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Google Updates Documentation On Meta Descriptions

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Google Updates Documentation On Meta Descriptions

Google updated its documentation on creating high-quality meta descriptions that will show up in the search results by adding examples of best and worst practices.

The change was made in the documentation for controlling the snippet in the search results.

Meta Description in Search Snippets

Search snippets are the summaries and descriptions shown in the search results for sites that rank.

Google’s documentation shares how to control the search snippets in the search results.

The data used to generate the search snippet traditionally comes from the meta description and, sometimes, the content itself.

Meta descriptions generated from page content used to be called ransom notes because they sometimes appear to be random snippets with keywords in them.

Google’s change to the search snippet guidance adds more examples of the right and wrong ways to create meta descriptions.

Examples of Meta Descriptions

Google listed four categories of good and bad meta description examples.

Here is the list of the four bad ways to create meta descriptions:

Bad Category Examples

  1. List of keywords
    Google calls out meta descriptions that are simply a list of Keywords describes meta descriptions that contain keywords and don’t bother to summarize anything.
  2. Same description is used for every news article
    This is when meta descriptions are templated and are the same for different web documents.
  3. Doesn’t summarize the page
    This is a common mistake for meta descriptions. It’s easy to fall into the habit of writing meta descriptions focused on the keyword phrase or the topic and forget to summarize what the page is about.
  4. Too short
    This is self-explanatory and kind of similar to the previous one. If the meta description is so concise that it doesn’t summarize the webpage, then it’s not optimized.

Examples of Better Meta Descriptions

Google then lists examples of meta descriptions they approve of.

  1. Describe the business, not the webpage
    The first meta description example relates to a brick-and-mortar business that uses a meta description describing what is sold, the company’s location, and hours of operation. That’s interesting because it’s not a description of what is on the webpage but a description of what the business is about. Essentially, that’s information about the business users would like to know.
  2. Use webpage content
    The second example of a good meta description is one from a news article that uses a snippet from the article itself. That’s interesting, too. If the CMS has a function that retrieves the first 70 or so words from each piece, then that means it’s important to summarize what the article is about in the very first sentence, which is a good practice to begin with. Using the first sentence from a page of content is a solution used in some forum software, so it’s good to see that approach validated.
  3. Summarize
    In the third best practice, Google says that summarizing the entire webpage is the best way to approach meta descriptions. This is probably the essence of what Google wants from a meta description.
  4. Be specific and detailed
    The last example is a meta description for a product page. The recommendation for this situation is to focus on the specific details of the product for sale on a product page. This is Google’s example of a product page meta description:

    "<meta name="description" content="Self-sharpening mechanical pencil that autocorrects your penmanship. Includes 2B auto-replenishing lead. Available in both Vintage Pink and Schoolbus Yellow. Order 50+ pencils, get free shipping.">"

Best Practices for Meta Description

The examples of high-quality meta descriptions are a helpful addition to the documentation on controlling the search snippet.

Most of the content in the updated section about meta descriptions is remarkably consistent with previous articles published by Google on the same topic.

For example, way back in 2007, Google published that it was acceptable to programmatically add meta descriptions by repurposing on-page content:

“For larger database-driven sites, like product aggregators, hand-written descriptions are more difficult.

In the latter case, though, programmatic generation of the descriptions can be appropriate and is encouraged—just make sure that your descriptions are not “spammy.”

Good descriptions are human-readable and diverse, as we talked about in the first point above. The page-specific data we mentioned in the second point is a good candidate for programmatic generation.”

Google updated the documentation for how to scroll the website snippet shown in search results by improving the section about meta descriptions. The improvement is to show examples of what it means to have a high-quality meta description for different kinds of webpages.

The overall takeaway can be said to be accurate and descriptive about what the webpage is about. If it’s about a product, then describe the product in the meta description. If the page is informational, summarize the entire webpage; in some cases, it’s okay to use content directly from the webpage itself.


Citation

Read Google’s updated guidance here:

Control your snippets in search results – Use Quality Descriptions

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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