meta description length reduced again by Google

I feel like I’ve only just got to grips with the longer 300 character meta descriptions, I’ve just about finished updating all my descriptions to be longer when (presumably just to keep us on our toes) Google reduces the length again. With no prior warning, no hints that maybe we could ease off on that pile of changes. Is it just me or is anyone else feeling slightly paranoid, as well as slightly annoyed? (That’s British under-statement for those of you who don’t know me)

Two years after Google initially increased the length of descriptions in the search results, and six months after increasing it for most results, it looks like the Big G is reverting back to the old shorter length or, at least, a shorter length than 300 chars.  For some SEOs, this means a lot of work is required to change over description meta tags from the longer version to the shorter one – at least if they want some control over what is displayed in the search listings, and why wouldn’t you when it can affect your Click-Through Rate (CTR).

For those who never made the changes to increase their Meta Desc length to around 300 characters it won’t be a big deal and they’re probably feeling quite smug right now. But let’s face it even good old Joost de Valk of Yoast fame had updated Yoast in line with the ~300 character limit so there are quite a lot of people feeling miffed.

If you’re wondering why there’s never exact agreement on the character limit of the important SEO Meta Tags it’s simply that the physical limit is in pixels so depending on the words and letters you are using you might have fewer or more than the approximate number of characters displayed.

See for Yourself

If you want to check the data for yourself you can always use the excellent RankRanger or simply do a few Google searches in the industries that interest you. Although to be fair it’s hard to tell at a glance whether the shorter descriptions shown in the SERPS are just because certain (smug) website owners never increased the Meta Description length to ~300 characters.  But you can see that there are lots of truncated descriptions because of the ellipses (…). I can’t write that without thinking of Mamma Mia (you know the bit in the film at the beginning where Sophie finds her Mum’s diary, and did you know they’ve made a new film – can’t wait. But back to more serious stuff…)

In case you don’t know how to check the title length set by the website owner simply right click on any web page and select “View Page Source” (in Firefox or Chrome or something very similar in other browsers) and check out the code.

For now it looks like only the meta desc length has changed and the title tag length has not reverted from the ~70 characters that it was set to back in May 2016, but I’m not holding my breath because, basically, if Google decides to change that length too then there’s nothing we can do about it so I won’t waste my time worrying.

At the top of the page is a screenshot showing long and short meta descriptions all on 1 page and ones where Big G has decided to use text from the page content instead of the set tag text. I’ve marked up the differences – it seems that there is still volatility in how results are being displayed

Description Length “Rules”

We’ve always known that Google can choose to pull text from the page to use in the search listings but generally crafting a good, relevant description usually meant it would be displayed. Perhaps this is also changing?

Google have never explicitly recommended a certain optimum length for the page description (and aren’t now) but since this is a key digital marketing tool given that it affects CTR and CTR affects rankings then we do need to pay close attention to this little bit of data.

It still isn’t clear where the optimum length of the meta description will settle  and it could be different for different industries so watch this space…

There are some advantages

We might have thought longer descriptions gave us a better chance of encouraging potential customers to click on our website, and, of course, that’s true, providing they are viewing on a desktop and don’t have to scroll too far down to find us.

It’s another matter entirely on small mobile devices. In fact, for those sites further down the search listings we can assume there is now more likelihood of their being found as there is less scrolling required to get to them. So there’s always a positive side to changes in the SEO world – or at least I like to think so…

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