Wednesday, 13 May 2015

I Can't Drive 155: Meta Descriptions in 2015

For years now, we (and many others) have been recommending keeping your Meta Descriptions shorter than about 155-160 characters. For months, people have been sending me examples of search snippets that clearly broke that rule, like this one (on a search for “hummingbird food”):

For the record, this one clocks in at 317 characters (counting spaces). So, I set out to discover if these long descriptions were exceptions to the rule, or if we need to change the rules. I collected the search snippets across the MozCast 10K, which resulted in 92,669 snippets. All of the data in this post was collected on April 13, 2015.

The Basic Data

The minimum snippet length was zero characters. There were 69 zero-length snippets, but most of these were the new generation of answer box, that appears organic but doesn't have a snippet. To put it another way, these were misidentified as organic by my code. The other 0-length snippets were local one-boxes that appeared as organic but had no snippet, such as this one for "chichen itza":

These zero-length snippets were removed from further analysis, but considering that they only accounted for 0.07% of the total data, they didn't really impact the conclusions either way. The shortest legitimate, non-zero snippet was 7 characters long, on a search for "geek and sundry", and appears to have come directly from the site's meta description:

The maximum snippet length that day (this is a highly dynamic situation) was 372 characters. The winner appeared on a search for "benefits of apple cider vinegar":

The average length of all of the snippets in our data set (not counting zero-length snippets) was 143.5 characters, and the median length was 152 characters. Of course, this can be misleading, since some snippets are shorter than the limit and others are being artificially truncated by Google. So, let's dig a bit deeper.

The Bigger Picture

To get a better idea of the big picture, let's take a look at the display length of all 92,600 snippets (with non-zero length), split into 20-character buckets (0-20, 21-40, etc.):
Most of the snippets (62.1%) cut off as expected, right in the 141-160 character bucket. Of course, some snippets were shorter than that, and didn't need to be cut off, and some broke the rules. About 1% (1,010) of the snippets in our data set measured 200 or more characters. That's not a huge number, but it's enough to take seriously.
That 141-160 character bucket is dwarfing everything else, so let's zoom in a bit on the cut-off range, and just look at snippets in the 120-200 character range (in this case, by 5-character bins):

Zooming in, the bulk of the snippets are displaying at lengths between about 146-165 characters. There are plenty of exceptions to the 155-160 character guideline, but for the most part, they do seem to be exceptions.
Finally, let's zoom in on the rule-breakers. This is the distribution of snippets displaying 191+ characters, bucketed in 10-character bins (191-200, 201-210, etc.):

Please note that the Y-axis scale is much smaller than in the previous 2 graphs, but there is a pretty solid spread, with a decent chunk of snippets displaying more than 300 characters.
Without looking at every original meta description tag, it's very difficult to tell exactly how many snippets have been truncated by Google, but we do have a proxy. Snippets that have been truncated end in an ellipsis (...), which rarely appears at the end of a natural description. In this data set, more than half of all snippets (52.8%) ended in an ellipsis, so we're still seeing a lot of meta descriptions being cut off.
I should add that, unlike titles/headlines, it isn't clear whether Google is cutting off snippets by pixel width or character count, since that cut-off is done on the server-side. In most cases, Google will cut before the end of the second line, but sometimes they cut well before this, which could suggest a character-based limit. They also cut off at whole words, which can make the numbers a bit tougher to interpret.

The Cutting Room Floor

There's another difficulty with telling exactly how many meta descriptions Google has modified – some edits are minor, and some are major. One minor edit is when Google adds some additional information to a snippet, such as a date at the beginning. Here's an example (from a search for "chicken pox"):

With the date (and minus the ellipsis), this snippet is 164 characters long, which suggests Google isn't counting the added text against the length limit. What's interesting is that the rest comes directly from the meta description on the site, except that the site's description starts with "Chickenpox." and Google has removed that keyword. As a human, I'd say this matches the meta description, but a bot has a very hard time telling a minor edit from a complete rewrite.
Another minor rewrite occurs in snippets that start with search result counts:

Here, we're at 172 characters (with spaces and minus the ellipsis), and Google has even let this snippet roll over to a third line. So, again, it seems like the added information at the beginning isn't counting against the length limit.
All told, 11.6% of the snippets in our data set had some kind of Google-generated data, so this type of minor rewrite is pretty common. Even if Google honors most of your meta description, you may see small edits.
Let's look at our big winner, the 372-character description. Here's what we saw in the snippet:
Jan 26, 2015 - Health• Diabetes Prevention: Multiple studies have shown a correlation between apple cider vinegar and lower blood sugar levels. ... • Weight Loss: Consuming apple cider vinegar can help you feel more full, which can help you eat less. ... • Lower Cholesterol: ... • Detox: ... • Digestive Aid: ... • Itchy or Sunburned Skin: ... • Energy Boost:1 more items
So, what about the meta description? Here's what we actually see in the tag:
Were you aware of all the uses of apple cider vinegar? From cleansing to healing, to preventing diabetes, ACV is a pantry staple you need in your home.
That's a bit more than just a couple of edits. So, what's happening here? Well, there's a clue on that same page, where we see yet another rule-breaking snippet:

You might be wondering why this snippet is any more interesting than the other one. If you could see the top of the SERP, you'd know why, because it looks something like this:

Google is automatically extracting list-style data from these pages to fuel the expansion of the Knowledge Graph. In one case, that data is replacing a snippet and going directly into an answer box, but they're performing the same translation even for some other snippets on the page.
So, does every 2nd-generation answer box yield long snippets? After 3 hours of inadvisable mySQL queries, I can tell you that the answer is a resounding "probably not". You can have 2nd-gen answer boxes without long snippets and you can have long snippets without 2nd-gen answer boxes, butthere does appear to be a connection between long snippets and Knowledge Graph in some cases.
One interesting connection is that Google has begun bolding keywords that seem like answers to the query (and not just synonyms for the query). Below is an example from a search for "mono symptoms". There's an answer box for this query, but the snippet below is not from the site in the answer box:

Notice the bolded words – "fatigue", "sore throat", "fever", "headache", "rash". These aren't synonyms for the search phrase; these are actual symptoms of mono. This data isn't coming from the meta description, but from a bulleted list on the target page. Again, it appears that Google is trying to use the snippet to answer a question, and has gone well beyond just matching keywords.
Just for fun, let's look at one more, where there's no clear connection to the Knowledge Graph. Here's a snippet from a search for "sons of anarchy season 4":

This page has no answer box, and the information extracted is odd at best. The snippet bears little or no resemblance to the site's meta description. The number string at the beginning comes out of a rating widget, and some of the text isn't even clearly available on the page. This seems to be an example of Google acknowledging IMDb as a high-authority site and desperately trying to match any text they can to the query, resulting in a Frankenstein's snippet.

The Final Verdict

If all of this seems confusing, that's probably because it is. Google is taking a lot more liberties with snippets these days, both to better match queries, to add details they feel are important, or to help build and support the Knowledge Graph.

So, let's get back to the original question – is it time to revise the 155(ish) character guideline? My gut feeling is: not yet. To begin with, the vast majority of snippets are still falling in that 145-165 character range. In addition, the exceptions to the rule are not only atypical situations, but in most cases those long snippets don't seem to represent the original meta description. In other words, even if Google does grant you extra characters, they probably won't be the extra characters you asked for in the first place.
Many people have asked: "How do I make sure that Google shows my meta description as is?" I'm afraid the answer is: "You don't." If this is very important to you, I would recommend keeping your description below the 155-character limit, and making sure that it's a good match to your target keyword concepts. I suspect Google is going to take more liberties with snippets over time, and we're going to have to let go of our obsession with having total control over the SERPs.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Top 10 SEO Predictions and Trends in 2015

We will be entering in 2015 in less than a week now!  While we enter a new year, evolution of SEO continues. Some new SEO (Search Engine Optimization) trends will appear in 2015, will some older ones will fade out.
Here are my top 10 SEO predictions about SEO trends in 2015.

1.       Sites recovering from Google penalties
The sites which have taken necessary action will recover from Google penalties.  While on the other hand sites which do not focus on quality of content will be penalized on on-going basis (rather than only by major updates).
2.       More Diversity in SERPs
There will be more diversity in search engine result pages (SERPs) – especially knowledge graph will increase in popularity with Google showing more detailed knowledge graphs and businesses working on it more.
3.       Mobile –friendly and quick-loading sites
More and more people are visiting website through smart phones. So in 2015 mobile-friendly (responsive) websites which load reasonably quickly will get extra SEO benefits in SERPs.
4.       Visual content will become more popular
Visual content will gain more popularity in 2015. Things like infographics and videos will be helpful for SEO in multiple ways in coming year(s).
5.       Semantic and Social Search
Search engines will improve in providing semantic and social search results using signals like search history, social media and other online interactions.
6.       Other search engines will gain market share
Other major search engines like Bing and Yahoo will gain more market share this year.
7.       Diverse and contextual link building
Links are still the decisive factor in competitive markets. Contextual links coming from diverse resources will gain more edge in future.
8.       More focus on user experience for better conversion
Lately search engines are placing more and more emphasis on user experience. Coming year will see rapid growth in this regard too. Companies will invest more in the sites which people like, to gain SEO advantage.
9.       More focus on quality content, social and local
Quality content is king and will remain so in coming year. Social media will be more important for SEO while search engines will refine their algorithms to improve local rankings.
10.   Integration of SEO with other digital marketing channels
SEO will be integrated more in other online and offline marketing channels.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

What is the difference between white hat SEO and black hat SEO?

The difference between black hat SEO and white hat SEO has to do with the techniques used when trying to improve a website’s search engine ranking.
Black hat SEO refers to techniques and strategies used to get higher search rankings, and breaking search engine rules. Black hat SEO focuses on only search engines and not so much a human audience. Black hat SEO is typically used by those who are looking for a quick return on their site, rather than a long-term investment on their site. Some techniques used in black hat SEO include: keyword stuffing, link farming, hidden texts and links, and blog content spamming. Consequences of black hat SEO can possibly result in your site being banned from a search engine and de-indexed as a penalization for using unethical techniques.
White hat SEO refers to the use of techniques and strategies that target a human audience opposed to a search engine. Techniques that are typically used in white hat SEO include using keywords, and keyword analysis, doing research, rewriting meta tags in order for them to be more relevant, backlinking, link building as well as writing content for human readers. Those who use white hat SEO expect to make a long-term investment on their website, as the results last a long time.

White hat SEO Techniques: 

Quality content; Creating quality content is important because it shows the search engines that your site is unique and appropriate to display. Researching keywords that are both short and long tail and are relevant to your site is necessary to do as well. Be sure to include keywords naturally in headings, link anchor texts and page titles. Furthermore, it is important to add new relevant content regularly. The more content-rich your site is, the better as it will appear to be more valuable to the search engines, human visitors and webmasters who would most likely link to your site. Although creating quality content may be time consuming, it will be well worth it in the long run.

Monday, 17 February 2014

How To Set Up Google Analytics Tutorial: 3 Essential Steps For The Beginner

Hey there! If you’re looking for a Google Analytics tutorial, you might be interested in my 100% Free Google Analytics Quickstart course – takes you through these steps as well as a few extra tweaks to make sure you’re setup for success! 
So you have yourself a website. Congrats! Getting yourself a website is a huge step in the marketing your business game. You’re thinking: now what? Noooooooooooow – you set up Google Analytics! Why? Because this simple setup will let you see how many people are coming to your website, from where, how long they’re staying and much, much more.
Ready for Google Analytics? If those two words don’t make you want to party – I don’t know what will. Go ahead, grab your party hat, turn up the music, we’re going to super-ify your website with a Google Analytics setup.
(Looking for specific platform advice? Check out my ultimate guide to installing Google Analytics on any website here)

Step 1 – Sign Up!

Simplest of the steps here is to sign up! Head over to
At this point either sign in with your existing Google account (Have you signed up for Google Apps for Business, perhaps? or do you currently use Google Adwords?) or click ‘Create an Account’ in the upper right.
If you’re not already signed in with a Google-related account, you’ll then see this screen:

Once you’ve signed up for a new account (if you need it), click the “Sign Up” button on the next screen:

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll come to the setup screen:

At the time of this post, Universal Analytics is currently in beta and doesn’t have the same full capabilities as Classic Analytics. I recommend choosing Classic Analytics to start (we can upgrade later once Universal Analytics is out of beta).
For Website Name, you can simply use your URL if you wish.
For Website URL – just type in your website address! Just as Google tells you – (they’ve already taken care of the http://).
Industry – this one is optional but will let Google Analytics tailor some suggestions for your account for you. I’ve found most of these don’t apply to the clients I most often work with – if you’re having trouble picking one, I recommend “Online Communities.”
Pick your time zone.
For Account Name – feel free to use your company name. You can have/monitor multiple websites in one Analytics Account, so make sure this name will be appropriate if you plan on adding multiple websites.
Data Sharing Settings – completely optional. Select and deselect as you feel comfortable.
Click Get Tracking ID, agree to the pop-up Terms of Service and you’re all set!

Step 2 – Installing Tracking Code

This part can SEEM a little intimidating (I know it’s easy to go deer-in-headlights when anyone starts typing code-like characters) but I PROMISE it’s actually really simple.
Once you’ve signed up, you’ll see the following tracking code setup screen:

If you’re using WordPress to manage your site, simply install the Google Analytics for WordPress Plugin and under Settings, manually enter your UA code (just copy and paste everything after “Tracking ID” from your Google Analytics screen). NOTE: Be sure to copy and paste YOUR specific code and not the one in the above screenshot – each UA code is unique to one Google Account.
If you’re NOT using WordPress, installing the code is still pretty easy. Google walks you through it beginning with “What are you tracking?” Most likely you are tracking a single domain. From there scroll down and:
  1. Copy the code Google displays for you (it includes your unique UA code).
  2. Paste EXACTLY THAT before the ending tag in your HTML code.
    QUICK TIP: Just do a search within the code to find this tag – “Ctrl+F” on a PC or “Command+F” on a Mac. In the Find box, type “</head>” (minus quotes)
  3. Save. As Google says, Most websites re-use one file for common content, so it’s likely that you won’t have to place the code snippet on every single page of your website.
  4. and Done! Wait for Google to recognize the installed code (can take a few hours to one day). When everything is installed correctly – “Tracking Status” will read “Receiving Data.”

Step 3 – Add a Second Admin User

Your Google Analytics account is actually now set up and will start tracking data in the next 24 hours – this last step is just a bonus recommendation. By default, the address you signed up for is an admin user for Google Analytics (you have access to do everything in the account). I recommend setting up a second admin user with an unrelated Gmail address (free to sign up).
Why? Because as you may have experienced, Google is great with help forums but not so great at one-on-one customer service. You can’t really call anyone at Google if you lose access to your Analytics email account or something else goes funky. The data won’t be lost but you won’t be able to log in and see it [googling "can't access google analytics" will show you how many people have had this dreaded problem]. Having a second unrelated email address signed up with your account means having a back-up plan.
You can actually add users either at the Account level or Property level in Google Analytics. For our purposes, we’ll add someone at the account level.
So here’s how (super easy):
  1. When signed into Google Analytics, click on the Admin button on the orange bar 
  2. Make sure you’re at the Account level and not Property or Profile. How to check this? Under the bolded Account name (in my screenshot, “Liz Test”), you should see “Account ID” versus “Property ID”. Not there? Quickest way to get there is to click the first account name after the “Account list” in the blue text at the very top of the screen – that should take you to your Accounts.
  3. Click the Users tab.
  4. Click +New User.
  5. On the next screen, fill out the email address (remember an unrelated Gmail address works) and select “Administrator” as the role.
  6. Check ‘notify this user by email’
  7. Select all of your profiles and click ‘add’ to give this user access.
  8. Click the blue Add User button.
  9. Log out of Analytics and try logging in with your second-user address. Did it work? Great! You’re done. If not – log in with your primary account info again and make sure the email address was entered correctly.
Here’s a screenshot of this step:

And done! You now have a Google Analytics Account set up and back-up administrative access in place. Enjoy finding out more about your visitors and what online marketing efforts (visitor source) are working for you!
Questions? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear about how this blog post helped you.
If you liked this Analytics setup guide, great! Use the social sharing buttons at the top of this post to give this post some sharing love.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

What is SERP?

A search engine results page (SERP) is the listing of results returned by a search engine in response to a keyword query. The results normally include a list of items with titles, a reference to the full version, and a short description showing where the keywords have matched content within the page. A SERP may refer to a single page of links returned, or to the set of all links returned for a search query.

Read More:

Why does your website need SEO?

The majority of web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines - Google, Bing andYahoo!. Although social media and other types of traffic can generate visits to your website, search engines are the primary method of navigation for most Internet users. This is true whether your site provides content, services, products, information or just about anything else.
Search engines are unique in that they provided targeted traffic - people looking for what you offer.Search engines are the roadways that makes this happen. If your site cannot be found by search engines or your content cannot be put into their databases, you miss out on incredible opportunities available to websites provided via search.
Search queries, the words that users type into the search box, carry extraordinary value. Experience has shown that search engine traffic can make (or break) an organization's success. Targeted visitors to a website can provide publicity, revenue, and exposure like no other channel of marketing. Investing in SEO, whether through time or finances, can have an exceptional rate of return compared to other types of marketing and promotion.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand.
Search Engine Optimization isn't just about "engines." It's about making your site better for people too. At Moz we believe these principles go hand in hand.
This guide is designed to describe all areas of SEO - from discovery of the terms and phrases (keywords) that generate traffic, to making a site search engine friendly, to building the links and marketing the unique value of the site/organization's offerings. Don't worry, if you are confused about this stuff, you are not alone.