In December 2017, Google confirmed that they have extended the meta description length limit from 160 characters to 320 characters. This extension of the search results snippet means that marketing teams now have double the characters visible in search results page listings. The meta-description, which sits below the URL and meta-title tag, is a way to show users what a page is all about. Check out below for a comparison of two 190west pages, one with the old character limit and one with the extended meta description length.
As Google wrote in their official statement to Search Engine Land on the meta description length change:
“The fact that our snippets have gotten longer doesn’t change the fundamentals of writing a description tag. They should generally inform and interest users with a short, relevant summary of what a particular page is about. We now display slightly longer snippets, which means we might display more of a meta description tag. However, we never had a limit on meta description tag length before, as we covered earlier this year. So, there’s no need for publishers to suddenly expand their meta description tags, if they feel their current ones are adequate.”
So the question remains…now what?
There’s no need to pump the gas pedal on SEO teams updating all of your meta descriptions to the 320-character limit if you are happy what has been written. Rather, look at this as an opportunity to update and provide more detail if you feel your descriptions are lacking effectiveness.
In their statement, Google also referenced how meta descriptions can sometimes be dynamically generated based on:
- Parts of the user’s search query
- The content in the meta description
- The content visible on the landing page.
If Google dynamically generates your search results snippet, it’s quite possible that only a portion of the meta description would appear as you wrote it. This complicates things even further.
The most important thing to note is that meta description tags are not a factor for rankings. Their length, 160 or 320 characters, will not positively or negatively affect where you appear in rankings. However, your meta description can affect how users see your site page in search results, and if they will click through to your site. So, regardless of your meta description length, you just need to write something that will pique the interest of the user to generate clicks. If this can be done in 160 characters, awesome. If you need all 320, then go for it. The choice is yours.
There may be pages you’ve optimized previously where the 160-character length limit was constrictive, and an extra layer of granularity is now necessary to improve CTA’s. For pages like these, the increased meta description length limit offers an opportunity to deliver that extra detail. On the flip side, there may be other pages, like high traffic or conversion pages, that you really shouldn’t mess around with. Make sure you identify the pages that need help, versus the ones that are just fine the way they are.
190west is a full-service digital marketing agency specializing in all aspects of SEO, including technical audits, keyword research, content marketing, on-page optimization. Our comprehensive online campaigns are designed to encompass a broad range of strategies and tactics that work collaboratively to produce results. If you’d like to hear about how we can help you with your search engine optimization needs, and online marketing efforts contact us for a free site audit and evaluation.