Better Snippets for your Users

Before buying a book, people like to get a snapshot of how they’re about to spend a few hours reading. They’ll take a look at the synopsis, the preface, or even the prologue just to get a sense about whether they’ll like the book.
Search result snippets are much the same; they help people decide whether or not it makes sense to invest the time reading the page the snippet belongs to.  
The more descriptive and relevant a search result snippet is, the more likely that people will click through and be satisfied with the page they land on. Historically, snippets came from 3 places:
  1. The content of the page
  2. The meta description
  3. DMOZ listings
The content of the page is an obvious choice for result snippets, and  the content that can be extracted is often the most relevant to people’s queries. However, there are times when the content itself isn’t the best source for a snippet. For instance, when someone searches for a publishing company for their book, the relevant homepages in the result set may contain only a few images describing the businesses and a logo, and maybe some links, none of which are particularly useful for a snippet.
The logical fallback in cases when the content of a page doesn’t have much textual content for a search result snippet is the meta description. This should be short blurbs that describe accurately and precisely the content in a few words.
Finally, when a page doesn’t have much textual content for snippet generation and the meta description is missing, unrelated to the page, or low quality, our fallback was DMOZ, also known as The Open Directory Project. For over 10 years, we relied on DMOZ for snippets because the quality of the DMOZ snippets were often much higher quality than those  provided by webmasters in their meta description, or were more descriptive than what the page provided.
With DMOZ now closed, we’ve stopped using its listings for snippeting, so it’s a lot more important that webmasters provide good meta descriptions, if adding more content to the page is not an option.
What makes a good meta description?
Good meta descriptions are short blurbs that describe accurately the content of the page. They are like a pitch that convince the user that the page is exactly what they’re looking for. For more tips, we have a handy help center article on the topic. Remember to make sure that both your desktop and your mobile pages include both a title and a meta description.
What are the most common problems with meta descriptions?
Because meta descriptions are usually visible only to search engines and other software, webmasters sometimes forget about them, leaving them completely empty. It’s also common, for the same reason, that the same meta description is used across multiple (and sometimes many) pages. On the flip side, it’s also relatively common that the description is completely off-topic, low quality, or outright spammy. These issues tarnish our users’ search experience, so we prefer to ignore such meta descriptions.
Is there a character limit for meta descriptions?
There’s no limit on how long a meta description can be, but the search result snippets are truncated as needed, typically to fit the device width.
What will happen with the “NOODP” robots directive?
With DMOZ (ODP) closed, we stopped relying on its data and thus the NOODP directive is already no-op.
Can I prevent Google from using the page contents as snippet?
You can prevent Google from generating snippets altogether by specifying the “nosnippet” robots directive. There’s no way to prevent using page contents as snippet while allowing other sources.
As always, if you have questions, ask in the forums or find us on Twitter!

Posted by Gary, Search Team

Better Snippets for your Users

Before buying a book, people like to get a snapshot of how they’re about to spend a few hours reading. They’ll take a look at the synopsis, the preface, or even the prologue just to get a sense about whether they’ll like the book.
Search result snippets are much the same; they help people decide whether or not it makes sense to invest the time reading the page the snippet belongs to.  
The more descriptive and relevant a search result snippet is, the more likely that people will click through and be satisfied with the page they land on. Historically, snippets came from 3 places:
  1. The content of the page
  2. The meta description
  3. DMOZ listings
The content of the page is an obvious choice for result snippets, and  the content that can be extracted is often the most relevant to people’s queries. However, there are times when the content itself isn’t the best source for a snippet. For instance, when someone searches for a publishing company for their book, the relevant homepages in the result set may contain only a few images describing the businesses and a logo, and maybe some links, none of which are particularly useful for a snippet.
The logical fallback in cases when the content of a page doesn’t have much textual content for a search result snippet is the meta description. This should be short blurbs that describe accurately and precisely the content in a few words.
Finally, when a page doesn’t have much textual content for snippet generation and the meta description is missing, unrelated to the page, or low quality, our fallback was DMOZ, also known as The Open Directory Project. For over 10 years, we relied on DMOZ for snippets because the quality of the DMOZ snippets were often much higher quality than those  provided by webmasters in their meta description, or were more descriptive than what the page provided.
With DMOZ now closed, we’ve stopped using its listings for snippeting, so it’s a lot more important that webmasters provide good meta descriptions, if adding more content to the page is not an option.
What makes a good meta description?
Good meta descriptions are short blurbs that describe accurately the content of the page. They are like a pitch that convince the user that the page is exactly what they’re looking for. For more tips, we have a handy help center article on the topic. Remember to make sure that both your desktop and your mobile pages include both a title and a meta description.
What are the most common problems with meta descriptions?
Because meta descriptions are usually visible only to search engines and other software, webmasters sometimes forget about them, leaving them completely empty. It’s also common, for the same reason, that the same meta description is used across multiple (and sometimes many) pages. On the flip side, it’s also relatively common that the description is completely off-topic, low quality, or outright spammy. These issues tarnish our users’ search experience, so we prefer to ignore such meta descriptions.
Is there a character limit for meta descriptions?
There’s no limit on how long a meta description can be, but the search result snippets are truncated as needed, typically to fit the device width.
What will happen with the “NOODP” robots directive?
With DMOZ (ODP) closed, we stopped relying on its data and thus the NOODP directive is already no-op.
Can I prevent Google from using the page contents as snippet?
You can prevent Google from generating snippets altogether by specifying the “nosnippet” robots directive. There’s no way to prevent using page contents as snippet while allowing other sources.
As always, if you have questions, ask in the forums or find us on Twitter!

Posted by Gary, Search Team

Similar items: Rich products feature on Google Image Search

Image Search recently launched “Similar items” on mobile web and the Android Search app. The “Similar items” feature is designed to help users find products they love in photos that inspire them on Google Image Search. Using machine vision technology, the Similar items feature identifies products in lifestyle images and displays matching products to the user. Similar items supports handbags, sunglasses, and shoes and will cover other apparel and home & garden categories in the next few months.

The Similar items feature enables users to browse and shop inspirational fashion photography and find product info about items they’re interested in. Try it out by opening results from queries like [designer handbags].

Finding price and availability information was one of the top Image Search feature requests from our users. The Similar items carousel gets millions of impressions and clicks daily from all over the world.

To make your products eligible for Similar items, make sure to add and maintain schema.org product metadata on your pages. The schema.org/Product markup helps Google find product offerings on the web and give users an at-a-glance summary of product info.

To ensure that your products are eligible to appear in Similar items:

  • Ensure that the product offerings on your pages have schema.org product markup, including an image reference. Products with name, image, price & currency, and availability meta-data on their host page are eligible for Similar items
  • Test your pages with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to verify that the product markup is formatted correctly
  • See your images on image search by issuing the query “site:yourdomain.com.” For results with valid product markup, you may see product information appear once you tap on the images from your site. It can take up to a week for Googlebot to recrawl your website.

Right now, Similar items is available on mobile browsers and the Android Google Search App globally, and we plan to expand to more platforms in 2017.

If you have questions, find us in the dedicated Structured data section of our forum, on Twitter, or on Google+. To prevent your images from showing in Similar items, webmasters can opt-out of Google Image Search.

We’re excited to help users find your products on the web by showcasing buyable items. Thanks for partnering with us to make the web more shoppable!

Posted by Julia E, Product Manager on Image Search

Similar items: Rich products feature on Google Image Search

Image Search recently launched “Similar items” on mobile web and the Android Search app. The “Similar items” feature is designed to help users find products they love in photos that inspire them on Google Image Search. Using machine vision technology, the Similar items feature identifies products in lifestyle images and displays matching products to the user. Similar items supports handbags, sunglasses, and shoes and will cover other apparel and home & garden categories in the next few months.

The Similar items feature enables users to browse and shop inspirational fashion photography and find product info about items they’re interested in. Try it out by opening results from queries like [designer handbags].

Finding price and availability information was one of the top Image Search feature requests from our users. The Similar items carousel gets millions of impressions and clicks daily from all over the world.

To make your products eligible for Similar items, make sure to add and maintain schema.org product metadata on your pages. The schema.org/Product markup helps Google find product offerings on the web and give users an at-a-glance summary of product info.

To ensure that your products are eligible to appear in Similar items:

  • Ensure that the product offerings on your pages have schema.org product markup, including an image reference. Products with name, image, price & currency, and availability meta-data on their host page are eligible for Similar items
  • Test your pages with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to verify that the product markup is formatted correctly
  • See your images on image search by issuing the query “site:yourdomain.com.” For results with valid product markup, you may see product information appear once you tap on the images from your site. It can take up to a week for Googlebot to recrawl your website.

Right now, Similar items is available on mobile browsers and the Android Google Search App globally, and we plan to expand to more platforms in 2017.

If you have questions, find us in the dedicated Structured data section of our forum, on Twitter, or on Google+. To prevent your images from showing in Similar items, webmasters can opt-out of Google Image Search.

We’re excited to help users find your products on the web by showcasing buyable items. Thanks for partnering with us to make the web more shoppable!

Posted by Julia E, Product Manager on Image Search

Closing down for a day

Note: This post is specific to Google’s organic web-search. For Google’s other services, please check with the appropriate help center (e.g., for Google Shopping) or help forum.

Even in today’s “always-on” world, sometimes businesses want to take a break. There are times when even their online presence needs to be paused. This blog post covers some of the available options so that a site’s search presence isn’t affected.

Option: Block cart functionality

If a site only needs to block users from buying things, the simplest approach is to disable that specific functionality. In most cases, shopping cart pages can either be blocked from crawling through the robots.txt file, or blocked from indexing with a robots meta tag. Since search engines either won’t see or index that content, you can communicate this to users in an appropriate way. For example, you may disable the link to the cart, add a relevant message, or display an informational page instead of the cart.

Option: Always show interstitial or pop-up

If you need to block the whole site from users, be it with a “temporarily unavailable” message, informational page, or popup, the server should return a 503 HTTP result code (“Service Unavailable”). The 503 result code makes sure that Google doesn’t index the temporary content that’s shown to users. Without the 503 result code, the interstitial would be indexed as your website’s content.

Googlebot will retry pages that return 503 for up to about a week, before treating it as a permanent error that can result in those pages being dropped from the search results. You can also include a “Retry after” header to indicate how long the site will be unavailable. Blocking a site for longer than a week can have negative effects on the site’s search results regardless of the method that you use.

Option: Switch whole website off

Turning the server off completely is another option. You might also do this if you’re physically moving your server to a different data center. For this, have a temporary server available to serve a 503 HTTP result code for all URLs (with an appropriate informational page for users), and switch your DNS to point to that server during that time.

  1. Set your DNS TTL to a low time (such as 5 minutes) a few days in advance.
  2. Change the DNS to the temporary server’s IP address.
  3. Take your main server offline once all requests go to the temporary server.
  4. … your server is now offline …
  5. When ready, bring your main server online again.
  6. Switch DNS back to the main server’s IP address.
  7. Change the DNS TTL back to normal.

We hope these options cover the common situations where you’d need to disable your website temporarily. If you have any questions, feel free to drop by our webmaster help forums!

PS If your business is active locally, make sure to reflect these closures in the opening hours for your local listings too!

Posted by John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst, Switzerland

Closing down for a day

Note: This post is specific to Google’s organic web-search. For Google’s other services, please check with the appropriate help center (e.g., for Google Shopping) or help forum.

Even in today’s “always-on” world, sometimes businesses want to take a break. There are times when even their online presence needs to be paused. This blog post covers some of the available options so that a site’s search presence isn’t affected.

Option: Block cart functionality

If a site only needs to block users from buying things, the simplest approach is to disable that specific functionality. In most cases, shopping cart pages can either be blocked from crawling through the robots.txt file, or blocked from indexing with a robots meta tag. Since search engines either won’t see or index that content, you can communicate this to users in an appropriate way. For example, you may disable the link to the cart, add a relevant message, or display an informational page instead of the cart.

Option: Always show interstitial or pop-up

If you need to block the whole site from users, be it with a “temporarily unavailable” message, informational page, or popup, the server should return a 503 HTTP result code (“Service Unavailable”). The 503 result code makes sure that Google doesn’t index the temporary content that’s shown to users. Without the 503 result code, the interstitial would be indexed as your website’s content.

Googlebot will retry pages that return 503 for up to about a week, before treating it as a permanent error that can result in those pages being dropped from the search results. You can also include a “Retry after” header to indicate how long the site will be unavailable. Blocking a site for longer than a week can have negative effects on the site’s search results regardless of the method that you use.

Option: Switch whole website off

Turning the server off completely is another option. You might also do this if you’re physically moving your server to a different data center. For this, have a temporary server available to serve a 503 HTTP result code for all URLs (with an appropriate informational page for users), and switch your DNS to point to that server during that time.

  1. Set your DNS TTL to a low time (such as 5 minutes) a few days in advance.
  2. Change the DNS to the temporary server’s IP address.
  3. Take your main server offline once all requests go to the temporary server.
  4. … your server is now offline …
  5. When ready, bring your main server online again.
  6. Switch DNS back to the main server’s IP address.
  7. Change the DNS TTL back to normal.

We hope these options cover the common situations where you’d need to disable your website temporarily. If you have any questions, feel free to drop by our webmaster help forums!

PS If your business is active locally, make sure to reflect these closures in the opening hours for your local listings too!

Posted by John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst, Switzerland

Rich Cards expands to more verticals

At Google I/O in May, we launched Rich Cards for Movies and Recipes, creating a new way for site owners to present previews of their content on the Search results page. Today, we’re expanding to two new verticals for US-based sites: Local restaurants and Online courses.

Evolution of search results for queries like [best New Orleans restaurants] and [leadership courses]: with rich cards, results are presented in new UIs, like carousels that are easy to browse by scrolling left and right, or a vertical three-pack that displays more individual courses

By building Rich Cards, you have a new opportunity to attract more engaged users to your page. Users can swipe through restaurant recommendations from sites like TripAdvisor, Thrillist, Time Out, Eater, and 10Best. In addition to food, users can browse through courses from sites like Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, EdX, Harvard, Udacity, FutureLearn, Edureka, Open University, Udemy, Canvas Network, and NPTEL.

If you have a site that contains local restaurant information or offers online courses, check out our developer docs to start building Rich Cards in the Local restaurant and Online courses verticals.

While AMP HTML is not required for Local restaurant pages and Online Courses rich cards, AMP provides Google Search users with a consistently fast experience, so we recommend that you create AMP pages to further engage users. Users consuming AMP’d content will be able to swipe near instantly from restaurant to restaurant or from recipe to recipe within your site.

Users who tap on your Rich Card will be taken near instantly to your AMP page, and be able to swipe between pages within your site.

Check out our developer site for implementation details.

To make it easier for you to create Rich Cards, we made some changes in our tools:

  • The Structured Data Testing Tool displays markup errors and a preview card for Local restaurant content as it might appear on Search.
  • The Rich Cards report in Search Console shows which cards across verticals contain errors, and which ones could be enhanced with more markup.
  • The AMP Test helps validate AMP pages as well as mark up on the page.

What’s next?

We are actively experimenting with new verticals globally to provide more opportunities for you to display richer previews of your content.

If you have questions, find us in the dedicated Structured data section of our forum, on Twitter or on Google+.

Post by Stacie Chan, Global Product Partnerships

Rich Cards expands to more verticals

At Google I/O in May, we launched Rich Cards for Movies and Recipes, creating a new way for site owners to present previews of their content on the Search results page. Today, we’re expanding to two new verticals for US-based sites: Local restaurants and Online courses.

Evolution of search results for queries like [best New Orleans restaurants] and [leadership courses]: with rich cards, results are presented in new UIs, like carousels that are easy to browse by scrolling left and right, or a vertical three-pack that displays more individual courses

By building Rich Cards, you have a new opportunity to attract more engaged users to your page. Users can swipe through restaurant recommendations from sites like TripAdvisor, Thrillist, Time Out, Eater, and 10Best. In addition to food, users can browse through courses from sites like Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, EdX, Harvard, Udacity, FutureLearn, Edureka, Open University, Udemy, Canvas Network, and NPTEL.

If you have a site that contains local restaurant information or offers online courses, check out our developer docs to start building Rich Cards in the Local restaurant and Online courses verticals.

While AMP HTML is not required for Local restaurant pages and Online Courses rich cards, AMP provides Google Search users with a consistently fast experience, so we recommend that you create AMP pages to further engage users. Users consuming AMP’d content will be able to swipe near instantly from restaurant to restaurant or from recipe to recipe within your site.

Users who tap on your Rich Card will be taken near instantly to your AMP page, and be able to swipe between pages within your site.

Check out our developer site for implementation details.

To make it easier for you to create Rich Cards, we made some changes in our tools:

  • The Structured Data Testing Tool displays markup errors and a preview card for Local restaurant content as it might appear on Search.
  • The Rich Cards report in Search Console shows which cards across verticals contain errors, and which ones could be enhanced with more markup.
  • The AMP Test helps validate AMP pages as well as mark up on the page.

What’s next?

We are actively experimenting with new verticals globally to provide more opportunities for you to display richer previews of your content.

If you have questions, find us in the dedicated Structured data section of our forum, on Twitter or on Google+.

Post by Stacie Chan, Global Product Partnerships

Webmaster Forums Top AMP Questions

It has been busy here at Google Webmaster Central over the last few weeks, covering a lot of details about Accelerated Mobile Pages that we hope you have found useful. The topics have included:

We’ve also been seeing a few AMP questions coming to the Webmaster forums about getting started using AMP on Google Search. To help, we’ve compiled some of the most common questions we’ve seen:

Q: I’m considering creating AMP pages for my website. What is the benefit? What types of sites and pages is AMP for?

Users love content that loads fast and without any fuss – using the AMP format may make it more compelling for people to consume and engage with your content on mobile devices. Research has shown that 40% of users abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load. The Washington Post observed an 88% decrease in article loading time and a 23% increase in returning users from mobile search from adopting AMP.

The AMP format is great for all types of static web content such as news, recipes, movie listings, product pages, reviews, videos, blogs and more.

Q: We are getting errors logged in Search Console for AMP pages; however, we already fixed these issues. Why are we still seeing errors?

The short answer is that changes to your AMP pages take about a week to be updated in Search Console. For a more in-depth answer on why, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller shared a detailed post on Search Console latency challenges.

Q: Our AMP pages are not showing up on Google Search. What should we do?

Only valid AMP pages will be eligible to show on Google Search. Check the validity of your  AMP pages by using the AMP HTML Web Validator, the Chrome or Opera Extension or through a more automated process such as a cron job to make sure all new content is valid.

While it’s good practise overall to include schema.org structured data in your AMP pages (we recommend JSON-LD), it’s especially important for news publishers. News content that includes valid markup properties are eligible to be shown within the Top Stories section in Google Search results. To test your structured data, try using the structured data testing tool.

If you have more questions that are not answered here, share your feedback in the comments below or on our Google Webmasters Google+ page. Or as usual, feel free to post in our Webmasters Help Forum.

Posted by Tomo Taylor, AMP Community Manager

Webmaster Forums Top AMP Questions

It has been busy here at Google Webmaster Central over the last few weeks, covering a lot of details about Accelerated Mobile Pages that we hope you have found useful. The topics have included:

We’ve also been seeing a few AMP questions coming to the Webmaster forums about getting started using AMP on Google Search. To help, we’ve compiled some of the most common questions we’ve seen:

Q: I’m considering creating AMP pages for my website. What is the benefit? What types of sites and pages is AMP for?

Users love content that loads fast and without any fuss – using the AMP format may make it more compelling for people to consume and engage with your content on mobile devices. Research has shown that 40% of users abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load. The Washington Post observed an 88% decrease in article loading time and a 23% increase in returning users from mobile search from adopting AMP.

The AMP format is great for all types of static web content such as news, recipes, movie listings, product pages, reviews, videos, blogs and more.

Q: We are getting errors logged in Search Console for AMP pages; however, we already fixed these issues. Why are we still seeing errors?

The short answer is that changes to your AMP pages take about a week to be updated in Search Console. For a more in-depth answer on why, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller shared a detailed post on Search Console latency challenges.

Q: Our AMP pages are not showing up on Google Search. What should we do?

Only valid AMP pages will be eligible to show on Google Search. Check the validity of your  AMP pages by using the AMP HTML Web Validator, the Chrome or Opera Extension or through a more automated process such as a cron job to make sure all new content is valid.

While it’s good practise overall to include schema.org structured data in your AMP pages (we recommend JSON-LD), it’s especially important for news publishers. News content that includes valid markup properties are eligible to be shown within the Top Stories section in Google Search results. To test your structured data, try using the structured data testing tool.

If you have more questions that are not answered here, share your feedback in the comments below or on our Google Webmasters Google+ page. Or as usual, feel free to post in our Webmasters Help Forum.

Posted by Tomo Taylor, AMP Community Manager