Aggregation Aggravation, Part 2: What Goes Where

Ian Lurie

This is part 2 of my series on SEO in the world of aggregation. You can read part 1 here.

In today’s installment, I’ll give you my best educated guess as to how search engines (particularly Bing) decide what appears where in the search results, and how to control what they publish.
This matters a lot more than it used to. As search engines move from indexes to aggregators, clickability will be as important as rankings.

What Goes Where in Bing Search Results

Microsoft’s new Bing is closest to becoming an aggregator, and therefore deserves the most attention. Yeah, their market share is tiny. That could change. Or Google could decide to copy their page preview. Either way, you’ll want to understand how Bing builds its page preview.
Bing grabs the search title and snippet from the title tag and meta description tag, like most search engines. And, like most search engines, it’ll go elsewhere to find the title and snippet if you don’t give it one, so it pays to have a descriptive title tag, and an enticing title tag. In this result, looks pretty good. less so, because they’ve put keywords into their description tag:
Not so exciting, so far. But roll over a listing, and you get a preview of the page itself. That preview lets your potential customers read a bit of your site without ever clicking:
Bing is grabbing the text copy from the first chunk of non-heading, non-linking text on the page:
It even skipped past links and headings. Clever monkey.
The phone number seems to be pulled from the ether, or from Live Local search results. You can flip a coin on that one. I’d love to say microformats play into it, but we use microformats on our site and our phone number doesn’t show up. Probably all those nasty Microsoft posts I’ve done.
Bing creates the ‘Also on this page’ links list from any text-based primary navigation on the page:
Image-based or sloppily-coded navigation gets the cold shoulder.
It shocks me, but this makes a certain amount of sense. If Bing builds previews this way, then you need to:

  • State your selling proposition right away in your sales copy.
  • Use clear, text-based navigation.

More details about this tomorrow.

Those Other Two

Oh, yeah, Google and Yahoo!. Them. The other 91% of the market.
Well, the good news is, they aren’t doing this kind of page previewing yet. But they will, trust me.
For now, it’s pretty simple: They build their search snippets with the title tag and description meta tag.
Except for two exceptions:
Google may use your Open Directory site description instead of your description tag. Getting listed in Open Directory is a Kafkaesque nightmare comprised of 10 minutes typing in your site’s information and then 10 years of waiting for someone to actually review and approve it. You do not want your Open Directory Project listing in your search results. Luckily, you can tell Google not to use your ODP listing with this code:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noodp” />
Yahoo!, on the other hand, may use your Yahoo! Directory listing. Yahoo! Directory is like ODP, only you pay $300 to get your listing submitted. More accurately, someone who worked at your company 5 years ago paid, then lost the e-mail and password to edit the listing and quit in a huff over fridge cleaning duties.
Chances are you can’t get in to edit the listing, and calling Yahoo! is impossible (unless you want to hear the CEO claim they’re not a search engine) so poof, you’re screwed. Yahoo! has planned for this, though, with their own version of the NOODP meta tag. Put this on every page of your site, and you’re once again in control of your destiny:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noydir” />
So, the rules are pretty clear here, too:

  • Write a title tag that makes sense. Bicycle Tires Tires for Bicycles Tires Tires Bicycles is not a good title tag, no matter what ranking it gets you.
  • Put some thought into your meta description tag. A well-written tag could get you clicks you’d otherwise lose.

Again, more on this tomorrow.

Why All This Matters

Ignore what goes where, and you may end up with unclickable search listings.
Here’s a great example of a high ranking with poor clickability, thanks to Bing’s new page preview. This site engaged in a little keyword spam, and put a bunch of keywords at the very top of the page:
So their Bing page preview looks like this:
Whatever ‘expert’ gave this fellow SEO advice got him a nice #2 spot on Bing. And a listing that will chase everyone away. Congrats. All of the work this site owner put into gaining that #2 position is being marginalized by a lousy preview.

That’s all folks

That’s it for today. I’ve skipped stuff like product search, universal search and other fine things because I’ve written about them before, and isn’t this post long enough?

Previously in the series

Controlling what shows up (as much as you can)
Making Folks Click: Content’s back, baby!
Opting Out
Microformats, sorting and other nightmares

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  1. Google is going to be a little slow to respond to Microsoft in Search for at least the near future. They’ll let Bing get a little market share to quell the anti-trust mongerers that have cropped up as of late. Just a thought.

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