April 6, 2016

Trying for Descriptive Descriptions

Since starting my own business I’ve been operating under the “build it and they will come” mentality. I’ve built, but few have come.

Analyzing my traffic from 2016 so far, I see that only 4.7% of my visitors are coming for only the new apps, whereas 6.9% of my visitors to my existing apps have tried some of the new ones. The new apps are in different genres, and it’s necessarily true that a visitor to one app is predisposed to like another app. Something seemed off about my adoption rate. Why wasn’t I attracting more users interested in those new apps in new genres? I’ve been stunned that even after months some of my new apps have had near zero adoption rates. This week I set off to figure out why.

It didn’t take me long to zero in on a possible culprit. My search results are awful.

Remember how I noticed my visitors seemed to prefer the old version of my labor predictor? I was making that assumption based on the number of visits to the url for the new version, and the url for the old (same as the new but with the parameter ‘type=old’ appended to the end of the URL). Take a look at the search results and see if you notice a difference in snippets.

laborsearchresult(Click to enlarge)

None of my snippets for any of my webapps were good by my estimation, but this is about as bad as I get. That first snippet is an enumeration of the values on the graph axes.

For the most part I have been ignoring meta tags under the assumption that google ignores meta tags. (That was internet common knowledge back in the mid 2000s.) These days Google uses them as a suggestion. They treat titles as suggestions too, which is a bit annoying. Enumerating my pages I see Google hasn’t exactly been consistent with how it wants to display my titles. Personally, I’d prefer consistency without the ‘- Sarah K Tyler’.

This week I decided to see if I couldn’t help Google come up with better descriptions at least. It gets a little complicated because google tries to write good snippets that match the query, not just the web page. To make my job simpler, I decided to focus on the case when someone issues a query for the name of my apps, like “labor probability calculator” above.

For a first pass I decided to use the descriptions on my app list page for descriptions. That mostly bombed. Some of my descriptions were kept, but most were ignored. My best guess is that google didn’t feel my description was any good. They may have thought I was keyword stuffing. My webapps are generally lacking in large blocks of text, and what little text there is often appears below the fold as I want my app front and center. Without much text on page to compare the description against, it might have appeared like the description wasn’t a good fit.

To eliminating the mismatching problem, I decided to text of work the meta tag descriptions into the “about” divs for each App. It’s not keyword stuffing if those words are actually being used! My success rate improved somewhat. Google was now convinced to use the “about” div, and not, say, the axes on the graph, when generating snippets, but it still wasn’t using my descriptions for the most part. Instead it was grabbing the first couple of sentences in the paragraph. Trouble is, some of those first sentences in the “about” paragraphs are motivational rather than descriptional. Google was also wasting space on unnecessary words like “About the Labor Predictor.” That’s nearly 20% of my allotted snippet space!

The apps that still have terrible descriptions:
* Baby Name Explorer (showing the title of the table, and not the description)
* Name Uniqueness Analyzer (showing part of the faq, and not the description)
* Passive Voice Detector (describing the highlighting, and not the description)
* Miscarriage Odds Reassurer (describing motivation, and not the description)
* Accelerated Debt Repayment Calculator (part of the table, and not the description)

At least that list is down from 20!

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  1. […] more eyeballs to ads. The only change that I made that might have influenced my ad revenue was updating the descriptions. It’s possible better descriptions have led to more interested users, and more interested […]

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