Google has announced that it will let website owners customise the way their content appears in search results previews.

How can you take advantage of this to improve the way your firm is described in search rankings?

What is Google changing?

The ‘snippet’ is the preview text that shows when your site appears in search results:

Up to now, Google has generated search snippets itself. The content and length of the snippet shown depends on the user’s query and the device they are searching on.

Website owners haven’t historically had the opportunity to edit the snippets themselves; the only customisation possible was the choice to show a text snippet or not.

Now, Google is introducing a number of methods that enable owners to create more tailored preview content.

How will this work?

There are two methods for customising snippet content:

  1. Via robots meta tags. Using different meta tags for your pages will instruct Google on whether you want:
    • No snippet shown at all
    • To specify the maximum text length of your snippet
    • To specify the duration of a preview video
    • To specify the maximum-sized image you’d like to show

The tags can be combined – for instance, to show a certain amount of text plus an image.

  1. Via an HTML attribute that you add to your text, to ensure that certain words are not included in your snippet. This can be useful for site owners who don’t want to give away too much of their content in search results.

A rather technical explanation of the changes is available on Google’s developer website, and will probably be of most interest to SEO specialists and digital marketing experts.

FAQs: what do the changes mean for Marketers?

  1. Will the changes impact search rankings?

The answer from Google is ‘no’. The ability to edit snippets only affects how snippets are shown in results, not the results themselves.

Click-through rate may be improved, increasing traffic, if the new snippets attract more visitors to the site – but this has no relation to the page’s rank.

  1. When do the changes take effect?

The changes to robots meta-tags take effect in mid- to late-October (so around now).

The ability to hide content from appearing in snippets (the data-nosnippet HTML attribute) comes into effect later this year; Google has not yet specified an exact date, only saying that it will be effective later in 2019.

  1. How will the changes affect featured snippets?

Featured snippets, or ‘answer boxes’ are the results displayed in boxes at the top of the results page, as they are believed to directly answer the question asked in the search. Whether your page is identified as a featured snippet depends on what’s shown in your preview content.

So it stands to reason that if you limit your preview content too much, it may not include sufficient information to warrant its appearance as a featured snippet.

  1. Can snippet length easily be changed?

Yes, absolutely. As a site owner, you may want to see how your snippets look and whether changes have any impact on your click-through rates. If you want to, you can just change them – there’s no limit to how often you can amend what’s seen. You will need to wait until Google recrawls the page before you can see any edits appear in search results, though.

  1. Will mobile search results differ from desktop ones?

No – the same snippet will show on search results in both mobile and desktop.

Writing snippets that encourage clicks

If you want to attract your share of clicks when you appear in search results, there are a few steps you can take to ramp up the performance of your snippets:

  1. Get to know your audience. Creating marketing personas can help here. Once you know your reader and their interests, you’ll be better placed to create content that answers their questions.
  2. Don’t be afraid to write content specifically to address these questions. For instance, say you know your customers want to understand more about illiquid investments. Writing site content (and a snippet) that poses and answers the question ‘What are illiquid investments’ will give Google a clear signal that this is something where your site is an authoritative source.
  3. Write in-depth, high quality content – and extract the best of this, succinctly, into your snippets. Make sure that content on your page – and in your snippet – relates closely to the search terms you want to rank for.

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