How to optimize Google Site Description / Results for News Plugin/ Discourse Site

Google is known to use the meta description completely at its own discretion. It’s not clear when and where they’ll use it, and for what search queries.

and how you show up in SERP’s is also something that changes depending on how the algorithm is feeling.

Are there any hacks that we could do to not show the structured topic list data / table format that I’m seeing - perhaps a robots.txt hack that would block them from showing just the table view - thus effectively forcing them to the meta description / regular view.

So frustrating… your site is about the same size / activity as mine - but you have the better SEO view… I think part of it might be the fact that you have discourse in a subdirectory… for me its the main site.

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Perhaps but I have a long way to go =)

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Your meta description is almost definitely too short. Try changing it to something that is 150+ characters long and that aligns with the searcher’s intent. (Google will truncate it if it goes much beyond that.) I posted some links on optimizing the meta description in my first post above.

Then go to Google Search Console and put the homepage URL of your site into the “inspect URL” box at the top. You can request re-indexing there. Wait a couple of weeks and then check the search results again.

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It happens the same to me at my site since 3 years ago. I tried changing the description a few times, reindex, write to Google, write here…and still I get this awful view when changing for my forum’s name.

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I’m trying to underline the point we can’t manipulate Google, not easily anyway.

This I showed earlier:

  • no meta-description, just three the newest topics

This I got when I was using porn in cognito mode:

  • meta-description is there, but not topic-list

And as somekind reference when using my phone and Google knew me:

So, it changes depending size of screen and if Google had guessing what I’m typically looking for.

That means it is more or less waste of time to try understand what, when, where and why. If a site has

  • sitemap
  • meta data as it should
  • googlebot has access

there is not too much to do.

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By “we” you mean the managers of the discourse-based site, I think. And that may be true.

I’m still not convinced, given the size of this problem for every single discourse site that there isn’t an easy fix by the Discourse Engineering Team - to simply insert the site description (or a new version of this just for the table view) - just below the Site Name (and just above the Table data).

The simple fact is that google is showing a version of our site that I would really prefer not be available to Google at all, to be honest - because its so uncompelling from an interaction standpoint.

I’m sure that Discourse could do some quick A/B testing with some user base to see the different clickthrough rates for the current google table view search result, vs. one with the full meta description, etc.

I have to believe we are getting killed in search results because of this issue.

Exactly! This is a big problem for all of us.

Actually everyone who is driven anykind site. Most of SEO consultants are… well, I’ll try to be pollite, so I say only: they aren’t offering what they are selling :wink:

Well, my forum is really high in my niche.

Of course they can. But they aren’t at same position as I am or you are. It comes directly from size and amount of google searches.

I am defenetly not A/B, but only another individual, but I rarely click any results that is not showing what I’m looking for. And meta description rarely fullfil that demand. So what such A/B testing actually shows — happy users or forcing to click to find if there is usefull info?

I wonder if making a sticky topic would give some control over it. It might lock that text in the top row in the table.

I can see why people might want to customize the display there, but I personally don’t think it looks bad. Just for the sake of exploring another possibility, it might even be that the table-row view is better than a meta description in some cases.

It looks like a site gets only 98 pixels of vertical space when it shows the meta description:

But it gets 165 pixels of vertical space when it shows the table-row view, pushing down competing sites:

(Checked in Firefox with the zoom reset to zero.)

In either case, it looks like Google picked up this longer meta description already, so it should be possible to optimize the meta description in a way that causes Google to display it:

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I’m not talking about page rank and where we show in the list of results, I’m talking about getting “killed” in terms of click through rates based on the table format view that gets shown to people… because I can’t believe that it performs well compared to a listing with the full site description.

That is an interesting point.

Another thing I find strange and frustrating is that google is showing the list of topics from my “uncategorized” list of topics, and not the topics that I show on the home page (the /news topics)… which are the personally chosen and highlighted news posts for the site…

In theory there is a sticky topic already - the “welcome to site” post that Discourse shows for all new, and unregistered visitors, which describes the site etc…

But for some reason Google ignores that post.

Yes - as a temporary fix, I will try a sticky post that might work as a google “site description” lacking our real site description.

Its funny - you can get a search result that shows the new longer meta description for my site, but I can’t get it - even in incognito mode, even when I try different web browsers…

Did you see the screenshot in my post above? Your new meta description is already working:

Or… perhaps not :wink:

We are back at starting point. You just can’t manipulate Google. I got totally same result without that fix.

Yes - you can get it, but when I search it doesn’t show up, I only get the table view with no site description.

When Google updates, it can take a while for it to reach all the servers. If you have a VPN, try switching browsers and VPN servers.

It’s possible to have a good amount of say in what Google does, but they can still override everything if they want.

When I search again (possibly with different cookies), they are A/B testing a completely different interface. It depends on what server you hit and whatever they are up to. :slight_smile:

Edit: I tested again in a private Safari window (the others were Firefox), and the Discourse site moved up from #2 to #1 with the table view. I also tested again with a clean Firefox container tab (no cookies) and different VPN location and see it at #1 there too. There isn’t complete control over Google there, but it’s looking much better so far due to the changes to the title and meta description. I’d make a note of the time you changed it and you can see if it affects click-through rates in Google Search Console and traffic in Google Analytics. It might take a few days to settle.

Edit 2:

It’s because the plugin that you’re using only changes the SPA frontend of Discourse, but the bots still see the same bot-view that looks like this:

If you want to see what Google sees, install this extension in Firefox and set the user-agent to Googlebot. (Be sure to set the user-agent back to normal afterwards, otherwise you’ll get blocked by many websites.)

I think it’s better that way though, because when you get the table-row view in Google, it looks like your site is really active, sometimes with 100+ replies and thousands of views on topics.