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:
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.
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.