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I'm running an SaaS application example.com, which in addition to its landing pages has several pages of "first party" content, for example:

  • example.com/features
  • example.com/pricing
  • example.com/support

Once a customer signs up, the design of the application is that they get to name & use a subpath, where they manage custom content. For example:

  • example.com/joes-place
  • example.com/bobs-place

For a real world example of this pattern, look at GitHub: You sign up and then get github.com/:username.

Challenge: I'm looking for best practices to clearly distinguish first party content (like /pricing) from third-party content (like /joes-place), when it comes to search and SEO. Specifically:

  • Google has occasionally decided to auto-onebox customers like /joes-place; I'd like it to not do that.
  • I want search engines to keep crawling third-party content, since it's important to the customers that they show up in search.
  • For vanity/aesthetic reasons, I cannot move third party content to its own domain (e.g. I want to keep doing what github does).

So far what I've done:

  • First party & customer content use different Google Analytics accounts
  • First party content is in sitemap.xml, customer content isn't mentioned at all.

Are there other best practices I should be following here?

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+50

Either you can exclude the third party content from search or include. From what I know, there is no special way to tag from a search engine's perspective. From the user's perspective, you can visually differentiate between first party and third party content.

Below are my views in response to your points.

Google has occasionally decided to auto-onebox customers like /joes-place; I'd like it to not do that.

I don't think you can control that. However, Google only displays onebox whenever it feels the snippet/extract answers the query well.

I want search engines to keep crawling third-party content, since it's important to the customers that they show up in search.

Unless you are deliberately preventing the crawl (like using robots.txt), you shouldn't be worried. (I am assuming that the third party content is not behind logins.)

For vanity/aesthetic reasons, I cannot move third party content to its own domain (e.g. I want to keep doing what github does).

That's perfectly fine. You never have to go for separate domains. (In fact, having a single domain may aid in increasing the domain authority in a collective manner. Exceptional content in third party pages may help the authority of the overall domain.)

First party & customer content use different Google Analytics accounts

GA has nothing to do with SEO.

First party content is in sitemap.xml, customer content isn't mentioned at all.

The sitemap is not a concern provided the third party content is discoverable from places like home page, popular pages, etc. Orphaned pages can't be ever found by Google.

Ref: The Sitemap Paradox

  • But there is a third option? "Keep in mind, if you restrict Google from showing certain information, it may impact if you show up for featured snippet results and it may impact how your rich results look. Features snippets require a certain minimum number of characters to be displayed, and if you go below that minimum, it may result in your pages not qualifying for the featured snippet position." (seroundtable.com/google-interesting-finds-amp-pages-25540.html) – I Capulet Aug 25 '20 at 2:21
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It sounds like you are looking to prevent these "third-party" pages from appearing as featured snippets or results. Lily Ray from Search Engine Land posted a recommendation about just that:

To only prevent content from appearing in featured snippets, but allow regular snippets to be displayed, experiment with the max-snippet tag, which is used to specify the maximum number of characters that can be displayed in a snippet. This allows for meta descriptions to still be displayed, but blocks other content from appearing in featured snippets, as long as the selected content has more characters than the specified max-snippet.

(https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-featured-snippets-guide/351272/#:~:text=To%20only%20prevent%20content%20from%20appearing)

Since the upper bound on a shown meta-description is around 160 characters in length, I'd try putting the following tag in the <head> sections of those third-party pages:

<meta name="robots" content="max-snippet:160">

Edit: If your meta-descriptions are longer than that for whatever reason then figure out the longest one and use its length value. They shouldn't be though! ;)

  • "...from appearing as featured snippets or results." - I don't think the OP is wanting to prevent these "third-party" pages appearing in the results? – MrWhite Aug 24 '20 at 16:12
  • I meant precluding it from featured snippets or featured results; featured results that are like these (which are different from carousel results I believe): s3.amazonaws.com/images.seroundtable.com/…. And the rest of my answer is clearly about making sure the meta-description can show up in a result! :) – I Capulet Aug 25 '20 at 2:17
  • Maybe I should have just said "rich results". Apologies if I confused any readers! – I Capulet Aug 25 '20 at 2:24

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