Episode 46 / May 18, 2018

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Welcome to The Redirect Podcast, where the BlackTruck team shares recent insights and takeaways from the world of search marketing.

In this week’s episode:

  • Google is rolling search result snippets back into the 160 character limit range. We discuss the implications this could have for your site, while giving you actionable insights on next steps to consider (begins at 1:13).
  • The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a highly regarded citation source for local SEO, but there are flaws in their own rating system that could impact your online reputation (begins at 17:14).

Google Shortens Search Result Snippets

(Say that five times fast.)

For the past two years, Google had started to show search result snippets over the normal 160 characters, favoring many in the 300-character length. Many an SEO had shifted their practice to develop longer meta page descriptions to take advantage of this extra real estate. Now, Google is rolling those snippets back into the 160 character limit range.

And the SEOs who shifted to write longer descriptions site-wide aren’t too happy about that. (Read more from Search Engine Roundtable and further insights from The SEM Post.)

We previously wrote a blog post on writing meta page descriptions in response to Google extending the character count in search result snippets. After the 320-character snippets were “announced” in December, we moved forward with testing longer meta page descriptions on key pages we had already written descriptions for. As we were working on new sites, we tested writing longer descriptions from the start.

As it didn’t seem prudent to make massive site-wide changes in response to the change, our approach was to stick with a 300-character length for new descriptions, and frontload the description with information that is most relevant to what page is targeting. The idea was that at least that text would show up in search results if the description ends up truncated—knowing well that Google may or may not display up to 300-320 characters.  

Dr. Pete from Moz wrote a great article exploring the change and some options for responding to it.

Why Bother With Meta Page Descriptions?

More often than not, Google is taking text directly from the page copy for snippets, to display information that matches the query and the search intent (they call this “dynamic generation”). Since Google can display something other than what may be coded, Ashley asked, “How much time should we spend worrying about these descriptions?”

Jason responded with recent examples we’ve seen, of what exactly Google is showing in search results for some clients’ pages. If page descriptions aren’t well-written, Google totally disregards what is coded as a description, scrapes copy from the site that they think is more relevant to the searcher and relevant to the page—even pulling in fragments separated by symbols or ellipses —and the copy in the snippet might end up looking like near gibberish to the searcher. Not great for click-through rates—and at best, it just won’t be ideal text for that “organic advertisement” space.

If no description is coded, Google will take whatever it wants from the page for the snippet. And, as we see all too often, if a “placeholder” or default description (“Your description here”) is left from your CMS…that default text can display in search results. This does not help you appear as an authoritative source for the information searchers are looking for.

You Do Have Control, and You Should Use It

Meta page descriptions really should be a description/summary of the page, and its main purpose or function. If there’s a chance that Google will take copy willy-nilly off the page anyway, and the idea of coding a meta description is to have some control over what is shown in snippets, you need to make sure it lines up with whatever Google might otherwise end up scraping for queries relevant to your page.


So…NOW should you go out and change all the meta descriptions on your site back to a shorter length? Well, no. If you have ineffective or no meta descriptions, start claiming some control over how search engines describe pages on your site. If you’ve already written longer descriptions, why not start small by seeing if you can impact the click-through rate for key pages by altering the meta descriptions again. Use Search Console to see if you’re possibly losing click-throughs because of the reduction in snippet space.

Jason’s hypothesis: If Google sees value in showing a 300-character snippet, they’re going to show it. If they don’t see value, and they can cut it off at 160 characters, they’ll cut it off at 160. Be dynamic, adapt, and write for both. As always: Test, and move forward.

Is BBB’s Rating System Trustworthy?

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has long been considered an authoritative resource for consumers on a business’s reputation, and an objective, third party entity that businesses can use to boast their service.

At Search Engine Land, Joy Hawkins shared her recent experience of hiring a pool company that had an A+ rating on BBB site. She ended up getting terrible service with them. Afterwards, looking at their BBB profile, she noticed the company’s rating was “A+,” despite the business having only 3 reviews on the site, all of which were negative. She also shared an example of a company that had a five-star average on their BBB profile, despite having 59 customer complaints.

It turns out the BBB’s rating is based on a composite system; 67% of the rating is based on the BBB’s evaluation of the business. Their evaluation is “based on a variety of factors, including past complaint history, how promptly the company responds to complaints, their truthfulness in advertising, appropriate licensing, and other factors.”

Customer reviews are included on each business’s profile, but they are not factored into the letter grade rating! However, consumer complaints and customer reviews are combined into the rating system of 1-5 stars, which also appear on the search engine results.

Takeaways for Consumers:

Joy asks a valid question: “Whose opinion is more valid — someone who has actually hired [the business], or a third-party review site?” She suggests that consumers “dig further into the details instead of trusting the average rating to tell the whole picture.” This is a great idea for vetting a business through reviews, no matter the source.

Takeaways for Businesses:

Take your BBB profile seriously, as it is still a useful source for consumers to research you through third-party recommendations, as well as a useful citation source for local SEO. But also know that consumers may rely less on this third-party resource than they used to if they can see through its confusing rating system. Finally, that confusing rating system might give you pause when it comes to boasting your BBB rating; If you have an A+, but numerous negative reviews or resolved complaints, will consumers still see you as top-notch? This is just one facet in assessing and managing your online reputation.

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