To keep you on your toes, Google recently increased its snippet lengths. Okay, we’re sure that wasn’t the reason behind the lengthened descriptions, but sometimes it can feel like it. It seems like every month new guidelines come out for better search engine optimization and we have to scramble to keep up. This time, we're talking about meta descriptions.
All About Those Meta Descriptions
Prior to mid-November, 90% of search snippets were 165 characters or less. This required you to write concise but interesting meta descriptions for each landing page. For example, this is what it used to look like.
Now, the name of the game has changed. Google has added a few more lines to their search snippets. Instead of the usual two to three lines of text that we’ve come to know, you’ll now find three, four, five, and potentially even six lines of description for landing pages. Basically, Google doubled the meta description length to between 230 to 320 characters.
Whether you’re on your desktop or a mobile device, you’re going to run into these longer snippets more and more often. And Moz revealed that, already, 51% of searches return at least one longer snippet. That means it’s quickly rolling out and there’s no time to waste getting on board.
What Does This Mean for SEO and Your Business?
So, what does this mean for your website? There are a few things you need to know and do to get on top of this latest change.
1. Update Your Meta Descriptions
While in the past Google recommended that you kept your meta description tags between 160 and 180 characters—with most people staying below 155—that’s no longer the case. According to the Twitter account of Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison for search, there is no specified length but “it’s not likely to be longer than 320 characters, which I believe is the max we show now.”
After a little more research, we think it’s best to keep your descriptions between 230 and 300 characters. We’ve had a difficult time finding much, if anything, over 300 characters, and as always, concise is better than being cut off with ellipses. However, that’s not the only piece to this puzzle.
Now that you have more space to write your meta descriptions, they’re more important than ever. There’s a good chance that Google will rank your landing pages even higher if you write conscientious descriptions that provide a wealth of necessary information.
For example, when you Google “What are meta descriptions?” the top result has a very descriptive snippet that actually provides the answer to your question without you needing to go to the page.
On the other hand, the old meta description style was to entice without revealing much. The only element most businesses were concerned with was including their keyword, as in this example below. But we expect that as these longer snippets continue to role out, pages like the screenshot below will move further down on the ranking unless they update their description to include more valuable information.
2. Watch Your Click-Through Rate
With this update, watching the impact on your click through rate is going to be important. Why? You could witness some positive and negative impacts depending on how users respond.
For simple queries, there could be a negative impact on your click through rate. Let’s go back to the example question above when we asked about meta descriptions. If all we needed to know was the definition of meta descriptions, there was no need to click-through to Yoast’s page to learn more about the topic.
On the flip side, for complex queries, we expect click-through rates to increase. So, let’s say instead your question was “How do you write compelling meta descriptions?” For this query, even a snippet of 320 characters isn’t going to be enough to answer my question; it will just be enough to entice me to click through and learn more. Just take a look at this snippet from Hubspot. It tells me exactly what I’ll find in the article but only the bullets and not the meat, so I’m much more willing to click through.
More negative impact could also be felt by those websites that show up further down on the search list. With longer snippets, the same real estate is taken up by fewer websites. Particularly for mobile searches, this could mean a higher drop off rate after the first few results. So, if you made it onto the first page but rank ninth or tenth, you may receive fewer clicks-throughs.
It may take a while to see how your SEO is affected, but it’s definitely good motivation to start including longer tail keywords on your landing pages, so you stand out in those complicated queries.
3. Implement Changes Immediately
This is the best time to update your meta descriptions. Right now only 51% of searches show even one lengthened snippet, meaning that if your business can jump on board now, you have a chance to really stand out in the search results.
Take a look at this quick search we completed for retail software solutions. Out of four descriptions, three are short, which makes the LinkedIn article stand out in the crowd. If you can jump onto the new, longer meta descriptions now, you have the opportunity to improve your click-through rate on Google and improve your ranking.
No matter your business, SEO is vital to the success of your website and with new longer snippets on searchers there has never been a better time to improve your ranking. By updating the meta descriptions for each of your major landing pages over the next few weeks, you can ensure that you have an advantage over your competitors and a stronger showing on Google.