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Normally websites listed in Google's results pages are shown with a standard excerpt comprising two lines with a [...] at the end of the second line.

Occasionally Google allows the website a full sentence without a [...] and in these cases the excerpt or summary is typically limited to a single line. Why?

alt text

Also occasionally Google shows no excerpt at all. Why is this?

alt text

We're trying to rescue a customer from virtual invisibility on Google (up till now they have been nofollow, noindex). Wondering if the fact that Google only gives them a single line is a clue to how Google sees (or doesn't) this site.

Screenshots are just examples, these sites are not my client.

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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

You're assuming the description always has to be two lines. It obviously doesn't nor should it be. Google's goal when displaying the description underneath the page title is to help users determine if the site listed is a good match for their search query and thus worth visiting. A concise description is the ideal and I am sure Google strives to do that at every opportunity. However, if they do have what they need to do so, they'll show as much information as they need to to help users understand what that page is about.

In the first example it is clearly a recipe and the description is a perfect companion to the page title. Without bothering to view the site's source code they may be using microdata or other information to help Google understand the page is a recipe and to parse the information accordingly. It's also very likely that Google recognizes the page as being a recipe and is able to discern the proper description for the recipe (that's where semantic markup comes in real handy). It's also possible that description comes from the DMOZ directory which Google will use for a page's description (although it seems unlikely in this case).

In the second example the site either has no DMOZ listing, no meta tag, or has poor/no content which can displayed (i.e. the page is made in flash, only uses images, or frames).

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The text provided is probably scraped from anchor text and titles. I tested against one of my domains behind a robots.txt "Disallow: /" and I see the same behavior. –  danlefree Sep 17 '10 at 22:52
    
Sounds logical to me. –  John Conde Sep 18 '10 at 2:37
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The second example you provided - the text with URL - definitely looks like a site which has been noindex,nofollow (and Google has yet to catch up with recent changes).

In this case, it appears as though the anchor text and/or anchor title associated with links to your client's site is being used - it's the only info Google has and it beats total invisibility.

I'd get the site set up with Google Webmaster Tools, make sure your most recent robots.txt has been accepted, and submit a sitemap.

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The reasons are pretty simple. Google normally uses the meta description for its snippet. In the first example the meta description is short so Google has used that. (Often in these cases Google would show a snippet from the page if it thinks the meta isn't useful enough.)

The second case normally happens if the page is blocked by robots.txt or the robots meta tags. It may also be due to no actual textual content on the page, for example if the page is all Flash.

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The second example is not showing anything because it's using frames, if you view the source, there is nothing for Google to take, use and display:

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>Welcome... We'll take your orders online!</TITLE>
</HEAD>   
<FRAMESET ROWS="94,*" BORDER="0" FRAMEBORDER="0" FRAMESPACING="0">
  <FRAME NAME="Header" scrolling="NO" SRC="Header.asp">   
  <FRAMESET COLS="*" BORDER="0" FRAMEBORDER="0" FRAMESPACING="0">
    <frame name="Bottom" scrolling="Yes" src="Default.asp">
  </FRAMESET>    
</FRAMESET>
<noframes>Sorry this website contains frames.  Please upgrade your broswer to use our site.
</noframes> 
</HTML>

Adding a META Description will help, but ultimately getting rid of the frames will be the biggest help for a site like this, as search engines can struggle with frames.

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