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:
- It should attract attention. The primary function of a meta description is to motivate searchers on Google to click on your link. So use the active voice, eye-catching words, and sentences that pique curiosity. For example, you might tempt someone to click on your blog post’s link if you end your meta description with, “Check out our life-changing tips.”
- It should include the focus keyword. Search engines are more likely to show your meta description if it contains the search query, so choose your focus keyword carefully and include it in the meta description. Include variations of the keyword and other core keywords as well if they fit naturally into the description. Do not stuff your meta description with keywords, however, as this approach may be penalized.
- It should have unique content. If you copy and paste a meta description, you’re downgrading the user experience. How will the user know how one page differs from another? Write a unique meta description for each page.
- It should be similar to the page’s content. Although meta descriptions should be unique when compared to one another, it’s totally fine if you copy your meta description from the page’s text. Google wants searchers to “get what they came for” when they click on a link, so the meta description should be fairly similar to the page in content. If you try to trick a searcher into clicking on a page by writing a meta description that’s very different from the page’s content, they may “bounce.” In addition, Google may penalize you for deceit.
- It should include a call-to-action. You’re writing a meta description because you want the reader to do something – click on your link. So within the text, urge them to take action. For example, you might write, “Learn more,” “Try it for free,” “Call now,” “Get started,” or “Sign up today.”
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.
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