Google is continually working to improve its products and that means the rules on the search engine results page (SERP) change too – often quite significantly.
Recent changes involving the length of meta descriptions have us marketers a little confused and frustrated – and with good reason.
At the end of last year, longer meta descriptions of 300-320 characters started appearing on Google’s SERPs. The company said that the reason for the increase from around 160 characters was in an attempt to make meta descriptions more descriptive – makes sense, doesn’t it?
In our attempt to make the best use of the opportunity for optimisation purposes, it required us to spend countless hours updating all the existing meta data to comply with the new word count.
Never one to rest on its laurels, in May this year, Google abruptly changed the rules AGAIN, reverting to the previous word count. The ideal seems to be about 156 characters, but there’s a twist.
An official tweet from Google announced that while the meta descriptions appearing on SERPs is now in the 160-ish character range, it will use its discretion to publish longer descriptions based on what its systems deem most suitable.
As you can see from the tweet below from Danny Sullivan, also known as Google’s Public Search Liaison, “there is no fixed length for snippets”.
Our search snippets are now shorter on average than in recent weeks, though slightly longer than before a change we made last December. There is no fixed length for snippets. Length varies based on what our systems deem to be most useful.
Another spanner in the works is that Google can show copy from your website, which may be different to what you have established for your meta description. Google suggests that this ensures the most relevant content comes up in the results, whether it’s from the meta or the page itself.
This has left many website owners, webmasters and marketers in a quandary. Is it worth going back and amending all the longer meta descriptions and cutting them to comply with the new count?
It also brings us to the question: what’s the ideal way to create meta descriptions and keep up to date with Google’s mysterious and everchanging search algorithms?
Thankfully most of what is considered best practice for writing great meta descriptions remains the same. Adhere to the recommended word count – probably best to go with somewhere around 160-200 characters – and pay attention to the following tips to make your meta description as impactful as possible.
Although meta descriptions have very little influence on organic rankings, it’s important to remain relevant by including targeted keywords for that page.
- Use keywords at the start of the meta description
The ideal meta tag is up to 160 characters and if you make it longer, Google may cut it off at that point. So make sure that you use your most important keywords at the start of the description. You should keep in mind that there’s a greater chance of meta descriptions being cut shorter for use on mobile devices, so stick to the recommended limit. A good solution could be 160/160 – which is 160 characters of the most important content at the start, and 160 characters of the supportive content after that.
- Write easy-to-read copy
Google looks for relevant, top-quality and authoritative content and avoids anything that looks like spam, so your meta data must be easy to understand and not stuffed full of unnecessary keywords to make it seem like it was written by a bot.
- Make the copy compelling
Your meta tag is your chance to grab the attention of searchers, so use it well. Choose your words carefully and get to the crux of the matter immediately. You only have a few seconds to make an impression, so your first sentence must highlight the relevance of your website to the searcher and why your site is the most authoritative.
- Create unique meta tags every time
Never duplicate a meta description. Your copy needs to be original or you may be penalised.
- Target featured snippets
If your meta description is deemed the most relevant for that search term, you could land a coveted spot in position 0. You can find out more about featured snippets by reading our previous blog on this topic.
Not much in life is certain, but one thing is: Google will keep adjusting its algorithms to ensure they’re more intuitive and essential than ever before.
If you’ve never had any help optimising your meta descriptions or you’re keen to update your current data, feel free to get in contact with our Digital Strategists today.