Google is giving site owners the ability to customize how their content is previewed in search results.
By default, Google has always generated search snippets according to the users’ queries and what types of devices they’re using.
However, there was previously no room for customization – it was only possible to allow a textual snippet or not allow one.
Now, Google is introducing multiple methods that allow for more fine-grained configuration of the preview content shown for web pages.
These methods include using robots meta tags as well as a brand new type of HTML attribute. Here’s more information about each of these methods.
Configuring Search Snippets With Robots Meta Tags
Content shown in search snippet previews can now be configured using robots meta tags.
The following robots meta tags can be added to an HTML page’s, or specified via the x-robots-tag HTTP header:
- “nosnippet” – This is an existing option to specify that you don’t want any textual snippet shown for a page.
- “max-snippet:[number]” (NEW) – Specify a maximum text-length, in characters, of a snippet for your page.
- “max-video-preview:[number]” (NEW) – Specify a maximum duration in seconds of an animated video preview.
- “max-image-preview:[setting]” (NEW) – Specify a maximum size of image preview to be shown for images on this page, using either “none”, “standard”, or “large”.
The above robots meta tags can also be combined, for example:
<meta name=”robots” content=”max-snippet:50, max-image-preview:large”>
New data-nosnippet HTML attribute
Google is introducing an all-new way to limit which part of a page can be shown as a preview in search results.
The new “data-nosnippet” HTML attribute on span, div, and section elements can prevent specific parts of an HTML page from being shown within the textual snippet in search results.
In other words – if you want to prevent Google from giving away too much of your content in search results, this is the method you want to use.
Here’s an example:
<p><span data-nosnippet>Harry Houdini</span> is undoubtedly the most famous magician ever to live.</p>
In this example, if someone were searching for a query like “most famous magician,” the HTML attribute would prevent Google from giving away the answer (Harry Houdini) in search results.
What SEOs and Site Owners Need to Know
Here’s a rundown of need-to-know information regarding these changes.
No changes to search rankings
This update will only affect how snippets are displayed in search results. Google confirms these settings will have no impact on search rankings.
Depending on how a site owner chooses to configure these settings there may be an impact on CTR, which could then impact traffic. But that is not related to search rankings.
When do these changes come into effect?
Preview settings for robots meta tags will become effective in mid-to-late October 2019. It may take a week for the global rollout to be complete once it starts.
The data-nosnippet HTML attribute will be effective later this year. No specific timeframe was provided for that particular setting.
Will these new changes affect how rich results are displayed?
Content in structured data that is eligible for display as a rich result will not be affected by any of these new settings.
Site owners already have control over content displayed in rich results by what they choose to include include in the structured data itself.
How will these changes affect featured snippets?
Featured snippets depend on the availability of preview content. So if you limit the preview content too heavily it may no longer be eligible to be displayed as a featured snippet, although it could still be displayed as a regular snippet.
The minimum number of characters required for a featured snippet varies by language, which is why Google cannot provide an exact max-snippets length to ensure eligibility.
Can site owners experiment with snippet length?
Site owners can absolutely adjust these settings at any time. For example – if you specify a max-snippet length and later decide you’d rather display a longer snippet in search results, you can simply change the HTML attribute.
Google notes that these new methods of configuring search snippet previews will operate the same as other results displayed globally. If the settings are changed, then your new preferences will be displayed in search results the next time Google recrawls the page.
Google will 100% follow these settings
These new settings will not be treated as hints or suggestions. Google will fully abide by the site owners preferences as specified in the robots meta tags and/or HTML attribute.
No difference between desktop and mobile settings
Preview preferences will be applied to both mobile and desktop search results. If a site has separate mobile and desktop versions then the same markup should be used on both.
Some last notes
These options are available to site owners now, but the changes will not be reflected in search results until mid-to-late October at the earliest.
For more information, see Google’s developer documentation on meta tags.