Our WordPress SEO plugin has come with a snippet preview from day 1. This snippet preview mimics what the current page would look like in the search results, by our best “guesstimation”. In this post I’ll explain what the different sections are made up of, and what you can do to optimize those. I’ll also explain why the snippet might not always match what you see in the search results.
Note that the screenshots in this post are made using the latest version of WordPress SEO as of writing, version 1.5.3. So if you think “this is different from what I’m seeing”: update.
An example of the snippet preview
What determines the look of a snippet in the search results?
The above snippet preview lacks a few things. For instance, it lacks bolding of a keyword. If you search for a specific word, Google will bold that keyword in the snippets it shows. But it actually goes one step further. Once it has determined which pages will rank for your search, it tries to find a bit of the page that has that word in it. If your meta description (if you have one) doesn’t contain the keyword that was searched for, it’ll grab a “random” snippet of the page that contains that keyword.
This is one of the reasons why it helps tremendously if you know what the most searched for keyword for a page is going to be, so you can optimize the snippet for it. Let’s slightly change the look of the above snippet preview: if you set the focus keyword of your post, that word will be automatically bolded.
snippet preview with bolded words
As you can see, the plugin “adapts” by trying to find a sentence that contains the focus keyword in the content, just like Google would. It has also bolded the keyword in both the title and the URL. Now you’ll agree with me that this is far from a perfect snippet yet. We could do better by improving the title, the post’s URL or “slug” and by crafting a meta description.
The title is the first thing people see in the search results for your posts and pages, and in many, many cases the only thing. So it’d better be damn good. Funnily enough, Google actually changes your title for you, if it thinks you’re not doing a good enough job. There are many reasons why it might do that, most of them explained in this post.
The title in the snippet preview is determined based on the title template you’ve set in your SEO → Titles & Metas settings, using variables from your current post. In our case, that template is simply:
%%title%% • %%sitename%%
So the plugin takes the post title, and appends that middle dot plus the site’s name. You could have the category in there if you want, but that usually gives you less room to properly play with the title. Removing the site’s name is not a good idea. Google will usually rewrite your titles if they don’t contain branding, see the above post for details.
Of course, WordPress SEO allows you to have a title that’s different from your article’s main heading and in some cases, that’s a good idea. If you’ve done a bit of keyword research to determine the focus keyword for your page, you might have seen there are several variations of that keyword. For instance, for our keyword “snippet preview”, Google suggest shows the following:
A Google search for “snippet preview” shows the following suggestions.
Now, our current title would definitely match for [snippet preview yoast], but it might not match for [snippet preview wordpress]. And we’re actually explaining the snippet preview in our WordPress SEO plugin, so it might be helpful to put that in the post’s title. Also, running the words snippet preview through übersuggest actually suggest there are some how to type queries for the keyword as well.
So let’s, combine all that knowledge and change our title tag to “The Snippet Preview in WordPress SEO: a how-to • Yoast”. I first wanted to make the title “Using the Snippet Preview in WordPress SEO: a how-to • Yoast”, but that’s too long and would thus look like this:
snippet preview example: title too long
As you can see, the title is cut off using ellipsis. This behavior was changed in the May 12th 2014 release based on the excellent work done by Dr Pete Meyers in this post on Moz. If the title is too long, you’d see this error below the title input field too:
But now, we have a nicely optimized title that’ll match the keywords were looking for. Let’s see what it looks like:
The meta description
Now that our title is up to snuff, let’s work on the second biggest “item” in the snippet: the description. Often referred to as the “snippet” too, though that might be slightly confusing in this context. We’re going to try to get control of this snippet as often as possible, meaning that we should have a snippet that matches many of the keywords that’ll match this post.
We know that we want people to be able to search for [snippet preview] and preferably also [snippet preview how-to] and [snippet preview yoast]. So, let’s write our meta description. While writing your meta description, the snippet preview updates live, so you can test what works and fits, length wise. I ended up with this:
Use WordPress SEO by Yoast? This post explains what its snippet preview does and explains you how to use it to optimize your content.
Before showing another screenshot, let’s go the next section of the preview.
The URL or “slug”
The slug is the part of the URL that identifies your article. So in our example above its “snippet-preview-means-use”. Slugs in WordPress are normally the article title, lowercased, with spaces replaced by hyphens. WordPress SEO has an option to remove stop words from your slug, which has cleaned up our slug considerably already. But since we’ve opted to change the title of our post, we’ll edit the slug as well, simply to “snippet-preview-how-to”.
The “yoast” keyword will already be matched by the domain (not in the screenshots as I was making these in my local development environment).
Having edited both the meta description and the slug now, our final preview looks like this:
Looking loads better, right?
Note that we’ve later changed it to just “snippet-preview” as we’ll be linking to this post from within the plugin and we want people to be able to simply remember the URL.
This is a post, and posts carry date info in Google search. Some SEOs, including us, have tried hiding those in the past, but to be honest, that’s a sacrifice to usability we’re not willing to make anymore. For pages and other post types there won’t be a date in the snippet preview, as usually those won’t display dates.
If you want to change that behavior for a particular post type, go to SEO → Titles & Metas and check the box below the post type:
If you’ve enabled authorship for your posts, you might see an author image next your posts in the search results. Our plugin won’t reflect that, as it doesn’t really change much about the post.
Use snippet preview to optimize your posts
I hope this post has made it clear for you how you can use the snippet preview to optimize your writing. This functionality is available in WordPress SEO by Yoast and of course also in WordPress SEO Premium.
If you’re unsure about whether you’re using WordPress SEO right and want us to have a look at your site and give you tips for optimization, have a look at our website reviews.
If you’ve got more tips on using this feature, drop them in the comments!
This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!