Description Vs Body: How Are Search Snippets Formed [Research]
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.
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:
What did we do?
- We gathered 1000 informational and 1000 commercial random keywords of the different search volume.
- Then we pulled top-10 search results for these keywords with the snippets, so we got 20 000 pages.
- After that pulled the body text and description of these pages
- Then compared the body text, description and snippets.
- 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.
- Checked whether all keywords of the search request were used in the description.
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
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 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%.
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
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:
What do these results mean and what should you do?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Nice. I was thinking lately about this topic. Great work!
Thanks for your feedback! Glad you like it :)