Somewhere out there is a universe that looks exactly like this one, and appears to run exactly like this one. Except something’s a little different. A little off. It’s as if search engines took a left turn instead of a right turn, back in the early 2000s. Instead of using only using meta descriptions and possibly body text from web pages for descriptive text, or snippets, for those pages in search results, they learned a new trick. Imagine that the content surrounding anchor text in a link to a page was collected and evaluated based upon a quality score, and that this associated and usually descriptive text was used to generate snippets instead?
My thought on the possibility is that often anchor text doesn’t do the best job of describing a page, and often links to a page are from a third party who might not have the same interest in writing text that might make a good snippet for a page. But, Google filed a patent for such an approach back in 2003. And it was granted this week – so they pursued what was described within the patent for over a decade as well. The patent does mention that headings on pages might also be used as potential snippets for pages, and provide the following example: “Computers > Algorithms > Compression”. But that’s a small part of the patent. They don’t limit it to anchor text that a site might provide itself, like in breadcrumb trail navigation for a page.
There’s also a part to this approach that recognizes that many pages have more than one link to them, so a choice would need to be made as to the best “snippet” to show.