50

When doing a Google search for 'stack exchange', you get this top result (at least I do):

enter image description here

Under 'Stack Exchange: Hot Questions', we see the following line:

Stack Exchange Q&A communities are different. Here's how: Speech bubbles. Expert communities. Each of our 166 communities is built by people passionate ...

This is presumably happening because on that page (http://stackexchange.com), we have the 'here's how:' and then an image of... speech bubbles. I'm guessing that it has something to do with alt text.

Any way, it looks... kinda silly, TBH. Is there a way to change the front page so that it doesn't say that?


In addition to this, searching on Bing results in looking like the network is Worldbuilding.SE:

enter image description here

  • 1
    I don't think SE should change anything just to fix Google bugs. – Shadow Wizard Apr 24 '17 at 12:39
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    Most of the world uses Google. I'd assume that SE would want to look as good as possible on their results :) – Mithrandir Apr 24 '17 at 12:41
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    So most of the world will eventually throw away the ugly search engine and move to something better. – Shadow Wizard Apr 24 '17 at 12:41
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    Speech bubbles arn't a differentiating factor of SE? My time here has been a lie... – Journeyman Geek Apr 24 '17 at 13:13
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    @Sha it's pretty stupid that Google uses image alt text for excerpts... but a large part of maintaining any website is making sure the site shows correctly on search engines, social media etc. (check all the twitter meta tags and microdata markup here for example) we really shouldn't be ignoring any of that. – Cai Apr 24 '17 at 13:24
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    @Cai adding tags is fine. But removing alt text just because it breaks a search engine is not. – Shadow Wizard Apr 24 '17 at 13:29
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    Agree with @Cai. "Lets all not use Google ever again" isn't really productive/realistic – Clive Apr 24 '17 at 13:30
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    Isn't it Google specific? "The right answer. Right on top. Experts like you can vote on posts, so the most helpful answers are easy to find." for me – Pandya Apr 24 '17 at 13:49
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    @Pandya - yes, it is. But SE can do something to fix it. – Mithrandir Apr 24 '17 at 13:49
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    You know... the alternate approach is for us to just live the blurb and really own this speech bubble thing. I smell a feature request. – Jason C Apr 24 '17 at 14:56
9

We've finally updated stackexchange.com to include a real meta description! It should be

We make Stack Overflow and 170+ other community-powered Q&A sites.

It looks like Google hasn't updated yet, but hopefully it will soon.

  • 1
    It looks like Google has been updated! (Although not Bing) – John Bubriski Jan 9 at 20:00
  • 🎉 🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉 – Jason C Jan 11 at 12:38
  • Shog better get on that emoji-only comment filter. – Jason C Jan 11 at 12:43
30

None of these are search engine "bugs", nor is the quirkiness Google-specific. The root of the issue is, unlike the other network sites, http://stackexchange.com/ lacks a meta description tag.

With it, search engines will generally use that as the blurb text, for example the description of Meta Stack Exchange in the image. Without it, search engines just use whatever algorithms their developers implemented to take a wild guess at what to display. Google happens to take that first header on the page, DDG/Bing happen to take that center column's text. And the latter just arbitrarily happens to be a more pleasing result for SE.

Of course the source of the actual text used in the blurbs in search engines can be more complicated, but for the most part, if the description tag is missing, it's anybody's guess what happens. That's why those tags exist.

So, yeah, stackexchange.com needs a description tag.

11

It looks like Googlebot is picking up the alt text for the speech bubbles.

Since the image isn't actually conveying any information, I think an empty alt would be more appropriate. The same is true for "Voting arrows" and "checkmark".

There's also a ton of advice out there1 on how to get "good" blurbs and snippets into the SERPs, including from the horse's mouth. Shouldn't be too tough to help Google get it right.


1 Some of it, admittedly, is basically snake oil. Caveat emptor.

  • 8
    Why harm people who can't read? It's NOT Stack Exchange fault that Google don't know to parse pages properly – Shadow Wizard Apr 24 '17 at 13:00
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    I don't think this particular alt text adds a whole lot for screen readers and such @ShadowWizard. alt text is only useful if the image conveys some sort of information. In this case, the image is purely decoration and not seeing it doesn't change the actual information presented on that page even one iota. – Martin Tournoij Apr 24 '17 at 13:43
  • @Carpetsmoker even so, where it ends? What if the alt text of the logo will break google too? Should SE remove this as well? – Shadow Wizard Apr 24 '17 at 13:45
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    @ShadowWizard The logo isn't what we're discussing here. – Martin Tournoij Apr 24 '17 at 13:47
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    @ShadowWizard It actually is precisely Stack Exchange's fault for not including meta description tags on stackexchange.com and leaving search engines to make arbitrary guesses. After that it's up in the air. It's purely chance that DDG's wild guess happened to work better than Google's wild guess. I mean, dude, we get it, you like DDG more than Google. :P – Jason C Apr 24 '17 at 14:48
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    Of note: the alt problem is quite widespread, mostly because alt was always required on an image element regardless of whether it conveyed meaning in HTML 4.01 and was frequently misinterpreted as "cannot be blank either", and a lot of people still haven't gotten used to the new HTML 5 way of thinking about the attribute where, well, maybe always requiring it wasn't such a great idea after all. I imagine that's why we have a lot of icons and images with alt text that really shouldn't have alt text. – animuson Apr 24 '17 at 16:06
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    @ShadowWizard Google's snippets are often improved by using alt text, because on pages where the image is actually important, the alt-text does what it was intended to: provides a reasonable text substitution for the image. I get that it's bad on this one, but throwing around things like "don't know how to parse pages properly" seems a bit extreme. – Cascabel Apr 25 '17 at 18:39
-20

Totally agree. Google Search has become... ugly. Heavy. Complicated.

This is totally Google's fault, and I doubt they will spend time to fix this, as they're way too big to care for those things. The only silly party here is Google.

I really think it's time to throw away old habits and use other search engines.

Here is how searching for Stack Exchange on DuckDuckGo looks like:

The line fetched by DuckDuckGo and other search engines (Bing, Yahoo) is:

"The right answer. Right on top. Experts like you can vote on posts, so the most helpful answers are easy to find."

Simple. Real. Elegant. Like Google used to be in their good days, in the past.

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    I don't know about other sites but on the only SE site that I have access to analytics, 95%+ of all traffic is from Google – Cai Apr 24 '17 at 13:46
  • @Cai That doesn't mean SE should obey Google :p – Pandya Apr 24 '17 at 13:54
  • @Cai we'll see in one year. Bet it will be reduced to 90%, hopefully less. – Shadow Wizard Apr 24 '17 at 13:54
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    @Pandya it kinda does... I mean, SE makes sure the site works on the browsers and devices that most use and doesn't really care about obscure uses (TVs, consoles etc). This is exactly the same. – Cai Apr 24 '17 at 14:09
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    DuckDuckGo's source of the blurb is as arbitrary as Google's, it just happened to look better for SE. It has nothing at all to do with Google and everything to do with the fact that stackexchange.com is lacking a meta description tag, and so search engines just have to arbitrarily pick stuff. Woo hoo, DDG's just happens to look better for SE, and I'm sure there are plenty of other description-less sites out there where the opposite is true. If you don't put proper tags in the HTML, search engines have to take wild guesses, so put proper tags in the HTML. Nothing Google-specific about it. – Jason C Apr 24 '17 at 14:46
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    @ShadowWizard Btw, note that at some point in the past Google did indeed have "The right answer..." blurb (see screenshots) for SE. More likely DDG and the others just copied Google's blurbs (or somebody's) back in the day, without parsing the page at all, then Google changed in at some point in the past couple year. Or who knows. The possibilities are literally infinite. – Jason C Apr 24 '17 at 15:56
  • @Jason I doubt DDG copy the blurb, pretty sure they generate it themselves. – Shadow Wizard Apr 24 '17 at 17:30
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    @ShadowWizard Who knows. Highly unlikely that everybody is generating their own given that Bing, Dogpile, DDG, Yahoo, and old Google all used the same arbitrary second column of text for that page's blurb, unless SE used to have a meta description that matched. – Jason C Apr 24 '17 at 18:51

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