Google’s parrot Polly wants a bigger cracker

I read this article entitled “Is Google going to hijack your content?” on the HuoMah blog; the contraversial topic being Google’s experimentation with longer snippet text.

First, the anatomy of Google search result:


On top there’s the clickable site link in blue whch lists the title of the page being hyperlinked to. Beneath the link is the “snippet” of text in black which is one or more excerpts from the content of the linked page ,with words from the user’s search query highlighted in bold. Below the snippet is the URL in green which indicates the source of this content, followed by a pair of light blue links with some advanced features.

As a rule, web content owners love the blue site link and the green site URL, but have mixed feelings about the black snippet. This is because the former elements are useful to bring search users directly to the content (where revenue-producing ads may be shown), whereas the snippet runs the risk of providing the answer to the search user’s presumed question without leaving Google at all.

The article I read this morning describes tests by Google on the effects of lengthening this snippet. This change would benefit end users by potentially answering their question in as few clicks as possible. It would also benefit Google because each user’s eyeballs will remain planted on Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages), and thus their ads, for a little bit longer. The only potential losers here would be the content owners who spent money and time to create this content.

This all culminates into the basic principles of the WWW, with potentially serious ramifications. For instance, the web is a series of open standards like HTML which provide the full source of every published page to every visitor. This means this material can be cut, pasted, copied, republished, and printed with or without the permission of the content author. This permission is implicit with the act of publishing content to the web – If you put your content on a web page you are effectively letting go of it.

I can’t duplicate these long snippet tests so I’ll be a good web neighbour by directing my readers to the screenshot on the source article. Compare it versus my screenshot above, showing the traditional 155 character snippet.

A quick interjection – Google doesn’t keep this motive secret by any means. According to Google’s corporate page:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Snippets aren’t the only means at Google’s disposal to fulfill this mission statement. They’ve recently added functionality allowing users to ask questions with common factual answers, and the answer is displayed in line with the organic SERPs (meaning the results linking to pages with the queried keywords – natural search behaviour). Even though it takes time and effort to compose web pages with these facts, it’s debatable whether Google publishing common knowledge could be considered stealing revenue from websites with the same data.


Personally, I’m ambivilent on the topic. I tend to gravitate toward whatever solution will most benefit the end-users, plus I expect a longer snippet might further entice those users to visit the source material. I do empathize with web content publishers, though, since they must opt out of Google (perhaps at their peril, traffic-wise) to suppress this “scraping” of their content.

In Google’s favour, they are quite generous in their own conformity with open standards. They permit the parsing and republishing of their search results (which can potentially strip out their valuable ads), and freely allow hooks into their other services (like Gmail) which allows you to enjoy their content without relying on their chosen form of delivery.

For content owners feeling at odds with the prospect of extended snippets, Google provides its usual choices: take it or leave it. Webmasters may opt out of Google search listings at any time; most do not.

By brian

About Brian Damage:

Who is Brian really?
I live in Toronto, Canada, and work for an IT firm. That's about as much real-world info I'm comfortable divulging here. What you read on my blog is the real Brian, but, for the sake of freedom of speech, I feel most comfortable leaving a gulf between my cyberspace and meatspace personae.

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My ridiculous job title is "Marketing Specialist" since I wear so many hats at work. I'm a technical writer, a specialist in enterprise search technologies, an electronic forms designer, a newsletter author, system administrator... but I'm in the Marketing department so for the time being I'm stuck with this inauspicious title.

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