content should all be "married".

Sorry, but that actually doesn't work anymore with Google at the moment, P1R...take a look at some serps...

 

Sorry Jill, but it does. I monitor thousands of pages and a bulk of them are showing exact meta descriptions in the Google SERPs.

P.S. I have plenty of data to back the above statements. I sure wouldn't want to be responsible for spreading false information. ;)

Just don't

get too "tightly focused"...

No standards

Let the market decide. The risk of standards based SE is the raising of the bar for new entries.

 

Quote:
Sorry Jill, but it does. I monitor thousands of pages and a bulk of them are showing exact meta descriptions in the Google SERPs.

Take a look at my result in google for search engine optimization. Like many others, it's showing DMOZ data.

 

Jill, that is one result. And, you are talking about an area that is tightly controlled by the Google team. Check your mail, I'm sending you some actual examples. No need to post them here in public as I'm sure many have seen the same thing I do on a daily basis.

P.S. After you've viewed what I sent you, please do confirm with those following this thread that I am telling you the truth. :)

 

All I'm saying p1 is that what used to be true (what you said, and what I have been saying for years as well) just isn't any more. Luckily, it *is* true in most cases, but Google holds all the cards, and they are doing funky stuff regardless of what we do.

There have been many forum posts from people wondering where the heck Google got their description from, so it's definitely NOT just my site!

Testing

Jill, I'll agree with you that it doesn't happen to everybody. But you know what, do some site:www.example.com searches and take a look at the SERPs. I can show you sites that are utilizing the meta description and all of the SERPs are showing their meta description word for word. And, on those pages where there is no meta description, a snippet is shown.

I was just looking at a site that has over 1,000,000 pages indexed. I don't have the time nor inclination to research all of those pages. But, the first few hundred SERPs are all showing meta descriptions. You can definitely control some aspects of what is being shown in the SERPs. Its all about focus.

>I guess I am on the side of the SE's and directories in this.

Of course we must remember that Directories and Search Engines are very different beasts.

Directories categorise sites and give a subjective view of the quality of the content. Therefore writing your own title/description describing a site as you see it is justified.

Search Engines however, should (arguably) be providing an objective listing of pages that would suit a particular search query based purely on algorithmic methods. In doing so even though they may use off-site considerations into theor algorithm, they should IMO only display content taken from that page in their SERP.

To do otherwise could actually be totally misleading to the searcher, depending on the off-page text used, and could create legalities based on that mis-information. The line becomes even more fuzzy.

On a purely personal note, I built the page, you (SE) should display what I wrote, not what someone else wrote about my site for their directory. Hrmph!

Google is using META Descriptions

Hey Jill, just a quick update on this. GoogleGuy has confirmed that Google has been using META Descriptions. Read message #4 of the GoogleGuy's Post Thread at WebmasterWorld.

GoogleGuy also posts some other good information in the above topic.

Yes, p1r That's nothing new.

Yes, p1r

That's nothing new. I have at least 2 articles on my site from the past year or so that discuss that.

Regardless of what GG says, they are also using DMOZ descriptions even when the keyword phrase that is being searched for, is contained in the Meta description tag. It's sad, but true.

Hopefully they will knock it off soon!

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