Posted Friday, October 22, 2004
The descriptions search engines offer when displaying search results are generally retrieved from two sources:
a) the displayed page's title tag;
b) the displayed page's description meta tag or, in default of same, the first characters of the page's body text; the number of characters displayed is limited, with some engines picking up a maximum of 150 characters, other offering slightly more;
c) the displayed page's keywords meta tag - while this meta tag's content will not be excerpted for the displayed text's description proper, it is one of several factors determining which search results are displayed at all and in which order (ranking). (Note that this is a generalization - some, though few, search engines refuse to take into account any meta tags. Obviously, different rules apply in their case.)
Both a), b) and c) should relate to the specific page's content, not the web site's or its corporate owner's overall theme! That is why they are placed individually in each page's header in the first place.
There is a popular misconception amongst web marketeers regarding search engine positioning mechanics, namely that web page meta tags and titles are to be employed as instruments of branding. However, if true at all, this would typically apply exclusively to a web site's main or index page. One of the metaphors commonly used in propagating this erroneous marketing policy is that of the "business card".
While it is true that a search result functions as a site's public representation it must also be noted that this should always relate to the specific page displayed: anything else may legitimately be deemed diversionary tactics, meaning that the page could be penalized for "spamming". (Yes, the respective search engines' definition of "spam" varies widely and is all but consistent. Also, in several cases it notably lacks a consistent logical basis, but that is not the topic at discussion here.)
This aside, it should be remembered that it will be both, a page's title and its description which will induce a searcher to actually click on the link and visit the site.
Hence, a page's description as displayed in search results is more akin to a product precis or summary than a general corporate business card and should be construed that way.
A unified approach, presenting one and the same promotional text on each and every page displayed by the search engines, while seemingly making sense from the corporate image point of view, actually constitutes a severe and unnecessary self-restriction, effectively hampering the overall online marketing efforts.
A practical example
Let's assume that you are running a used car dealership with an online presence (web site). Your company's name is "Honest John Autos Inc." and your main corporate marketing slogan which made you famous all over your home town is "Used Cars Galore: The Fairest - The Squarest - The Best!(TM)"
You offer a fairly extensive variety of used cars in your products palette, ranging from farmers pickup trucks to vintage American autos, foreign luxury and sports cars, etc.
Your web site has some 150 pages, all of which you will submit to the search engines for indexing. The pages are well focused and carry specific titles, e.g.:
- "50s Chevvy Beauties" - "As good as new - Oldsmobile special offers" - "Luxury finally made affordable - the Porsche Paradise"
- "Agro Cars - the Pickup Center" etc.
Now if you insist on putting your "Used Cars Galore: The Fairest - The Squarest - The Best!(TM)" slogan in every page's description tag, all you will be able to rely on to pull visitors to your site is your page title. But while it may appear to you that the slogan is a nice marketing reinforcement of the page title "Agro Cars - the Pickup Center", fact is that you might as well qualify the title message with a specific description which is a lot more to the point in relation to the title - and to the surfer's original request.
Hence, you might wish to describe your Agro Cars page in a more focused manner, e.g.:
----------------------------------------------------- "California's largest selection of second hand agricultural pickup trucks - excellent condition, and no-questions asked 30 days full refund guarantee!" ----------------------------------------------------- (150 chars.), or similar.
This will usually be a far stronger incitement to visit your page if the web surfer is actually a serious buyer-to-be. It will also help pre-qualify your web site traffic by eliminating visitors not resident in California or perhaps not interested in buying a pickup in another state than their own.
And there are even more advantages: the page will be highly topical from the search engines' point of view, which will normally improve its ranking considerably.
Since the page description will be indexed along with the keywords meta tag and the body text, you will increase your overall search engine coverage and enhance the possibility of your page being found under search phrase combinations you may not specifically have optimized it for. (You can't do them all, and some phrases and keyword combinations are so unlikely or even contorted, it's highly probable you won't be able to think of every possibility in advance.)
Thus, while you may be targeting the keywords or search phrases "used cars", "second hand cars" and "pickups", the example above may also give your page a good ranking for combinations such as "+used +pickups +guarantee" or "pickups California", etc. Compare this to the limited scope of your "Used Cars Galore: The Fairest - The Squarest - The Best!(TM)" slogan!
So what about branding and sloganizing, then? ---------------------------------------------
Don't confuse the media you are working with! And, of course, determine what your web site is really about: do you actually want to sell products and services online or, at the very least, draw buyers to your brick-and-mortar sales rooms? In that case you should proceed as suggested above, leveraging the possibilities offered by keeping your page tags flexible and focused.
But even if branding (without actually targeting online sales) is all you care about, your web site will still require some enticement to motivate people to visit it.
You might offer some regular sports or betting results, feature some online games, organize a sweepstake, etc. These, too, will require focused and well described web pages, else no one will come and check them out. (Nobody will visit CocaCola's web site merely for the heck of it or to imbibe their online promo, unless they offer some entertainment and a prize of sorts to do so.)
So there are some generic limits to conventional branding on the web, and you will be well advised to heed them. Search engines aren't the best medium to try for it: you may sink a lot of money into the wrong corner of the marketplace that way.
You may, however, push your branding considerably by other activities than search engine optimization: press releases, newsgroup participation, banner ads, reciprocal links, online reviews, free trial downloads, client testimonials, etc.
If you're interested in a professional, high quality marketing package tailor made to your specific requirements, we suggest you check out our strategic partners at California based Wolfblast Interactive Inc., < (http://wolfblast.com) > - you won't get better value for your money anywhere!
Remember that search engines are supposed to be user tools, not mere brain dead corporate billboards! If you want to make your mark and increase your (preferably pre-qualified) search engine traffic, make sure to service the user first: this will in fact turn out to be the best investment in your search engine focused online marketing.
Users will appreciate it if your search engine rankings prove to be relevant, informative and truthful. Just like you, they don't like wasting their time on confusing, misleading or nondescript search results. And lots of studies have shown that search engine optimization is actually the most cost-effective marketing activity of all. It is bound to give you a much bigger bang per buck for the simple reason that it's a fairly lasting effect (at least, by internet standards it is): Many of our clients are still profiting today from search engine positioning work we did for them 10+ months ago - no banner ad campaign can beat that, not in absolute terms and certainly not for that sort of money.
"Play them right, and they will feed you. Play them wrong, and they will eat you."
About the Author
Ralph Tegtmeier is the co-founder and principal of fantomaster.com Ltd. (UK) and fantomaster.com GmbH (Belgium), a company specializing in webmasters software development, industrial-strength cloaking and search engine positioning services. You can contact him at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org