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In a never-ending effort to improve search engine results for its users, Google has recently adjusted the length of page descriptions or “snippets.” This has increased the potential character limit for meta descriptions, leaving many content creators to reconsider their page development strategies.
Understanding the new length of meta descriptions can help you develop a solid strategy for improving your page rank and connecting with potential viewers going forward.
Image via Flickr by Kalexanderson
Your page’s meta description is part of an HTML tag that appears in the head section. The content of your meta description should provide a brief summary of the page that follows. This is where you tell your visitors what they can expect if they click through from a search engine like Google.
Previously, meta descriptions were limited to a total of about 160 characters. With Google’s new update, however, meta descriptions can be much longer, expanding to around 320 characters in length and sometimes longer. This offers the opportunity to double the information in your meta description.
Before you do, however, it’s crucial that you understand how meta descriptions are used so you can determine whether you’ll benefit from adjusting your meta description length.
Meta descriptions are often used to fill the snippet section of Google search results. The snippet is the brief block of text that appears beneath the page’s title and web address. When additional details are available, such as the date of the blog post, this information will precede the snippet, though it doesn’t contribute to the snippet’s total character length.
While your page’s meta description is frequently featured in Google’s snippet, this isn’t always the case. It’s important to note that there are some instances where Google will choose to display a different snippet and ignore your meta text entirely.
Google may also supplement your meta description with additional information or cut the meta off and end it with an ellipsis. Though you might craft the perfect meta description, there’s no guarantee that searchers will see it.
Google generally tries to display a snippet that’s as relevant as possible to the query. As described on Google’s support pages, “The goal of the snippet and title is to best represent and describe each result and explain how it relates to the user’s query.”
If the query is for information that’s contained further down on the page, and omitted from your meta description, Google might display a snippet that features text with the searcher’s keywords rather than the text you supplied in your meta description. Google pulls on a variety of information when generating snippets, including:
Snippets are generated automatically, not by a hardworking copywriter closeted somewhere in Google’s headquarters. Therefore, you can’t request a change to the snippet that appears for your page. If you’re evaluating your SERP (search engine results page), keep in mind also that your snippet may appear differently based on the search terms used by the individual.
Though it’s clear that Google has increased the length of its snippets, there’s no hard rule as to how long a snippet will be. Some Google-generated snippets are well within the original 160-character rule, while others are over 320 characters.
A good length to use if you’re adding, creating, or rewriting your meta descriptions is around 320 characters, but staying within this limit doesn’t guarantee that Google will display the entire meta description or use it at all.
The key takeaway is that Google will now display more text in search results to give users a better idea of which site they want to visit, if they choose to visit one at all. Thanks to the expanded page descriptions, searchers may find that they can get their questions answered from the SERP without clicking through.
Providing concise, valuable information for your audience is as important as ever. If a succinct and well-written answer to a searcher’s question is featured on your page, there’s a good chance that Google will display it on their SERP, regardless of your meta text.
If the content is descriptive enough, the reader may not need to click through in that moment, but you can still establish your brand as a thought leader for supplying the answer. Fill your pages with additional essential information and you may soon show up again in similar SERPs, possibly earning that coveted click-through.
Moving forward with your content creation, you should consider adjusting the length of meta descriptions to take advantage of the change to Google’s SERP display. Every page that you create should have a meta description. There’s no need to stick to an outdated format when you can include additional information in a longer piece of text.
However, you shouldn’t pack your meta descriptions with unnecessary information just to fill the void. Keyword stuffing is as unsavory now as ever, no matter how many characters you have to fill.
Craft a meta description with smart keywords that concisely answer the question or summarize the topic that your page is dedicated to. Consider what your average searcher is looking for and write a meta description that serves that need.
For existing pages, there’s no need to rewrite old meta descriptions. Google will pull the other information on your page and use it to fill out your snippet appropriately.
Keep in mind that a meta description is a powerful tool for improving your search engine optimization, but it’s not a guaranteed feature on any SERP. Use the new guidelines mindfully going forward, but don’t invest too much time in looking back at meta descriptions from the past.
The new length of meta descriptions makes it possible for searchers to gather more information about your page before visiting. As always, a dedication to solid, well-written content and valuable information will serve you well. Keep your site relevant and engaging. Your meta description should be a tempting taste of the real information feast contained within.