Influencing how you are seen in results ...

Two websites I regularly look at are the The Guardian and Times Higher Education. In my lazy way I will often just pop the names into Google when looking for them. I have been interested in how they are characterised in Google results, based on what they put in the Meta description tags.

Before saying something about these, here is a note from Google:

While accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, they won't impact your ranking within search results. We frequently prefer to display meta descriptions of pages (when available) because it gives users a clear idea of the URL's content. This directs them to good results faster and reduces the click-and-backtrack behavior that frustrates visitors and inflates web traffic metrics. [Google webmaster central]

So, what does The Guardian want the world to see it as it comes up in Google results? What does it think will encourage people to clickthrough to its site?

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This is quite interesting as it uses 'liberal' in an American sense. Is this a part of the Guardian's positioning as a global website rather than just a UK newspaper?

Here is The Times Higher ...

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The reference to the World Rankings has been there for some time, before the recent publication of this year's rankings. Again, global interest in the rankings transcends the UK focus of the publication. World rankings has been added to the title and to the description. Leading with 'jobs' in an interesting indicator of what it sees as important.

And speaking of rankings, here is the University of Michigan:

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'Diverse' is also a word used by Ohio State:

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University College Dublin doesn't want anybody to be under any misapprehension about its position in the world, qualifying the title also ...

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The University of Warwick offers only its name, so Google steps in with its view about what might be important ;-)

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A very quick review of some public libraries suggested that the meta description tag is not widely used in this tactical way. Ditto for academic libraries. This is surprising given the potential influence on how people see a result. I would be interested to see some work on what influence such descriptions have on click-through rates, in particular in our domain, if it exists.

That said, here is Cleveland Public Library ..

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... and Cambridge University Library ...

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Comments: 3

Oct 12, 2010
Jonathan Rochkind

In some of your examples , Google is displaying a search box for the site right in the results summary. Like in the Guardian. In others, not.

Any idea what controls that, and what control a site owner has over it?

Oct 13, 2010
Lorcan Dempsey

Jonathan - without looking into it I don't know.

Oct 17, 2010
Brunella Longo

I think you are absolutely right reminding us these uses of metadata and their importance for advertising and communication purposes. Nevertheless influencing how you are seen in Google results is not only a matter of wise / savvy use of metadata by authors, institutions, organisations and their SEO. It depends also on what your competitors do and are allowed to do, on the abuse / misuse of companies and people data, trademarks, names, brands etc etc.

That is way I believe there is a huge demand of governance of indexing and cataloguing practices in any sector, especially in the interests of small businesses and to prevent / fight cyber-crimes.

I must also say that as a librarian and information specialist I still believe that influencing HOW YOU SEE the results of your own information efforts, searches or communication acts, is a good deal more pertaining my core skills and roles than trying to influence how you are seen in Google results.

The former, both in public and private programmes and projects, is a process driven by understanding, defining and design, implement and active use information structures that are useful for whatever scope (learning, preservation, display, and infinite other stable / long term goals).

The second is more like a game, still immensely important to gain awareness and stay on top of the rankings, but you cannot really control the results of these investments nowadays unless you have a very large advertising budget, OR immense institutional power, OR an impressive risk management force, and/or very short term tactic goals (15 minutes in the spotlight and then die forever?). So, in conclusion, I would not recommend libraries and librarians to care so much about Google results.
Try to think how to reinvent resource discovery and cataloguing practices instead!

See also my last blog post on this (What's in a Title Proper) at http://bit.ly/metadatapm

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