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SEO 10 min read July 19, 2018

Description Vs Body: How Are Search Snippets Formed [Research]

Description Vs Body: How Are Search Snippets Formed [Research]

Kirill Levenets
Mathematical Analyst at Serpstat
Over the last several months Google changed the length of search snippets several times. Firstly, Google increased the length from 140-160 characters to 300+ characters. BTW, we even covered this update and researched the longer snippets. Then Google decided to cut off in the previous range.

There was a lot of buzz around these changes in the SEO community; everyone wanted to know whether they should change their meta descriptions to meet the new snippet length.
But let's take a look at Google Search Console Help, it says that "Google will sometimes use the <meta> description tag from a page to generate a search results snippet, if we think it gives users a more accurate description than would be possible purely from the on-page content."


However, Google often forms a snippet by itself despite the relevant meta description. We decided to run a research and find out how Google generates snippets for webpages.

Within this research we'll answer the following questions:
1
What does Google mostly use to create search snippets: description, body, or mixes both?
2
Is there any difference regarding snippet creation between eCommerce and informational pages?
3
Can Google ignore meta description even if it includes search request?
4
What part of the body does Google use to form a description?
5
Do you have to change descriptions every time Google tests a new length?

What did we do?

  1. We gathered 1000 informational and 1000 commercial random keywords of the different search volume.

  2. Then we pulled top-10 search results for these keywords with the snippets, so we got 20 000 pages.

  3. After that pulled the body text and description of these pages

  4. Then compared the body text, description and snippets.

  5. Picked the pages which snippet was totally or partly formed based on the body text. Then we split these pages into 10 equal parts. And then analyzed which part of the copy Google used to extract a snippet.

  6. Checked whether all keywords of the search request were used in the description.
Some questions you may have:
Why are we analyzing only top-10 search results? The ranking factors of top-10 and top-100 search results are different, we decided to analyze only top-10 to make our data more homogeneous.

Why did we divide informational and transactional keywords? The promotion strategy of eCommerce and informational websites totally differs, and that's why there's a sense to split them to get more accurate results. Moreover, one of the theories we wanted to test was whether snippets for eCommerce and informational pages are formed in the same way.

What results did we get?

How Google picks search snippets for your pages to show in results

Google can generate search snippet based on different parts of the page. There are 3 variants possible:
1
Google picks meta description to form a snippet:
2
Google creates a snippet itself using body text:
3
Google takes both meta description and body and mixes them to form a description:
We gathered 2 000 of keywords for this research, half of them is informational and another one is commercial (transactional).

Informational keyword is the one a searcher enters into Google to find some information. So the person is not looking to make a commercial transaction, he/she just wants to answer a question or learn how to do something.

Commercial keyword is the one that a searcher types into Google when he/she has a strong intent to conduct a transaction, whether it be to buy something, learn about a service, or any other action that has a strong possibility of leading to a later sale.

We cannot be sure that all search results for commercial intent keywords are eCommerce pages, as well as not all search results for informational intent keywords are informational as there's no clear division between commercial and informational queries.

So let's compare the results.
As you may see, the Google picks the snippet only from the description in 44,7% of cases, while only from body in 35,5% of cases and from both in 19,8%.

As to the informational websites, Google generates snippets by pulling text from description in 22,3% of cases, from body in 53,8% of cases and mix them both in 23,9%.
Google pulls text only from description two times more often for eCommerce websites than informational ones. There are several reasons why this happens. First of all, the eCommerce pages usually contain less content than informational ones, a product page may only have a title, brief description and several reviews, while the most relevant information is in description.

The other reason is that eCommerce pages are usually optimized for the particular keyword and that's why the description fits the search request. The informational page can cover several topics and that's why the description is not always the best choice and Google forms snippet itself.

An interesting thing is that in 9,3% for eCommerce and 8.2% for informational description was ignored despite the fact that all keywords from the search request were utilized in meta description.

Which part of the body Google uses to form a snippet

According to our research, in 35,5% of cases for eCommerce websites and in 53,8% of cases for informational ones, Google picks sentences from the body text to form a snippet. That's why we decided to go deeper and find out which parts of the body text Google pulls to create a snippet.

We pulled only the pages Google formed the snippet itself using only the body text or mixed body text with description. Then we calculated the distance in characters from the beginning of the body to the first entry of the text used in snippet. As all pages have different length, we divided all pages into 10 equal parts and created a percentage distribution graph.

Here it is:
As you may see, the closer the sentence is to the beginning of the body, the higher chances Google will include it in the snippet. In the most cases, Google picks the sentences from the first 20% of the body text to form a snippet.

What do these results mean and what should you do?

1
What does Google mostly use to create search snippets: description, body, or mixes both?

All these variants are possible. Which of them is more frequently used by Google depends on the type of the webpage. That's why there's no sense to write the same content in meta description and the body text. Google analyzes both description and text when creating a snippet and if we provide different content, we provide more information for Google to choose from.
2
Is there any difference regarding snippet creation for eCommerce and informational pages?

Yes, snippets for commercial and informational pages are formed differently. For commercial pages Google mostly picks meta description to form the snippet, while for informational queries creates the snippet by itself based on the body text. Consider this while optimizing your website.
3
What part of the body does Google use to form a description?

In the most cases, Google picks the sentences from the first 20% of the body text to form a snippet. That's why you should form the beginning of the text with the snippet in mind.
4
Can Google ignore meta description even if it includes search request?

Yes, Google sometimes ignores description although all keywords from the search request were utilized in the meta description. This confirms our previous advice, don't hope for description, write your body with a snippet in mind.
5
Do you have to change descriptions every time Google tests a new length?

We think there's no sense to change the size of your description every time Google tests new snippet size. Add the most significant information with the relevant keywords at the beginning of the description (150 characters), while the rest of info you can divide into several short sentences so that if Google increases the length of snippets, these sentences will be visible to searchers.
Hope this research was useful for you. Don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions!

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