Meta Description Length in 2018 – Updated May 2018

Following changes to the way Google displays search snippets in May 2018, we have updated this post to reflect the changes.

Meta Description Length 2018 – What’s Changed?

At the end of November 2017, SEOs noticed an increase in meta description length displayed in Google search snippets well above the previous 155 character limit. Here’s an example of what it looked like:

Meta Description Length 2018

Over time, this rolled out to a larger proportion of search results and Search Engine Land received confirmation from Google that they had increased the length of snippets in search results. A Google spokesperson is quoted as saying:

“We recently made a change to provide more descriptive and useful snippets, to help people better understand how pages are relevant to their searches. This resulted in snippets becoming slightly longer, on average.”

May 2018 Update

BUT in May 2018 SEOs started noticing a reduction in the length of search snippets back towards the previous 155 characters. On 14th May Danny Sullivan from Google confirmed that search snippets are now shorter than they have been over the past 6 months, but longer than they were prior to the change at the end of 2017. He was unwilling to commit to a specific target length for meta descriptions explaining that snippet length is dynamic. However, he did direct people to this article providing guidance on how to write an effective meta description.

Danny Sullivan Meta Description Tweet

How long should a meta description be after May 2018 update?

When we noticed the change at the end of 2017 and published this article, we recommended that website owners increase the length of their description up to 320 characters whilst ensuring that it was compelling (and made sense) in the first 130-150 for mobile users. If you took this approach, there is no need to panic. It may be that the length of the snippet increase again. But the main thing is to ensure that your descriptions make sense in the first 110 – 130 characters as this will work well on mobile as well as the current average length of desktop search snippets.

And remember, well-written meta descriptions can result in improved click-through rate result in more website traffic in the short term, but it has also been shown to be a factor in improving your position in the SERPs.

I’ll post updates here as I get them.

What aren’t all search snippets the same length?

  • Snippets that are too long are cut off by Google to fit in the available space.
  • Some content management systems automatically truncate meta descriptions.

It is worth noting that the snippets that Google creates itself (where they don’t just use the original meta description) can still be cut off with a “…” so this suggests that when Google cuts off a snippet in this way, it isn’t because your meta description is poor quality.

How often does Google use the original meta description “as is” for display snippets?

In a study by Moz, just over one third (35.9%) of original meta description tags were used “as is” for display snippets in the SERPs.

In addition, they found that in 15.4% of cases, Google used the original meta description tag but added some extra text (usually no more than a full stop at the end of the snippet).

How to stop Google rewriting your meta description

There is no way to stop Google rewriting your meta description for display snippets but two things that could reduce the risk of Google rewriting your meta description are:

  • Ensuring that it is not too short.
  • Ensuring that it is descriptive enough.

If Google can automatically generate a meta description, should I still write a meta description in 2018?

Many large websites that rank well in Google don’t use a meta description at all and Google generates their own snippets for these websites. One example of this is Wikipedia.

However, your meta description is the equivalent of writing ad copy for your Adwords ads. If you can write a meta description that generates interest (and therefore improves your click-through rate) this is clearly going to benefit your SEO efforts. Whilst you can’t be sure that Google will use your meta description in the snippets, you have to be in it to win it and it’s still worth crafting a great meta description.

How to write a good meta description

I would recommend that you begin by evaluating the pages that generate the best return on investment from organic traffic and begin to optimise the content of the meta description ensuring that they are compelling and make sense in the first 110 – 130 characters. In doing so you will want to remember to:

  • Provide enough information to capture the attention of the user.
  • Don’t provide so much information that the user doesn’t need to click through to your website
  • Include a call to action that invites the user to visit your website to achieve their objective.
  • Include your primary keyword if you can do so naturally.
  • Remember that the meta description might be truncated when used in the display snippet so try to ensure that the first 120 characters communicate your most important message (especially if you have a large proportion of organic traffic from mobile).

What are you doing about the changes?

Have you got some thoughts on this? What changes are you planning to implement as a result? I’d love to hear from you below.

Comments

  1. First of all nicely written Peter.

    my friend’s site ranking drops because of this update. he uses 180-220 characters in the description.
    however, he has gained his ranking.
    but do you want to give any advice on how to write the description in 2018?

    thanks
    Bitu Rauth

  2. Hi Bitu

    Thanks for your message.

    First of all I’d be surprised if this change is the only cause of your friend’s site ranking drop. Has anything else happened around the same time? For example, could it be something to do with this Google update? https://www.seroundtable.com/november-google-update-24720.html

    This new opportunity with search snippets is primarily about improving click through rate from the search results page. All other things being equal, an improved CTR is likely to result in an improved position in the SERPs.

    Many SEOs will still tell you to include your target keywords in the meta description. Whilst this is still good advice, there is no need to keyword stuff and the presence of the keyword is not a direct ranking factor.

    However, let us assume someone has just searched for “SEO Agency Jersey”. If the same phrase is used in the meta description (and therefore appears in the snippet on the results page) the searcher is more likely to click on that result. Also, consider that words from the search phrase that appear in the snippet are highlighted in bold. This draws the eye of the searcher and can contribute to improved CTR.

    Hopefully this is helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions.

  3. Hi David

    Yes, the title length that is displayed in search results seems to have increased too. The new title length is approximately 70 characters before Google will truncate it with “…”. This is an increase of 10-15 characters, which is pretty significant.

    Because the length is based on the actual width rather than number of characters, I have seen titles up to 71 characters.

    Hope that helps

    1. Hi Sana,

      Yes absolutely. Just remember that because the snippet is shorter on mobile devices you will need to ensure that your meta description makes sense in the first 120 characters too.

  4. Hi..
    I prefer to modify my meta description using excerpt. Thanks to google, now I can add more information to my product meta description. I hate when old meta description only allow me to add 155 character. What should I explain when people googling my keyword product?

    1. Working together, your title and meta description should clearly convey what your product is and then incorporate a compelling call to action or reason for the user to click on your search result. Incorporating the keyword in the page title and meta description can certainly help to improve click-through rate from the search engine results page. Does that help to answer your question?

  5. Hi P.van

    I am a big fan of yours and generally read your articles. With your guidance, I m working on a project. Earlier the keywords were on the first page. due to some server errors, all keywords moved on to the 4th page. I need your help that how can my keywords will be on top of the google. Please visit the site and suggest me.
    https://freakxapps.com/buy-html5-games/

  6. Hi peter,

    Im very amateur when it comes to SEO as im still teaching myself new tactics and tips. You mentioned you were going to keep updates. Whats the latest update on the meta description length?

    1. Hi Chris

      Meta description lengths up to 320 characters are being displayed on desktop in search snippets without being truncated. Remember that you will need to take mobile search results into account so you will need to make sure your meta description makes sense in the first 160 characters too.

      Hope that helps

  7. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for a great article. Please could you explain how you get an image in your meta description that comes up in a Google search (as it does for this article).
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Taryn

      Good question that I will write a longer post about. However, there are a number of things to consider that could be affecting the visibility of this image:

      1. Structured data / schema markup – on this page the image has been included in JSON-LD structured data
      2. Image title – make sure the image title includes your keyword
      3. Image alt tag – make sure the alt tag includes your keyword
      4. The image needs to represent the search query
      5. The image in this case is also the Open Graph image (og:image)

      I’ll post back here once I have put together a more detailed article on this topic.

  8. Hi,
    is meta tag length differ for mobile search result and web. I am testing the same by searching same keyword on mobile and web at that time showing title length more than 71 character (98 character on mobiles).

  9. You can stop Google from using snippets in Search Results:

    Preventing snippet creation

    You can, alternatively, prevent snippets from being created and shown for your site in Search results. Use the meta name=”nosnippets” tag to prevent Google from displaying a snippet for your page in Search results.

    Source:
    https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35624?hl=en

    (bottom of the page)

  10. Looks like Google has reverted to the old 155 again for meta description as of 11/05/2018. They are really all over the place and not helping. We were getting 297 to display properly in .co.uk, 310 in .com but they really need to make up their minds as this costs a fortune in time to keep going back and re-doing all the time.

  11. Yes, the chatter in the SEO industry suggests that perhaps the longer descriptions were just a test or perhaps they are just testing some shorter snippets again.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the longer snippets reduced CTR for paid ads and cannibalised some revenue.

    It can seem frustrating but as meta descriptions are not a direct ranking factor you probably don’t need to panic. If your first 155(ish) characters make sense on a stand-alone basis as a result of you continuing to optimise for mobile, then this isn’t a disaster.

    We are watching and waiting to see what happens over the coming weeks before making a decision on what to do for our SEO clients.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *