Monday, May 14, 2012

How to create a 'search description' for your Blogger post

This post is for people who use Blogger.
  • It introduces you to the new functionality within Blogger which allows you to write an individual summary descriptions for each of their blog posts.  
  • It also explains how this improves the post's listing by search engines - and may well improve the number of visitors - via search - to your blog too
New functionality within Blogger

Blogger has recently introduced new functionality to its software for blogging.  Within the new template there is now a new option to include a meta description for the blog AND each individual blog post.
Meta elements provide information about a given Web page, most often to help search engines categorize them correctly. They are inserted into the HTML document, but are often not directly visible to a user visiting the site.Wikipedia - Meta element
The meta description says what your blog or post is about - but doesn't appear on your blog.  However it does appear in the listing for the post in a search engine index.

Various attempts by some to manipulate search engine rankings have led to some meta tags becoming much less influential than they used to be - keywords being a case in point.

However a meta description is still used by search engines, particularly if it accurately reflects the content of the post (eg text or the alt tags on an image)

Why describe your blog post in summary?

Prior to implementation of the new functionality, the snippets used for my blog posts which had been indexed were usually
  • either the first sentence of the post 
  • or the labels/categories identified for the post.  
I've always suggested that the first 200 characters of a post were the most important - and this is one of the reasons why!

However if YOU create a 'search description' for your blog post, this means YOU - rather than Google or the other search engines - get to define how that post is summarised when indexed by a search engine.   You are not left to the tender mercies or whims of the different search engines!


In other words, if you want people to visit your blog YOU can now define the best way of describing your post in Google.  For all visits generated by a search, this will improve the chances of people  clicking the link in the search results and visiting your blog as a result and finding what they wanted.  It may well improve traffic to your blog as a result.

However the description only works to best effect if it accurately describes the content of the blog post eg repeats words used in the text.

How to describe a blog post

There are two stages to this.

  • The first stage only needs to be done once as it enables the description functionality and sets a description for the blog.  
  • The second stage relates to the description of the blog post and needs to be done for every individual post you want to describe.

Stage 1: Enable the meta description functionality in Blogger

Set the blog's search descriptionHelp users choose to click on your blog in search results by writing a compelling summary of what your blog is all about. Learn more.
Contents of ? button next to "Description"

You should:
  1. view the dashboard of your Blogger blog
  2. Go to "Settings"
  3. Click "search preferences"
  4. Find "Meta Tags".  This should indicate the default option - ie the description is disabled.
  5. Click "edit" button re. "Description"
  6. Click "Yes" button to enable search description functionality
  7. Create a meta description for your blog in l50 characters or less.  (Use Letter Count - set to the character option if you want to check.) This is the description which will appear on your home page - see example below.
  8. Click 'save changes' button
EXAMPLE:  I condensed the strapline beneath the title of Travels with a Sketchbook to create this description which is exactly 150 characters
When I travel, I sketch. When I sketch on my travels I record it here. Plus information about places I visit and links for those who want to know more
Menu of post settings in Blogger
AFTER search description has been enabled
(in Stage 1)

Stage 2: Create a search description in Blogger

In the Blogger Post edit view, you can insert a 'search description' when you create a post or edit it.

To do this, you should:
  1. view your dashboard for your Blogger blog
  2. Go to "posts"
  3. EITHER create a new post OR select a post to edit
  4. View the Post Settings on the right hand side of the edit view.  This includes 'Search description' (as illustrated on the right) - but only if you have acted on Stage 1 above.  Otherwise the setting is missing.
  5. Click on 'Search Description' and a window box appears
  6. Enter a brief and accurate (meta) description of the post in the window.  This will be the text used in a search engine listing.
  7. Try and make sure you use 150 characters of plain text or less (recommended by most reputable sources).  
  8. click done
Here's an example - the summary I've created for this post is shown below in description window

Example of a search description
for an individual Blogger blog post
Once you've done this, your indexed blog post will show up with the correct description.  This is the one for yesterday's post

Meta 'search' description for yesterday's blog post
This is also the description which will show up if you promote your blog post on Facebook.

Extra!  For those who want to know more about site description check out Google's Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide (pdf).  This is what it has to say about "best practice"

Accurately summarize the page's content
Write a description that would both inform and interest users if they saw your description meta tag as a snippet in a search result.


Avoid:
  • writing a description meta tag that has no relation to the content on the page
  • using generic descriptions like "This is a web page" or "Page about baseball cards"
  • filling the description with only keywords
  • copying and pasting the entire content of the document into the description meta tag
and
Use unique descriptions for each page

Having a different description meta tag for each page helps both users and Google, especially in searches where users may bring up multiple pages on your domain (e.g. searches using the site:operator). If your site has thousands or even millions of pages, hand-crafting description meta tags probably isn't feasible. In this case, you could automatically generate description meta tags based on

Avoid:using a single description meta tag across all of your site's pages or a large group of pages

Do tell me whether or not you decided to try enabling this functionality and how you got on using these instructions.