by SEO Mofo on Jan 18th, 2009

in SERP Experiments

Google SERP Snippet Experiment No. 1

To make the Google SERP Snippet Optimizer Tool, I started by analyzing Google’s search results and figuring out how many characters are displayed from the <title> and <meta name="description" content="" /> tags. There was a definite pattern, which seemed to follow this logic:

  1. If the title has 70 characters or fewer, display the whole thing. (Meta description is 156 characters or fewer.)
  2. If the title has 71 characters or more, diplay as many whole words as will fit into the 70 character limit.

But knowing the character limits wasn’t enough to create an accurate “virtual snippet,” since I still needed to know how Google formats the text. One of the reasons I wanted to build this tool is because I wanted to know where Google wraps the Meta description to the second line. To do that, I needed to know how it defines the width of the block elements in the SERPs. Using a Firefox plugin (Web Developer), I outlined the block-level elements in my browser, which revealed that Google puts the Title text in an <h3> element and the Meta description text in a <div> element. Here is a visual aid:


Google SERP elements outlined

As you can see from the picture, the <h3> block doesn’t have a defined width–it simply expands with the Title text. On the other hand, the <div> block does have a defined width (42em), and when the Meta description text reaches that limit, it wraps to the second line.

So my experiment is this: I made the Title of this page 70 characters long and filled it with lots of capital letters and W’s–to make it obnoxiously wide. Now I’ll sit back and wait for Google to index this page… and then we can see if it really allows my super-ugly Title to stretch across the search results in the Google SERPs. (If it does… then I need to modify my tool, because right now it limits the Title block’s width.)

My first little experiment worked as planned. Here is a screen shot of my obnoxious SERP snippet:

Wide SERP snippet.

SERP Experiment No. 2 »