Why has Google increased the length of meta descriptions?

By: Richard Michie

After years of limiting the descriptions it shows under search results to 165 characters or less, Google have just increased the character limit for snippets and descriptions to what is so far suspected to be around the 300 character limit.

What did Google change?

Google’s historic guidelines have stated that you should keep meta descriptions on your pages to between 160 and 180 characters. According to a recent Whiteboard Friday on Moz, Google are now saying there’s no official recommended meta description length. In reality their research so far seems to point to the 300 character limit with many results being lower. Thinking this through logically, it would be strange for results much longer than that because it would mean virtually the whole text of the page being visible in the results.

So why have Google increased the length of descriptions?

Google’s aim has always been to show searchers the best possible results for their query in the quickest time. If the text in the description or snippet answers the search, without having to visit the site, then Google hits their target. We think it’s that simple.

What are the opportunities for your website?

This change rolled out sometime in November 2017, so there’s not been too much impact yet. Time will tell the exact ramifications of the change, but here are our thoughts what the opportunities may be.

You don’t have any descriptions set

If you’re site has never had meta descriptions set on your pages Google has been deciding the content it will show under your results already. This is typically the text from your page until it hits the limit. With the changes your text will now get longer.

Though this may at first seem like a benefit, you really should have your meta descriptions fixed and take note of the additional character limit available to you. The reason it’s always been best practice to write separate descriptions is that your page text may not give the best summary of your content.

You have descriptions set to the previous limit of 165 characters

Updating your meta descriptions isn’t going to be a quick job. So the best idea is to review your website stats and look at your most visited and highest converting first. This is the area where you’ll have the best potential to make a difference.

The increased length of descriptions means that results with the increase will push other results further down the scroll on the page. So bumping up yours will give you an advantage, people don’t like to scroll.

Optimise descriptions on pages where you want to improve rankings

Typically when Google rolls out an update, they appear to reward early adopters. So take a look at those pages which need a little push or you’ve been struggling to rank for ages. Improving the description is a good idea in these circumstances anyway but in light of this change it’s now a great opportunity

Content Management System and SEO Plugins

If you are using a Content Management System to limit the length of descriptions now is the time to increase the limit. If you’re running on WordPress with SEO plugins to help you’ll need to ignore what it’s telling you for the time being. We recommend using Yoast and that hasn’t been updated to take account of longer descriptions yet, so you’ll be told your descriptions are too long until that happens.

Update

Yoast has now updated their SEO Plugin to allow up to 321 characters to be added in Meta Description snippet.

Longer descriptions are a great opportunity

Page descriptions are the perfect way to sum up what your page offers, the 165 character limit has always made this tough. Now you have more room to be creative, so put more detail in and entice searchers to visit your site using the extra copy you have available.

If you’d like help making the most of the new description limit on your site and your Search Engine Optimisation in general call us on 07834 197785 or fill in the form.

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