417 Marketing

The Ideal Meta Description Length

UPDATE 6/2/18:

This was a short-lived change. Google reverted back to showing shorter meta descriptions by mid-May 2018. According to Moz.com, most meta descriptions are now being cut off at approximately 155-160 characters, as they were before the update was made. No one knows how Google will adjust meta descriptions in the future, making it difficult to pinpoint the ideal meta description length. And it’s important to remember that Google has been rewriting more and more meta descriptions, so there is no guarantee that yours will be used as written.

If you have been writing longer meta descriptions, don’t panic. For most pages, it isn’t a big deal if Google cuts off the snippet or replaces it. For critical pages, however, you may wish to rewrite your meta descriptions if they’re longer than 155 characters or so. We recommend that you either (1) shorten meta descriptions to approximately 155 characters or (2) write length-adaptive meta descriptions. A length-adaptive meta description starts with 150 characters of essential information that summarizes the page. Then, it ends with 150 characters of less important but still useful information. This way, if Google chops off the second half of your meta description, it will still be a solid snippet. If Google displays the full meta description, the snippet will take up more of the search engine’s valuable real estate.

For now, it’s best to continue writing strong meta descriptions that are either length-adaptive or limited to 155-160 characters. Even more importantly, you should continue writing strong content, so if Google grabs a snippet from the text, it will still be an effective and intriguing representation of the page.

ORIGINAL POST:

After months or even years of writing meta descriptions, you had probably gotten used to the 155-character limit. The compact space may have helped you write more economically, forcing you to delete all those extraneous words. However, this all changed at the end of last year when Google extended the meta description length. A Google spokesperson clarified this update to Search Engine Land: “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.”

Although it’s now possible for meta descriptions to reach 320 characters, does that mean you should aim for 320 characters every time you write a meta description? What is the ideal meta description length?

First, it’s important to note that due to the shift toward a longer meta description length, Google will not always use a page’s meta description as its snippet in search results. Instead, it may display a core paragraph from the page that is keyword dense.

This may make you wonder, “Should I even write meta descriptions if Google is going to replace them?” Moz.com studied the changes occurring and found that of the 70,000 pages analyzed (all of which had meta description tags), only 35.9% of those meta descriptions were used by Google as snippets without any changes. With 15.4% of those pages, Google used the original meta description but lengthened it (in many cases, the search engine simply added a period at the end of the snippet). For 3.2% of those 70,000 pages, Google used the provided meta description but shortened it. When you add up all those percentages, you reach nearly 55%. So for more than half of Google’s snippets, a page’s provided meta description was used in some way.

What does this mean for you? If you don’t wish to write meta descriptions for your pages, you don’t necessarily need to for SEO purposes, so long as you write excellent, keyword-rich content for those pages. However, most people still prefer to write meta descriptions to retain some control over them. For many pages, a well-crafted meta description may prove critical in grabbing the viewer’s eye, sparking interest, and increasing your click-through rate. Although Google may not use the exact text you write, chances are they will use it in some form or another.

What about your old meta descriptions? Experts do not recommend that you go back and lengthen all your meta descriptions for published pages and posts due to this change. It would be time consuming, and it likely wouldn’t accomplish much; your rankings won’t plummet if you keep your original meta descriptions. Google will likely use your old meta description or steal one of the exemplary paragraphs on your page (one that is relevant to the user’s query) and use that as the snippet

The Ideal Meta Description Length

Frankly, there isn’t an ideal meta description length. And unfortunately, the final result is not in your hands; Google will decide what to add to your search result (such as the date, punctuation, or even text) and how much of the provided meta description to show (if any). Some longer meta descriptions may be cut off. Some shorter meta descriptions may be elongated. Unfortunately, we are all pawns when it comes to the power of Google.

That said, Google may use your meta description, so why not make it as great as possible? If you feel your meta description could benefit from those extra characters, use them! Add as much information as you can if you think it could increase interest and tempt someone to click on your link. Don’t lengthen your meta description unnecessarily, however. You want to attract viewers and encourage clicks, not bore the viewers or turn them away. And keep in mind that if you answer a searcher’s query within your meta description, they may not visit your site. Why should they, when you’ve already given them everything they needed? The goal is typically to give the searcher an irresistibly tempting bite, not a full meal, so that they’re left wanting more.

Other Important Attributes

Since we’ve established that the meta description length isn’t of paramount importance, you might wonder what else you should focus on when writing. Keep these key attributes in mind as you write your meta descriptions:

Finally, remember that search engines do not include meta descriptions in their ranking algorithms, so they do not directly impact rankings. They do, however, impact your click-through rate, which does affect the ranking algorithms. So if you can use your meta descriptions to garner more clicks, you may rise in the rankings.

A Prescription for Meta Descriptions

At the end of the day, Google’s decision to expand the meta description length shouldn’t affect the way you write meta descriptions in a significant way. As before, your meta descriptions should focus on intriguing visitors and giving a little taste of what’s to come. They may also boost your brand by getting your name out there and showing readers what you’re all about. The only difference is that now, you have a little more room to accomplish those goals. Although you don’t have to use all 320 characters, you should use as many of them as you need to craft a compelling meta description.

If you’re interested in improving your search engine optimization (SEO), check out 417 Marketing, an online marketing company based in Springfield, Missouri, that specializes in SEO and web design. Click here to contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.