When scanning search results, the only things that users have to decide which one to click on is its position in the rankings, the text of the link and the snippet of text displayed.

You wouldn't let the Royal Mail decide on the text of a piece of direct marketing so why let Google decide what text to display on these critical three lines?

When people think about search engine optimisation they often consider only those factors that will help their site rank highly against the terms they are targeting.

But whilst it's obviously important to rank as highly as possible, there is really no point unless you also consider how you are going to get people to click through from the results pages to your site.

Other than the position in which your site ranks, the only things that you can really do to influence click through relate to the text that a search engine displays.

In the example above you can see what is displayed for Altogether Digital when someone searches for search marketing agency.

We have worked to get our site to display on page 1 of the results but have also thought about the text that makes up the link (the top line) and the snippet of text (the two lines of text below).

Now take a look at what is returned when someone searches for fly.

This is the result returned for fly.co.uk, a holiday search engine. Doesn't the snippet of text (R&B/Jazz/Jungle e-zine with lots of features and interviews) seem rather incongruous?

It's because the owners of fly.co.uk aren't using a description tag (which engines use to populate the snippet).

Ok, so maybe there's no description tag, but how is Google getting the text about a music e-zine?

Well, fly.co.uk used to be a music review site which has now moved to www.flyglobalmusic.com (I review records for them which is what alerted me to this in the first place.)

And because Google can't find a description tag to tell it what the site is about, it is looking elsewhere for this information (probably because there is almost no text on the home page).

There are a variety of places that search engines will go to find this sort of information when a webmaster doesn't provide it, including The Open Directory (also known as DMOZ).

And sure enough, if you go there and look for fly.co.uk you find the following description:

Rhythm and blues/Jazz/Jungle e-zine with features and interviews.

While this isn't the exact text that Google is showing, it does suggest that this may be where the problem lies.

And on further investigation I found that the exact text that is being displayed in the search results is being used in a host of other directories, including Google's very own.

So basically the new owners of Fly need to put in place description tags which accurately describe the site, but which are also written so as to maximise click throughs from the results.

And they should also look at putting in place what are known as meta robots tags which tell the engine what to consider, and what to ignore, when describing a site (amongst other things). These include the NOODP tag which tells engines not to use listings from the Open Directory for the snippet.

And just by making these few simple changes I would imagine that fly.co.uk will see a significant uplift in rankings & traffic from those listings.

Ciaran Norris

Published 13 February, 2008 by Ciaran Norris

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Comments (4)


Kaya PPC, Internet Marketing Manager at Optimised Media

The description tag does seem to be very undervalued. Site owners want top listings but when they get there they don't make the best use of the opportunities that Google provides. Kaya @ Optimised Media.co.uk

over 10 years ago


Damian Rafferty

Hi Ciaran - actually I think they took this from an old Yahoo description dating back to 1995. fly.co.uk (as a music magazine) had more up to date description tags but Google often ignores description tags, possibly due to their abuse by spammers.

over 10 years ago

Ciaran Norris

Ciaran Norris, Chief Digital Officer at Mindshare

Hi Damian,

On the page I linked to there's actually a tag which stops engines pulling snippets from the Yahoo! Directory.

With regards to engine ignoring the description, my experience is that it often has little impact on ranking any more (due to the spamming you describe) but is used as the snippet in a large percentage of cases. And the more well written your description tag is (i.e. the less it resembles spam) the less likely it is to be ignored.

over 10 years ago



The issue has now been fixed on fly.co.uk


about 10 years ago

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