Provide meaningful results

Users search for a variety of reasons. They may be vague about what it is they really want, they may have failed to find what they want by navigating, they may just be in the habit of using search as a first port of call.

Site owners can help users who search, find what they’re looking for, by providing relevant, quality information in the results returned by searches. It’s not that hard, and your users will thank you!

There are four parts to a search result listing, and each of these can help the user make a decision about which result to click on.

The components of a search result

  1. Title: The title is the most important by far. It’s taken from the <title> tag of your page. Make sure that it clearly says what the page is about. It may get truncated, so ensure that the unique points about the page are in the first few words of the title.
  2. URL: Most users won’t really look at a URL, but if they’re logical and meaningful, they can help a user make a decision. For example, if there are two pages about an annual event, and one has /2012/ while the other has /2013/, that would help a user make a decision about which one to click.
  3. Description: Very important part of a search result. Google makes its own decision about what to use here; sometimes using the <description> tag, sometimes a snippet from the page, sometimes a combination of both. A well written description tag, which includes relevant keywords, is most likely to be used. If Google has to fall back to finding a snippet of text in your page, there’s a significant risk it will get something out of context and skew the apparent meaning of the result. In some cases, Google may even source the description from the Open Directory Project – not even your page!
  4. Thumbnail: A relevant image can support your message. This is most useful for an online shop, where an image of the product is displayed, but it can also be useful if there are images relevant to the page content. The problem is that Google will add any image it thinks is relevant, and it’s often not. You can avoid this problem by specifying the image you want used.

As usual, Google provides some useful information about this topic. There’s a page about Metadata, and some detailed information about writing good titles and descriptions.