What is your metadata?
Your metadata is the descriptors that you use to describe a page of content on your website. Google uses this to assess whether your page of content is relevant to an online search, and when there is a match, shows your page title and description on the search engine results page.
To set the record straight, Google doesn’t change the metadata on your site. Sometimes it just thinks it can do a better job than you in describing your page content. When it does, it will use its own logic to decide what comes up in the title and description spaces in its search results.
What makes Google think it knows better than you?
Google’s mantra is all about helping people to find relevant, useful and engaging content in response to their searches. As part of this process, it uses page titles and descriptions (your metadata) to review what a web page is all about, and compares the summary to your content before deciding whether that page is a relevant response to a search.
Sometimes, Google finds (what it believes to be) an enhancement to the Titles and Descriptions you have applied to a page. This can be for 3 reasons :
- Google sees a jumble of words in your metadata, and thinks “hmmm, that’s not useful for users”. It will then use your page content to create a sentence that reflects the page.
- Your content mostly matches searches, but there’s a missing element, Google will add it. A good example is where Google may add the country you operate in.
- Google sees that your content is a match for searches, but that match isn’t in the meta description. It will then use content from your page to re-write your metadata.
Want to know more? This interview with John Mueller from Google explains their logic.
Can you stop Google overwriting your metadata on SERPs?
The short answer is “No”, other than by doing a great job yourself (or getting your agency to do it for you as part of their SEO services). Even then, Google and Bing etc are under no obligation to use the titles and descriptions that you have spent ages researching and crafting.
So what can you do? Here are a few tips as to WHY Google might have changed your metadata on SERPs ….
- Missing titles or descriptions
- Duplicated titles or descriptions. (N.B. missing or duplicate metadata sometimes means that page is not crawled at all)
- Titles and descriptions are too short or too long
- Description is overly promotional – talking about you and not what the page content does to help your readers
- Description is too generic – talking about the site in general rather than the purpose of the page itself
- The page covers multiple keyword phrases, so Google sees an opportunity to create a more dynamic response to searches
- Google hasn’t seen your new description yet. Google may not have crawled your site, or may not have indexed your page since you updated it
What are the key “rules” for Titles and Descriptions?
- Titles should be around 60 characters long. Descriptions should be under 160 characters
- Your titles and descriptions must reflect the content in the page
- Don’t keyword stuff – consider that your titles and descriptions must make sense to a reader
- Only have 1 title and 1 description per page, and have a unique one of each on every page
- Put the most useful phrases at the beginning
- Tell search engines not to use directories (3rd party sites) to pull your content (no robots)
Even these rules aren’t fool-proof. If Google thinks your page content is a good match for a search, it will still occasionally take the liberty of refining your titles and descriptions it shows so that they are more useful to a searcher.
The key take-out is that you should work within Google’s metadata framework (which does get updated from time to time), and that you should monitor your results on Search Engine Results Pages to check that you are comfortable with any updates that the search engines decide to make on your behalf.
If you have been struggling with Google over-writing your metadata, contact us for a chat and we’ll see what we can do to help.