Earlier this month, Google released an update to its search engine result pages (SERPs). Now they support meta descriptions up to 320 characters (1,840 pixels) long.
This is a big deal because your meta descriptions are probably a lot shorter than that, and Google may already be newly showing snippets from your pages instead of your meta descriptions.
Here’s a tweet from Google’s Spokesperson for the SEO community that confirmed the change:
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
Regarding the new maximum length of the snippet Google’s showing, Danny Sullivan said in response to Rand Fishkin:
I will ask around. But as a guide, it’s not likely to be longer than 320 characters, which I believe is the max we show now. If you had a meta description longer than that — AND we used it exactly (which often isn’t the case) — longer wouldn’t show.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 2, 2017
So, what does this look like in practice? Here’s an example of an extended description for the search query “car insurance”:
What’s interesting here: their meta description is defined, but not used. In the page source it says:
Yes. And in fact, long before these longer meta descriptions were introduced, Google was already replacing your carefully crafted meta description with a page snippet when they felt the snippet was more relevant for a search query than your meta description.
With this change, we’re expecting Google to move even further away from using meta descriptions, towards instead using snippets from pages.
Why? Because of several reasons:
We’re calling these longer snippets page descriptions rather than meta descriptions, as the meta description refers to the HTML element that you define in the page source. If instead of the meta description a page snippet is used, we can’t call that a meta description.
You want to control how your pages are presented in each SERP, so you need to craft great meta descriptions. But on top of that, to increase your chances of Google actually using a page’s meta description, here’s what you need to focus on:
Google may already be replacing your meta descriptions with snippets from your pages, simply because they don’t adhere to the new length guidelines: they’re too short.
Chances are you’re not happy with the snippets they picked, and it’s hurting your click-through-rate (CTR) simply because your snippet in the SERP does not appeal to your potential visitors.
This change doesn’t have to be a bad thing: the longer meta descriptions give you more room to better convey your message to potential visitors!
Check whether your meta descriptions fit Google's new preferred length. If they are shorter or longer, Google may be replacing them with an unpreferred page snippet.
Yes. We recommend extending your meta descriptions so that they are between 160 and 320 characters (920 and 1,840 pixels) in length.
We understand that that’s a lot of work, so we recommend setting up priorities for this. Start by updating the meta descriptions for your landing pages that receive the most organic traffic, and then work your way down.
You can find the landing pages that receive the most organic traffic through Google Analytics and the Google Search Console.
We’re with SEO Expert Logan Ray on this and expect this change to have the following pros and cons:
No, the SERP has just become longer. RankRanger’s SERP Insights shows that while the descriptions became longer, at roughly 228 characters, the number of snippets stayed the same, at about 9.8 snippets per page:
Google has increased the length of the meta descriptions on mobile too. Now the average meta description length for mobile is 193 characters (1,100 pixels).
Unfortunately there is no way to define separate meta descriptions for desktop and mobile. If the majority of your organic traffic is coming from mobile, then we recommend keeping your meta description under 190 characters.
Here’s wishing you good luck optimizing your meta descriptions – and let us know if you have any questions!