Search Result Snippets and the Perception of Search Quality

While we often talk about relevance when it comes to writing webpages, but another aspect of content for a page that needs to be considered is how engaging and persuasive what we write might be. What makes one result appear to be more relevant, and more trustworthy than another?

A paper from researchers at A9 and Yahoo, Summary Attributes and Perceived Search Quality, shows some experimentation on how people might perceive search results based upon what a search engine displays from Web pages on its search results pages.

A list of search results will usually contain the title, URL, and an abstract or snippet from pages. If the words within the meta description contain terms from the search query, part or all of the meta description may be shown to searchers. If the page is returned as relevant for a term, and the words used aren’t in the meta description, other words from the page may be shown instead.

What is it that searchers are looking for that might cause them to choose one search result over another to click through and investigate further?

In a recent post on snippets from reviews that Google might display during product searches, I wrote about some of the considerations that Google might be concerned with on choosing which part of a review to display to a searcher. Things like sentence length and grammar play a role in those determinations.

The A9/Yahoo paper looked at some other areas:

Text Choppiness. Conditions tested: (1) all snippets complete sentences; (2) incomplete sentences, but with well-chosen breakpoints; (3) incomplete sentences, but with deliberately bad breakpoints.

Snippet Truncation. Conditions tested: (1) complete sentences; (2) beginning of sentence removed; (3) end of sentence removed. In the latter two cases, good breakpoints were chosen.

Query Term Presence. Conditions tested: (1) both query terms present in the first snippet, both in the second snippet, and one in the third; (2) both query terms in the first snippet, one in the second, and none in the third.

Query Term Density (“Spamminess”). Conditions tested: (1) for a two-snippet abstract, both query terms shown once in the first snippet only; (2) both terms shown in the first snippet and one in the second; (3) both terms shown repeatedly, for a total of eight occurrences.

Abstract Length. Conditions tested: (1) Approximately four lines of text (“long”), assuming typical font size and window dimensions; (2) three lines of text (“medium”); (3) two lines of text (“short”).

Genre. Conditions tested: (1) abstracts contained genre cues (such as “official site”); (2) abstracts did not contain genre cues.

Some interesting results, like the positive impact of genre cues in abstracts. This is only a short “poster” presented at the WWW 2007 conference last week, but it’s good to see that the search engines are exploring topics like these.


Author: Bill Slawski

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