Last December, Google updated its search results pages to allow SEO meta descriptions of double the traditional length. So, just because you can, should you create longer meta descriptions for your site? And what does this mean for marketers? Find out below.
So, What Has Changed?
Google announced in early December 2017 that it had officially increased the length, the recommended length, and the display length of what they’ll show in the text snippet of standard organic results.
What does this mean? Well, according to data from SISTRIX, 90 per cent of search results were 165 characters or less before this announcement was made.
Now, results limits have gone from two or three lines of text to around five. There’s no official new length, but many experts (like Danny Sullivan) are recommending meta descriptions of no longer than 320. In fact, very few results with more than 300 characters have been spotted.
Despite the longer length, the same principles of SEO meta descriptions apply. These should be natural sounding, optimised for carefully selected keywords, and provide enough information about the contents of the page so that users are enticed into clicking and reading more.
Here is a great illustration using a meta description example by SEMrush:
What Does This Mean for Marketers?
Have you checked your SERPs recently? Well, you may find that Google is automatically pulling through longer snippets of body copy and over-riding your inputted meta description because it feels the content is more relevant.
Although, this hasn’t happened with all pages.
Over the next couple of weeks, you may benefit from giving your meta data a refresh; carefully extending your meta description to give greater context about the page, without undoing the great optimisation work you have already done.
We realise this will likely be a timely process if you have a large site with historic blog content too, so make sure to create a priority list. The organic landing pages that see the most traffic should be your first port of call, with any pages that convert particularly well being a key focus also.
With this said, all future blog or site pages you create should have longer meta descriptions. We’d aim for around 280 characters including spaces as a marker.
Check out our site as a meta description example:
Writing these will be a delicate balance between showing your knowledge and enticing the user to click through, and not answering the query within this extended meta and therefore eliminating the need to visit your site. However, despite this struggle, this change will provide greater capacity to optimise your meta descriptions for longtail keyword terms also.
Please note, some CMS systems will have rules which prevent you from writing meta descriptions beyond a certain length, or flag up a warning if you go beyond the traditional 160. That means you or your web developers may have to update your system to accommodate this.
It’s still early days, but we will be monitoring SERPs and keeping abreast of the news to see what effect this length expansion will have. But, one thing is for certain, Google is becoming more and more user centric, and your marketing efforts should be more user-targeted than ever if you want to do well with search.
For more content marketing and SEO updates, discover our digital marketing conferences.