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In December we wrote about Google supporting meta descriptions up to 320 characters.

In May they started making changes to the length of the meta description again. It seems as if Google went back to showing a maximum of 155 characters, their pre-December length, but that’s not the case.

Google was also experimenting with the meta description lengths for weeks, trying different things before finally settling on their new standard. And even now, the meta description length is constantly changing.

Where other blogs and tools were quick to jump to conclusions and recommend a new length, we first wanted to see where Google was taking this before advising you about a new meta description length.

In this article we’ll explain what changed exactly, and how you should respond to it.

Google’s still showing longer meta descriptions

A lot of people don’t know that Google can still show longer meta descriptions (up to 320 characters) for informational queries. Informational queries are queries where people are looking for very specific information. Often, these queries benefit from a longer meta description.

An examples of such a query “what's the difference between audi a5 and s5”:

Example of a long meta description in Google

What action should I take?

Now you’re wondering, what action should I take? Should I again change all my meta descriptions? And even if I do that, what length should I stick to?

We recommend to do the following:

  • Research the average meta description length that’s shown in your market. Our research has shown that this differs per Google version (e.g. US, UK and NL).
  • Stick to the old meta description length: 70 - 155 characters (430 - 920 px) for all pages that don’t rank for many informational queries.
  • For pages that do rank for many information queries, experiment with a longer meta description up to 320 characters (1820 px).
  • If you’re getting a lot of mobile traffic, then we recommend writing shorter meta descriptions. Stick to a meta description length of 60 - 120 characters (350 - 700 px).
  • In general, apply the 80-20 rule. 20% of your pages will likely get 80% of the traffic, so focus on getting your meta descriptions right on those 20% of the pages first.

Keep in mind that Google may still choose to show a snippet from your body content as the meta description of the page in the SERP.

One of the benefits of using ContentKing is that you’ll be able to pull up every meta description you’ve ever defined for every page we’re monitoring for you. When changing the meta descriptions again, this comes in very handy.

Example:

Screenshot of ContentKing showing increased meta description length

What action have we taken?

We’ve changed the minimum and maximum length we test for in ContentKing back to 70 - 155 characters (430 - 920 px). This may impact your health score in ContentKing, so don’t be surprised to see some fluctuations.

Furthermore, we’re working on a feature which enables you to configure the minimum and maximum meta description limits yourself.

Why we think you need this flexibility?

For starters Google US, Google UK and Google NL are all showing different average meta description lengths. We’ve got customer all over the globe, so it makes sense to make the limits configurable. Furthermore, if your website’s ranking for a lot of information queries then you may want to increase the limit.

Average meta description length in Google US

The average meta description length for Google US is 163.88 characters:

Average meta description length in Google US

Average meta description length in Google UK

The average meta description length for Google UK is 159.00 characters:

Average meta description length in Google UK

Average meta description length in Google NL

The average meta description length for Google NL is 146.69 characters:

Average meta description length in Google NL

Source: RankRanker’s SERP features tool.

What about mobile?

Also, we shouldn’t forget about mobile. The mobile-first index is being rolled out as we speak, and mobile searches continue to increase. Mobile is definitely something to keep in mind when dealing with meta descriptions. If you’re getting a lot of mobile traffic, then we recommend writing shorter meta descriptions. In that case, we recommend sticking to the following meta description length: 60 - 120 characters (350 - 700 px).

And what about other search engines like Bing and Yahoo?

Our recommendations there haven’t changed.

For Bing and DuckDuckGo it’s still 70-155 characters and for Yahoo 70-150 characters.

If you want to read up on the meta description, check out our ultimate guide here.

Vincent van Scherpenseel
Vincent is ContentKing's Chief Executive Officer. He's passionate about product management and loves to work at the intersection of design, development and business. Which makes ContentKing the perfect challenge for him.

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