An Overlooked Way to Let Google Promote a Web Page for Free
Sooner or later every startup has to make basic decisions about its web presence. Very few people consult the Yellow Pages any more to find a business which offers what they are looking for.
Their primary "go to" place is a search engine. Most likely Google, which continues to be the 800-pound gorilla in terms of web searches. Not having a web presence today makes about as much sense as trying to run a startup without business cards or a checking account.
An Overlooked Element
When it comes time to create your web site, you have a host of decisions to make. If you hire an experienced web designer to put your site together, he or she will probably guide you through most of them.
But there is one vital element of web page design that even veteran web designers often overlook — to your detriment, I might add. The reason this element is so easily ignored is that it never shows up on your web page.
Before I describe this element, let me say a few words about a web page's basic structure. The primary language for web pages is HTML, which stands for HyperText Markup Language. The term "markup" refers to the fact that HTML is not a computer programming language in the strictest sense of the word. Instead, it's just tags appended here and there within a body of text, "marking up" content so that your browser knows how to display it.
The Underlying Web Page Structure
Any HTML page has two sections, the header (indicated by the "head" tag) and the body, denoted by a tag appropriately called "body." The header contains very little information that ever shows up when a browser displays the page.
The sole exception is the title tag, which tells the browser the title to display at the very top of the browser window. In terms of your search engine rankings, the title tag is one of the most important elements of your page. Therefore, a good web designer will pay special attention to formulating the title content to boost your search engine ranking as much as possible.
Nothing else in the header will be seen by visitors to your web page. Most content in the header is information for the browser to use in determining the styles and special protocols that are to be used in displaying the page. Within this guidance are several statements which are marked with a "meta" tag.
The Description Tag
Among them is a meta tag which provides a description of the page content. This is the element whose importance is frequently missed. Because it will not show up in a display of the page, the description typically receives little thought.
Some programmers will make an effort to see that your keywords for the page show up in the description, hoping thereby to boost your search engine ratings. Yet, truth be told, keyword density in the description makes only a minor contribution to how search engines today rank your page.
Otherwise, web page designers tend to dash off the description rather hurriedly, just to have something in that field. BIG MISTAKE!!
Even though the description does not appear in a display of your page, it does appear at a critical place elsewhere on the web. It shows up in Google's search engine results, just below the name of your site.
The Layout of Search Results
The next time you do a search on Google, take a moment to see how the results display. Each entry starts with a clickable link. The wording of that link is the information from the title tag in the page's header. Google displays a maximum of 70 characters from your title, so be certain that the essence of your title stays within this limit.
Just below the link, in smaller letters, is the URL of the page. Then, below the URL will be two lines of text. If Google found a description meta tag in your header, that information will appear here. If you have omitted the description tag, what will appear is unpredictable. Google will make an effort to extract relevant text from the page, but you have no voice in how it does so.
Google may take the headline and sentence which begin the page. Or it may string together a series of phrases, separated by elipses, in which each phrase contains one of the keywords on which the search was made.
The first lesson that you want to learn from this is to control the display of your page in search results by ALWAYS completing the description meta tag.
Using the Description for Marketing
The second lesson is the one which is often overlooked. Google is giving you two free lines here to write engaging copy that entices readers to choose your page from all of those listed.
Of course, the description must be tied to the content of the page. But there's nothing to prevent you from using attention-grabbing language which leads the viewer to say, "This looks like a page I really must check out."
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Let's imagine that you have a bookkeeping service. Your definition might read, "We offer a wide range of affordable bookkeeping, payroll, and accounting services for small businesses, professional offices, and contractors."
Not bad. It does tell the viewer what your site is about. But while it informs, it makes no effort to persuade the viewer to check out your site.
But what if you added more punch to this description. What if it read something like this: "Take the hassle and headaches out of your bookkeeping and payroll management with our best-in-class services for contractors and small businesses."
Now you've started translating your description into a sales pitch. And you could intensify the tone of the sales pitch with wording along these lines: "Receive a 20% discount when you sign a one-year contract for our best-in-class bookkeeping and payroll services, customized to the needs of your business."
Some Description-Writing Guidelines
Are you capturing the gist of what's possible with your description meta tag? When I started changing my descriptions to be more engaging, the number of click-throughs to my sites jumped immediately and significantly.
Here then are some lessons that I've learned from using this technique.
- Strive to develop a description that is 150 to 157 characters in length, including spaces. Google uses 157 characters in the description which it displays in the search results. If your description is longer than that, Google will truncate it at about the 154th character and add a set of trailing ellipses. On the other hand, Google apparently does not like a lot of blank space in the description. So if your description is too short, Google will fill out the second line with phrases that it chooses from your page content. Often their choice just makes your description look cluttered, disorganized, and even nonsensical.
- Avoid multiple sentences. With great regularity Google's search engine reads the description until it gets to a period, and then stops. I learned this when I had some well-written descriptions that consisted of two or three short sentences. But Google displayed only the first sentence, then added phrases of its choosing from the content on the page. Not at all what I wanted.
- Make it easy to have the right number of characters. Construct your description in a word processor which includes a feature that indicates how many characters are in a selected portion of text. In Microsoft Word this is the Word Count function. Wrie your description, highlight it, click on the chracter count function, and see how close you are to the 150 to 157 character target length. Then keep editing the description until it falls within this range.
This article first appeared in Encore Entrepreneur inbox magazine on March 27, 2014.