Video: anatomy of a search snippet

Several weeks ago I flew up to Google’s Kirkland office to visit with the wonderful webmaster tools team. While I was visiting, someone said “Hey, why don’t you grab a video camera, find an empty office, and record as many videos as you can in an hour?” That sounded good to me, and the first result of that is an eight-minute or so video about Google’s search snippets:

I’d like to say a special thanks to Ríona MacNamara of the webmaster tools team. Ríona took care of everything so that all I had to do was stand in front of the camera and talk. She reserved the room, grabbed the video camera, brainstormed topics, taped everything, got it digitized, and even wrote the official webmaster blog post. Thank you, Ríona!

In our quick efforts to make a video, I know the audio turned out crackly in a few places. Sorry about that, but that can happen when you grab a video camera/microphone/whiteboard and do a speed-recording session. I think the audio might be better on the other two topics we taped. Enjoy!

Update: Eric Enge posted a really good summary of the video, in case you prefer reading over videos.

75 Responses to Video: anatomy of a search snippet (Leave a comment)

  1. Trying to structure your page to deliver enticing snippets is a seriously under-appreciated art form. Good video, thanks. :)

  2. Oh, btw, any opinions formed yet on your Walmart computer? Have you had a chance to run it through the mill yet?

  3. This makes me want you to allow for rotating metas the same way we can rotate ad text with Adwords. Maybe webmaster tools can give us data as well to see the most clicked descriptions.

    How about it? New Awesome Feature – that tip will cost you a cup of joe. :)

    I could also use a “do not use for snippet” inline tag (ie: class=”nosnippet”) so we can at least keep legal info like that in a typical footer out of the snippet. Having to change text or put it in an image is not always the best solution. So giving us an opt out on some internal content would be nice, especially if you’re talking conversions.

  4. Michael, the hardware is nice, but gOS has some seriously rough edges. I wish they’d just installed Ubuntu from the start, personally. I’ll try to talk about it more when I can though.

  5. Ad a transcript with these posts – it is not convenient for people to watch videos during business hours in some office environments.

    Also consider adding SYNONYMS and ACRONYMS as snippets.

    This is equally important as adding the literal word.

    This will require an advanced programming effort, but the results are well worth it.

    Googles agos should be developed to filter out those terms and return them as snippets both in the title and the description.

    Few people are using the tilde, so this should be shown by default in the organic SERPs

    If this suggestion is used, please credit SearchEnginesWeb :-D

  6. Al

    Matt,

    I’ve always wondered how Google goes about assembling various tidbits of information from a given document to formulate the overall snippet. Do you know if there is any information online, maybe some algorithms/whitepapers/.. or something else that might describe that process a little?

    Regards,
    Al.

  7. Chris Price

    Matt
    Thanks for that info, keep it up.
    Sitelinks: how does a site qualify for these? They are obviously high-traffic sites — but is there a minimum visitor number, or what?

    Now something a bit off-topic, and I do apologise. It’s an interesting search penalty case. The site concerned had a manual adjustment a year ago, and recently the owner asked for help clearing it up. We worked for over two months on it – it’s a biggie at around half a million pages. Traffic had fallen from 20k per day to 5k. I put the reconsideration request in more than a month back (Oct 12th), and hoped to have heard something by now. It’s a useful site to the community, and is used extensively by the professions in one of the most important areas to all of us. It would help everyone, including Google, if it got fixed. Admittedly the owner wasn’t wise in his site management – what’s new – but he’s changed his ways and is now committed to staying on the straight and narrow. I’d really appreciate any comments on the situation. By all means use it as an example if you wish, there were (are?) certainly a lot of scripting issues in there.
    Tracker = bighealth.

  8. S.E.W., we already bold related words in snippets, e.g. if you search for [flight] notice that we also bold “flights” as well.

  9. SearchEnginesWeb is making a rare second post

    only because your answer was not pleasing.

    It boggles the mind, sometime – it really does.
    ________________________________________________

    The idea of stemming the words was originally SearchEnginesWeb idea from two years ago on several passionate posts on this blog.

    BUT – what is desired now are the following:

    SYNONYMS:

    eg: if someone is searching for ‘beauty’ the word ‘gorgeous’ should have some validity.

    CONCEPT SEARCH:

    eg: if someone is searching for ‘better s*x’ then ‘improved lovemaking’ should have some influence.

    In other words intelligence as opposed to literal.

    Understandably, this is an ordeal to program, algorithmically – but that’s the way the cookie crumbles in this competitive environment.

    Also, this will make the overall algos MORE relevant AND could actually cut down on gray hat tactics by GOOD Webmasters who now stuff keywords and use hidden text to compensate for the current technology flaws of this era.

    SearchEnginesWeb also INSISTS that Google allow Meta Keywords ASAP.

    This is a valid way for Webmasters to stuff validsynonyms and concepts UNTIL your technology improves to the point of making them useless.

    Meta keywords should also be part of the snippets.

    As a safeguard against spam – you can validate the keywords for validity against the body text and title. Now, Webmasters are stuffing ALT tags to compensate.

    A final innovative suggestion would be to create a NEW META TAG just for Google.

    We will name it META CONCEPT this could be YOUR version of Meta keywords, but programmed with more complexity to prevent artificial stuffing or spamming.

    But the bottom line is ……something has to be done, and it has to be done now to get away from the Literal keyword bias that search engines are shoving down everyone’s throat. :-P

    There are hundreds of other great ideas just waiting to be shared with Google…… however…!!!

  10. Harith

    SEW

    “Ad a transcript with these posts – it is not convenient for people to watch videos during business hours in some office environments.”

    This is the first time I agree with you on something :)

    In fact I have just arrived at office and started viewing and hearing Matt’s “Snippets”…until two of my friends asked me to wait until lunch break. I told them; Folks..do you know that its Google’s Matt Cutts himself I’m listening to. And one of the “she” said; who is Matt (:(

  11. Good information and format. Hope more is coming.

    One question though, why is “Starbucks Store Locator” still in the second place when it already appears in the snippet as a site link? Is this considered a “duplicate” search result? :-)

  12. Very good information. Thanks, Matt.

    A few questions and remarks though:

    1. When there are no sitelinks, Google often shows a second link to another relevant page of the same web site and that’s convenient for the user. On the other hand, when you have sitelinks, I don’t understand why there must be yet another link from the same web site just after the sitelinks. This is confusing.

    2. We can now reject sitelinks in GWT. That’s nice. It would be even nicer, if we could:
    - suggest other titles for sitelinks
    - suggest other URL’s

    3. You recommend that webmasters experiment with different kinds of snippets to increase the CTR. Our “snippet optimizer” is at http://www.internetofficer.com/seo-tool/meta-description-test/ [feel free to remove this link if you believe it is inappropriate].

    Jean-Luc

  13. [posted to Google Webmaster Central too]

    The YouTube player in its embedded version contains some bug which sometimes makes it stop when you reposition the time indicator, even when the video fully buffered. But hey, I guess it’s company politics to choose an inferior player than Google Video for these kind of videos ;)

    Other than that, interesting, let’s have more of these!

  14. A very simple yet informational video on ‘snippets’. Gotta love it!

    When using the function, in the webmaster console, to “block” one or two links in the sitelinks, does Google in time choose other sitelinks to replace them?

  15. Ed Eichman

    Hi Matt,

    Experimental: the idea of “measurements” lit me up – I immediately signed up to find prices on a site (e.g. let me find all the prices in coastalcontacts.co.uk), but that information was not “surfaced”. Doing something like that would make Froogle much better – you could pull the REAL prices directly yourself. Is anything like that in the works?

  16. sem4u

    Thanks for the video Matt. You explained it all very clearly.

    I always keep a pair of in the ear headphones in the office to watch videos like yours and take part in online webinars.

  17. Nice straightforward video Matt, thanks!

    I’ve had to run through this a few times with clients, and although it’s crucial – Michael: an art form. Exactly! – often you can see interest slipping at the details. Using a video is a clever way to keep the interest up.

    I’d definitely get a boom mike or similar though – on my in-ear headphones it sounds a little like you’re a cyberman clearing its throat :-).

  18. Matt: nice whiteboard video! Getting good audio is harder than it looks, isn’t it?

  19. I never used to think that the site links were algorithmic, however I have seen something recently that has made me think they are, that Mahalo got them pretty darn quick. I feel that UK sites get left out with them a bit though, our sites probably get a bit less traffic so I think you should make more effort to sort out UK sites with them.

  20. I like it Matt! Great idea, nice result.

    Cheers – doc

  21. Matt:

    Please make more videos. I don’t expect you to have the time to crank them out like you did originally, but if you can make one every month that would be great.

    I can’t wait for the two other topics you covered.

  22. Matt, I don’t trust you! I’m not buying the intro story: “Hey, why don’t you grab a video camera, find an empty office, and record as many videos as you can in an hour?” .

    Why? Because when you genuinely think “hey, why don’t you grab a video camera” you don’t put that in the video!

    Google puppet!

  23. Thanks for that Matt.

    I’ve often been asked why some results have the weblinks in the snippet. I have always had to guess that it’s algorithmic and most likely occurs when a site becomes the authority site for a given search query.

    I further hypothesise that the links sometimes disappear after a period of time and it’s my guess that they haven’t attracted enough clicks to warrant being shown where space is of course limited.

    Am I even close?

  24. Good to see you back in front of a camera again. Your videos always seem to get right to the point and are very informative. This one is no exception. I guess I need to look at my meta tags in more depth. Thanks for the video and keep them coming.

  25. To bad some people won’t be able to benefit from the information in your Videos. I’s impossible to watch a Video when your on dial-up.

  26. Geeks for sure. A woman says, “Hey, we got an hour – lets get a private room, a video camera and do what pops in our head…”

    The above video is the result…

  27. Good coverage of an interesting topic Matt – thanks.

    Similar to Philipp’s issue above, I had an issue (viewing video in Firefox) where if I changed focus to another application (or even a tab), the video stopped. Quite annoying because as much as I like looking at your smiling mug, I often background video’s and just listen to the audio.

    And yes, a transcript would be nice – surely someone at Google has done a “20% project” where they convert audio text into a transcript – how ’bout giving that a go on these videos?!? ;-)

  28. Chris

    Just wanted to add I’ve seen the same bug that Philipp Lenssen mentioned above.

  29. Matt, Thank you once again for a simple explanation of the search snippet.

    If I understood you correctly, the meta description is the most often used (if it exists) source of the snippet. What kind of effect could experimenting with the meta description have on keyword rankings?

  30. Matt, I’ve got two words for you, dude: green screen. If you’re going to present information from a Google SERP (or anything that would ordinarily be on a computer screen for that matter), do the green screen routine with it for added impact. I’d say that’s the bigger issue than the audio. Then again, I guess if you really did a one-take quick-setup sort of deal, you probably didn’t have that available as a resource.

    SearchEnginesWeb also INSISTS that Google allow Meta Keywords ASAP.

    This is a valid way for Webmasters to stuff validsynonyms and concepts UNTIL your technology improves to the point of making them useless.

    You gotta love a self-defeating argument, dontcha?

  31. Robert Scoble, thanks for stopping by! Yup, audio and lighting are both hard. Let me know if you have any tips. :)

    Everybody, regarding Sitelinks, the most we’ve revealed is that our method is algorithmic and that no money is involved. We haven’t discussed exactly how we decide when to show Sitelinks and what they say, and I don’t think we’ll be able to go into detail on that anytime soon. Sorry I can’t give more info.

    Hart and Jean-Luc, you asked why we still show a second result from e.g. starbucks.com even if we show Sitelinks for starbucks.com at the #1 slot. That is intentional (not a bug), and the reason is that some people don’t notice the Sitelinks. We’ve done lots of UI tests to make the Sitelinks have the right amount of visibility, but showing a second result helps in those cases when people don’t notice the Sitelinks, which does happen.

    SEO Test, I promise that we pretty much spent more time doing the videos than we did even planning. :)

  32. I think Starbucks was a soft choice of topic for a snippet examination. This is because their page is mostly flash and contains zero paragraphs of text. Because of that it was a 99% certainty that Google would take the meta description rather than use on page text. I would prefer to see how Google displays the description of a page when that page is very text heavy.

    Besides from that very informative video.

    When you say that you guys sometimes take the DMOZ listing, do you also look to see if there is a Y! listing for the domain?

  33. Omar Yesid Mariño

    Thanks for the video Matt. Maybe you could make a video session each week similar to Whiteboard Friday on SEOMoz. That session is really good!

  34. Nice video Matt. Keep it coming…

  35. Ben

    Thanks for the informative video Matt! It’s really a great resource to see how Google grabs all the information to put together the snippet. I really look forward to seeing more videos in the future!

  36. Staying mum on how you determine which sites get sitelinks? Fine, I can live with that, although grumble, grumble!

    For the vids, even just shooting it from the opposite angle would have given more light to your face, as opposed to your back. I shoot with green-screen whenever a location looks rather bland (yes, the whiteboard qualifies) but I disagree with Multi-Worded Adam on the use here. Short of a studio setting, green screen is hard to pull off on the fly. That, and it would take away from the interaction of you and the board (hard without monitors and training to interact with a CG BG). At least you have movement, and lets face it, we’re all here to see you, Matt. As for audio, as long as you have a headset/earphones that are jacked into the camera/audio feed, it would be easy to hear when the audio is going south and make adjustments. I’m sure anyone who can grab a cam and shoot has an iPod with earphones on them. Just plug in!

    Keep up the video posts. I know they take time to shoot, but they are worth their weight.

  37. “Everybody, regarding Sitelinks, the most we’ve revealed is that our method is algorithmic and that no money is involved. We haven’t discussed exactly how we decide when to show Sitelinks and what they say, and I don’t think we’ll be able to go into detail on that anytime soon. Sorry I can’t give more info.”

    If Google doesn’t want (or can’t) give any aditional information about how to decide something, you can be pretty sure it’s pagerank related,.. :)

    But there are other things. This one is interesting. If you search for philips you get nothing, but when you misspell it (Phillips) you get the sitelinks of Philips,. :)

    ah and by the name (sitelinks) you can already conclude that they´re “site links” so if you search for something site (company) related, they´re more likely to show up. That is of course done algorithmically so there are some other situations where they also show up and probably intentionally.

  38. Hmmm. Pretty run of the mill stuff EXCEPT the choice of Nutrition for the site link name. I looked at the code fo the page and it pulls up 24 times on the page. Add with that the high probability that it is a popular keyword in the inbound anchor text and we get an idea as to how Google creates their site link names. (Plus Nutrion_info page name helps).

    Thanks for having an SEO related post again. You are the utmost official authority and you have gone dark on us over the past few months. Come back to us Matt! ;-)

  39. Appreciate the videos. Keep them coming.

  40. @SEW – Just so you know, they already do what you were talking about as far as acronyms go. If you search for [seo] you will definitely see “search engine optimization” bolded, and vice versa.

  41. Matt,

    A quick question about “crawling” versus “indexing”. You mention that the cached page will give you the last time the page was “crawled”. Shouldn’t that have been “indexed”? It’s my understanding that you might get crawled a number of times, but only indexed a few times.

    It is also important to note that the cached page will only show you information about that current datacenter that you are using then. You might have a “indexed” date that is different between datacenters based on that datacenter’s crawl schedule.

  42. Harith

    Thanks a bunch for the video, Matt. And many thanks to Eric Enge for posting the summary of the video.

    Those who wish to see more of Matt’s SEO related videos can find them here.

    And here is My Favorite Matt Cutts Video Clip. Enjoy :)

  43. SearchEnginesWeb, jesus.. do you ever NOT complain.. gosh!

  44. Finally, videos again! I missed them so much :)
    Thanks a lot – where is the rest of them? (Or didn’t I get it right when you said you tried to get as much as possible within an hour?)

  45. Hello Matt!

    I have translated to spanish your video from Eric Enge.
    http://www.antikelifinder.com/traducciones/matt-cutt-resultados-busqueda-snippets.htm

    I would be very happy if you think that my work has been useful!

    Thank you!

    Rafa

  46. OK, I’m getting a “Sorry, not available” message. Is this just happening to me?

    If it’s happening to everyone then I’m desperate to know what Matt could have possibly said that would have gotten the video pulled from a Google property. ;)

  47. LOL, one of my staff tried it and it worked. It appears it was temporary.

    Sorry Matt !!! How could I even think you’d say something that would get your video in trouble. :)

  48. Nice shot from Google insider. The audio is not so bad… for a place with a lot of wind ;)

  49. Great video matt. Don’t worry about the mic scratching. It’s not that bad.

  50. Great post

    Ill have to send this round the rest of my team along with the other ones

    Wha’t mic setup where you using just the one on the cam or a clip mic cant quite make it out.

    Some cheaper mics have problems with self noise I have a pair of the entry levels shure mics and touching the body of the mic can induce noise.

    First time I tried out recording at a conference (of the main mixer desk) I got a horible mains hum all over the recording – I manged to fix it by using a notch filter at 50hz.

    rgs M

    ps whens the return of Emmy and co :-)

  51. I’m a noob at SEO but I thought I was an expert at searching. Your video proved me wrong and I enjoyed learning more!

    Thanks Matt and keep up the great work!

    Geoff

  52. Linda N.

    I am curious about the comment regarding Starbucks having a better homepage title. They still rank #3 for coffee below coffeereview.com and wikipedia.org – website that obviously get a ton of user generated content.

    If Google is saying is some important to overall ranking, does this invalidate or over simplify what SEO gurus are trotting out during SES conferences?

  53. Matt,
    Thanks for the video! I always learn something from your posts. I think you should do some kind of tutorial for the misguided or the newbie webmasters though. I think I fall into the misguided category and know that I would benefit from your advice. I’ve followed Google’s Webmaster Guidelines but still my sites seem to disappear from the results page once every 2 weeks or so only to show up again after a short while.
    Additionally, I would LOVE if you could talk about the supplemental index and how to get out of it. :)
    Thanks!

  54. Really nice video Matt, I have been keeping an eye on these sitelinks and its nice to find out they are all algo based decisions.

  55. OnlyMe

    Ok Matt, saw the video and looks good, sound was crappy but it was good.

    Ok about the sitelinks, now I understand that you try to grab what makes sense for the title of the sitelinks and makes sense not to put the query word in the sitelink. Grabbing names from the url is also good but how did you for Starbuck get “at Home” as part of the title of the sitelink when it’s not in the title tag and at Home is not in the copy- they have grocery store?

    Just need a bit of clarification.

    Thanks Matt!

    OnlyMe!

  56. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for linking to my summary of the video. I’ll plan on doing that in the future for any other videos you put together. I think it’s great stuff when you communicate like this to webmasters out there. It really promotes understanding of what’s going on.

  57. Great video, it was quite useful, for SEO enthusiast.

    P.S. Let me buy you a christmas gift – a decent mic!!

  58. Very nicely explained Matt. I learned a few things about how results are displayed. Thanks for going over it.

  59. Hi Matt,
    Great video ! Don’t worry about the audio. Your video is very very informative!!! Thanks from Italy

  60. Thanks for sharing see you at PubCon.

    Brendan

  61. Matt,

    Where can I report bugs in the snippets / universal SERPS?

    I’m getting a really annoying one here in the UK regularly.

  62. Very cool! is there also a german version?

  63. Hi Matt,

    Hope this is what I have told in my 28 SEO Steps article :)

    Thanks.

  64. Where does the address information need to appear for it to appear as a “plussed link” (link with a plus sign?). I am the volunteer webmaster for our church, and the address is in the footer of every page. However, our site does not have the address plus-linked even though the result right above the one for our site is a Google Maps result (with a thumbnail map).

  65. Matt

    New years resolution – cut down on the pies!

  66. Hi Matt, I have been an avid ‘voyeur’ of your blog but this is my first contribution.

    I know we can’t control sitelinks but I see that a sitelink tool has been added to the webmaster toolkit which is brilliant, and it show what Google has identified as sitelinks. I also know that sitelinks are only displayed when the site appears #1 in the results page.

    What I want to know is for what search terms would it appear? i.e. we rank #1 for fairly specific terms only and the sitelinks do not appear in what context / situation would the sitelinks be visible on a #1 ranking?

  67. Nice video, you explained it very good for everyone to understand what are snippets :)
    Thanks Matt!

  68. Great video, Matt! Nice to learn what goes on inside Google.

  69. Thank You for sharing, great job folks!

  70. I enjoy all your videos Matt. Very descriptive and educational for me and my seo team. Thanks this video was great!

  71. Hi Matt,

    I understand that a good snippet ca increase the click …but it’s the seconday thing… peopel can decide to click or not to click only if the website get listed in search engine …so my question ….is there any way to write or experiment with snippets which are help ful for SEO??

    Thanks!

  72. Based upon the information in this video, I’ve developed a tool that allows you to preview what your search snippet will look like in the search engine results pages. You can then copy and paste the HTML required into your web page.

    Click on my name, Jeffrey Nichols, above to try it out. It’s free!

  73. Your videos are always informative and very knowledgeable. I just wanted to say thank you for all your seo knowledge!

  74. Video is very good and explains details very well. However the snippet creating algorithm or its implementation have some serious issues, that I’ll try to describe on an example.

    We have a product and once a year during Halloween we make a special Halloween edition of the product, redesign the product page, etc. Now here is what we recently discovered: apparently the text from the page that is used for creating the snippet is stored in more than one place (or more than one copy) and it can be more or less actual.

    Here is what happens: if a user types in the Google our product name and the name of newest operating system from MS the snippet shows two sentences from the actual cache of the page. Great! However, if he types in only our product name (or part of it which is popular search query) Google shows the snippet from an outdated cache – from the Halloween Edition page! This is terrible. Halloween was over half a year ago, this text is not relevant and not actual. It doesn’t help us to sell the product, it doesn’t help Google to display relevant search result, it doesn’t help the user to find what he wants.

    Since video says there is no way to manually fix that snippets, is there anyone in Google company we could contact to fix the snippet algorithm. We would really like (and I’m guessing Google wants that too) that only actual cache of the pages is used to generate snippet text.

    Thanks.

  75. HI Matt,

    My biggest question is: How does Google determine what appears as the text for sitelinks? I have read plenty about using a href tags with alt text and a 35 character limitation. But, does Google sometime abbreviate even my shorter tags? And, is there some type of comprehensive list that shows common things Google looks for prior to scanning for other possibilities? (Login, Careers, etc.)

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