December 21st, 2010
Tips, Tools and Tutorials
The holiday season is already upon us and many businesses may be wondering how they can try to boost sales in a slumping economy. One response has been for businesses to offer specials or sales to help bring in more customers. However, many people are resorting to online shopping for their gift giving this holiday season, so it is becoming increasingly important for e-commerce websites to be aware of how their information is showing up in popular search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. This is where snippets come into play. If you want to make the most of the snippets that show up for search engine results for your site, you might want to consider using Excel. Here is some information about managing your snippets in Excel.
If you don’t already know what a “snippet” is, don’t fret. Although it is a term used in the Internet Marketing field, it is very likely that you’ve seen them, even if you didn’t know what they were called. Each time you look up something on a search engine, like Google, you are brought to a search engine result page (SERP). Each of the listings has information about the site which looks a bit like this:
As you can see, there are a few elements to the snippet…1) Title, 2) Description & 3) URL. In Google, for instance, the results will have the keywords that you queried in bold. The first result shows the keywords (i.e. best rank) in bolded text in not only the title, but also the description and URL.
Although many people may aim for the top of the SERPs, having a lousy snippet can actually direct traffic to other sources lower in the SERPs. People can be very visually oriented when it comes to surfing the web, so it is important that you consider some of the psychology behind search engine users and what it is that influences them to visit a site. Although it may seem appropriate to try to cater to search engines for Search Engine Optimization, the real bread and butter are your human visitors, so make sure to keep "search engine user optimization" a priority. Not all search engine users automatically select the first result, and some will often select a result that has the cleaner, more relevant looking information. Being the first result on a SERP doesn’t necessarily guarantee the highest traffic, so when striving for #1 on the SERPs, keep in mind that you can still generate a lot of traffic by having a good snippet, without having to break the bank trying to get to the very top.
Although Google uses a variety of techniques for creating the snippets, they will often draw on information that is provided within the HTML code of each page. Google uses their own algorithms to determine what to include in the snippets, but the general rule of thumb is that they will often pull data from your page title (e.g. <title>This is the Page Title</title>) and the Meta Description Attribute ( e.g. <meta name=”description” content=”This is the page description”/>) though this is not always the case. Content Management Systems like WordPress and Drupal offer widgets or plug-ins that allow you to specify the title and description for each page. However, it is important to remember that Google will only display a fixed amount of characters for the title, description, as well as URL (which it will truncate if too long).
Ideally, you would want to make sure that any page that you plan to do any keyword targeting for has keywords in the snippet. The reason for this is that when a search engine user queries the keyword you are targeting (or perhaps the individual words that might also be in your targeted keywords), the words will appear bolded in the SERP. On a visual basis, bolded text usually gathers more attention for the listing, and isn’t that what you’re striving to do afterall? This extra step is a good idea for making your webpage not only search engine friendly, but most importantly, search engine USER friendly.
There are ways to modify the information on your webpages that will designate what information is pulled by Google for the snippet it uses for SERPs. It can be a bit technical, so I will just leave you with a link to Google’s page on how to add markups to your pages. Keep in mind that adding this markup can also help other search engines access your site’s information if they are using the same standard, too. This is helpful when you need to make sure that information about your website is consistent.
If you have multiple pages on your site, you might want to consider using Excel to record and manage the snippets you want to optimize. There are a number of reasons to use Excel, the first of which is simply for records management. If you are targeting keywords for each page, using a spreadsheet can help you organize your snippet data and to determine which keywords are being targeted for which page. You can also use Excel to manage your pages’ meta descriptions so that you can find ways to implement your keyword targets into the descriptions as well.
Start with these steps first:
After gathering data for each of your pages, you can use Excel to help you manage which pages need to have updated titles or meta descriptions. If you are systematically going through all of your old meta tags, you can use Excel to document when a page’s meta data has been updated by creating an additional column for the date in which the meta data was updated (like in the example below).
You can also use Excel’s formatting options to highlight which pages need to be edited based on their content. If you are creating a mock-up, you might want to consider following the formatting below:
If you’re trying to find out what descriptions contain specific keywords, you can create a conditional formatting rule to highlight the cells that contain specified keywords. Once you’ve got your data set up in your spreadsheet, you can either set up the conditional formatting rule to highlight a specific text (by listing the value between quotation marks – e.g. “keyword example”), or, if you plan to change up the keywords, you can just reference a cell. Performing the latter will help save you time by allowing you to change the keyword on the fly, as opposed to having opening the Conditional Formatting Rules Manager and making changes to the rule each time.
This is how it might look if you established a conditional formatting rule to highlight any cells that contain the keyword "snippet #2". Below is how the conditional formatting would display.
If you’re trying to constrain your title character length when entering the text into a cell, you might want to consider using Data Validation to set up a maximum character allowance for a cell. As you can see in the example below, you can set the character length to whatever you would like.
When you exceed the maximum character limit that you specified in the data validation window, you should get a message like this:
If you decide to walk on the wild side and opt to exceed the character limit, even though you know it won’t display fully, you migth want to consider adding a formula to help display a good representation of a potential snippet. Since Google will only allow a maximum of 70 characters in the title, and 160 in the description, it will essentially cut off the text with an ellipsis (which is unfortunately not quite as cool and exciting as the code word from Casino Royale). If you know that you are going to exceed the character limit, but want to see a preview of how it might look, you can try adding a formula instead. The formula (which will need some editing to apply to your own spreadsheet) is as follows:
What this formula is essentially saying is, if the character length of cell A2 is more than 69 characters, only supply the first 69 characters and add an ellipsis at the end, but if the character length does not exceed 69 character, just list the contents of cell A2.
Below is an example of the formula at work:
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