[Update: This article is no longer valid. Google shortened search results snippets again. Read more about it here or here.]
Our search snippets are now shorter on average than in recent weeks, though slightly longer than before a change we made last December. There is no fixed length for snippets. Length varies based on what our systems deem to be most useful.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) May 14, 2018
Google recently made changes to the size of snippets in its search results, an important piece of news for any SEO enthusiast. These snippets are usually taken from the SEO meta-description fields, so this impacts how you write them from now on.
No connection to Twitter’s new 280-character limit, but it’s nice to be able to write more, isn’t it? :-)
Here’s what changed
The old meta-description limit (of around 160 characters) has been officially extended to 300-320 characters. (The’s no exact limit, I’ve seen rare cases that go beyond 320 as well, and it depends on whether Google also displays a publish date or other SERP features).
You’ll notice that Google basically added a few more lines to their snippets (on mobile that translates to even 4-5 more lines of text sometimes!).
There are scenarios when other Google features cut away from that character count (like displaying the date for a blog post), so the common consensus now is to write your meta-descriptions up to 300 characters.
Older shorter snippets sometimes didn’t give searchers enough reasons/data to click on a search result. You can’t cover a topic in just 300 characters now either, but you have a greater chance of explaining the page contents and encouraging users to visit your site.
Will this affect your SEO and website rankings?
While this change shouldn’t (yet) affect search engine rankings directly, it does have an impact on click-through rates (CTRs).
When people see your website in Google’s search results, the snippet (based on the meta-description) is an important factor in helping them decide if your website is worth the click. (CTR = number of people clicking on your website / number of people seeing it)
Longer snippets couldn’t be useful for some search queries, and detrimental for others. As I see it, the main factors here are:
- how complex the query is: with simpler queries, people are always in a hurry to find what they’re looking for. With more complex/longer queries, people are interested in diving deeper into a topic, so they will likely be more “impressed” by longer meta-descriptions and find them useful.
- and, of course, how well your meta-descriptions are written, convincing people that your page is worth the click. 160 characters of keyword-stuffing where always off-putting to knowledgeable web searchers. This is even more true for 200-300 character long snippets.
And more importantly, having longer snippets means that more scrolling is required. So the further down, the more likely your click-through-rate is going to take a hit. (Here’s the correlation between CTRs and ranking positions)
Take advantage of the longer SEO meta-description fields
You can now take some time to re-write your site’s meta-descriptions.
If using WordPress, the popular Yoast SEO plugin (for WordPress) was already updated to reflect this change. So be sure to update to the latest version to get the new meta-description length counter
This can be quite a time-consuming process, so I recommend prioritizing the top pages in your site for now. Look at your Google Analytics reports (under Behavior > Site Content > All Content) to see your most popular pages and posts, and re-optimize them first.
It also pays to be an “early-adopter” of these longer snippets. Since most other site owners haven’t yet updated their meta-descriptions, so they’re left with 165 (or less) character snippets in search results, you have the change to be one of the few with longer snippets, basically have more “real-estate” in search results pages than your competitors. This might be considered a sign of trust for searchers, earning you a visit.
If you’re feeling stuck and don’t know how to re-write your SEO tags, here’s how to do it: A simpler approach to writing your SEO titles and meta-descriptions
That being said, there’s absolutely no need to rewrite all your past meta-descriptions. Google often uses other parts of the page content in their search snippets anyway, depending on the user’s search query.
Google recently confirmed this on Twitter:
Yes. It's not your imagination. Our snippets on Google have gotten slightly longer. And agree with @rustybrick — don't go expanding your meta description tags. It's more a dynamic process. https://t.co/O1UTyFeNfA
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 1, 2017
What not to do
Longer meta-descriptions are not a way to cram even more keywords in there. Keyword-stuffing didn’t work before, it surely won’t work now either.
Longer snippets in search results are just a better opportunity for you to convince searchers to give you their click. More useful and relevant text leads to a greater chance of getting a visitor.
That doesn’t mean that you should expand all meta-descriptions really close to the 300-320 character length all the time.
They can stay shorter (as low as 50 characters) if they’re already properly explaining their respective pages. Your goal should always be to provide value to the searchers and to drive clicks to your site, however long your SEO meta-descriptions are.
Track results in Google Search Console
Inside your Google Search Console dashboard, head over to Search Traffic > Search Analytics, and analyze the CTR stats for the pages (whose SEO tags you updated).
Time will tell how Google’s longer snippets will impact existing site rankings.
But if you have the right mindset towards SEO (focusing on user engagement instead of shallow SEO stats) and you’re committed to providing value to your audience, the longer meta-descriptions will give you a good opportunity to get more clicks, and therefore more organic traffic to your site.
Are you taking advantage of the longer SEO meta-descriptions?