Seducing Search Engines: How to Optimize Headlines and Snippets

As search engines change, so too must content marketers. Thankfully, they don’t have to navigate the ever-changing search landscape by themselves.

Mike Moran and Bill Hunt recently released the third edition of their book “Search Engine Marketing, Inc.: Driving Search Traffic to Your Company’s Website.”

The book comes in at a meaty 500 pages, but it scarcely wastes a word while using a conversational tone to take readers through everything they need to know about search engine marketing from how search engines behave to how to execute to meet your goals.

PRs of all levels could take away a lot from this book, way too much to summarize in a single blog post. Here is just a sampling of the book’s highlights related to making headlines and snippets appeal to search engines.

What Is Content?

Moran and Hunt’s definition of content encompasses most everything you find on your website. In their words:

“It’s anything you can create as a search marketer. So, landing pages are definitely content. But, what about blog posts? Yes. Videos? Yes. Paid search ads? Yep. Your location data in Google Local for Business? Uh huh.”

To truly get ahead in search marketing, you need to improve all of your content. The three main metrics, according to Moran and Hunt, are rankings, referrals and conversions.

How to Improve Search Results

Finding yourself buried in search results? That’s not ideal, but opportunity awaits in what ranks ahead of you.

Moran and Hunt recommend finding what type of content search engines show for your targeted keywords.  Remember to sign out of your Google account to avoid getting personalized results. You can even simulate various local search using the Google feature below.

Optimize Content for Search - Local Searches

“If your keywords are returning videos, or locations, or blog posts, then it does you no good to spend all of your efforts optimizing your web pages,” they write. “Likewise, spend less time on paid search ads if your targeted keyword is returning mainly product listing ads.”

If you do have a top post, can you take more “shelf space?” Shelf space is the term Moran and Hunt came up with to mean real estate on a search results page.

Don’t settle for just having the top organic post. Combining a top organic post with a paid search ad, a process called co-optimization, may indicate to searchers that your company is a true leader in its space.

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Play the Balance Game With Your Title

Balance - Search Engine Optimzation - Headlines and Snippets Moran and Hunt call the title the most important element for organic search. That includes the title tag of a web page, the headline of your blog post or the title field of a YouTube video.

Titles help search engines understand what your content is and, hopefully, deliver clicks from searchers. However, a catch-22 exists.

“Your title tag is your best means of improving both search rankings and search referrals,” they write. “Unfortunately, you typically need to trade one off against the other.”

Too many keywords in the title will turn readers off. The opposite problem will confuse the search engines.

Search optimization best practices for titles

  • Search engines truncate titles to between 55 and 70 characters. Experts disagree if long or short is better. Some say a longer title is better because you can squeeze in an extra keyword. Others say readers prefer shorter titles. Experiment to see what works for you.
  • Create titles that feature your target keywords. Tailoring content to what searchers are looking for will improve rankings. Using your brand name, especially if you’re not yet well-known, won’t help you.
  • “If you want to optimize for multiple keywords…you run out of space quickly unless they are very closely related,” they write. For example, you can optimize for digital cameras and BrandName digital cameras but probably not one of those and digital camera comparison.
  • Combining keywords works well. An example of that is BrandName digital cameras. That keyword optimizes you for BrandName, digital cameras and the whole name.
  • Delete useless words like welcome, online and menu. They don’t drive rankings or click throughs.

How to Optimize Snippets

Snippets - Search Engine Optimization - Public Relations

Snippets are the tweet-length text that appears underneath a link in search results. Don’t neglect it. Studies show that searchers spend more time looking at that than any other part of your page.

Think of snippets as a pitch for someone to click your link instead of the rest. But how can you control what appears?

“Each search engine uses different rules for composing its snippets, but it is always good to place the first occurrences of your major keywords together,” they write.

Some tools allow you to preview your snippet.

Search optimization best practices for snippets

  • You don’t want to mislead people with your snippets. Make sure the description accurately portrays the content on your page.
  • Search engines have largely abandoned using the description tag for ranking or displaying snippets, but they still use it on occasion. Write something great just in case.
  • Wherever you know search engines may pull snippets from, make sure to have action-oriented text and reinforce the brand image you want to convey.
  • Rewrite landing pages to better influence the snippets that appear. For example, changing content that talks about model names and features to your target keyword can lead to dramatic results.

As stated in the introduction, the book is chock full of search engine marketing goodness. It’s impossible to get to all of it here. It’s safe to say, though, that it has something for everyone.

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