Revised: July 11, 2018.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is constantly evolving. Algorithms and ranking factors update frequently, but few are so immediately visible as Google lengthening the meta description to 320 characters and lowering it again 4 months later to about 160 characters. And, few are as easy to immediately take advantage of than updating the meta description of web pages.
Changes to the Meta Description
Throughout 2017, Google tested longer meta descriptions. And as of late 2017, the length of the meta description was increased to around 320 characters, and soon after decreased back down to around 160 characters.
In some cases, Google may override the meta description for the page and use an excerpt it believes is more relevant to the user’s query.
Why Meta Description Length Matters
Meta descriptions do not have a direct effect on search rankings, but they have an impact on the click-through rate, which affects the ranking.
A good meta description describes the content of the page in a compelling manner that results in users clicking on the search result and visiting the web page. A description that is accurate and compelling can result in a higher click-through rate, compared to vague and uninteresting descriptions. A good description also includes important keywords that often match users’ queries.
Therefore, the increased length of the meta description is very important to marketers. When implemented correctly, a longer description that is compelling and rich in relative keywords will often result in a higher click-through rate.
Adjust Your SEO Strategy
The impact of Google lengthening the meta description requires businesses to change their SEO strategy for pages added to their website. Furthermore, they must decide whether to update existing pages to the new standard.
So, here is our recommendation, and some reasoning behind our thoughts.
Because there is evidence that more pages at the top of search results have a longer meta description, the best practice is to immediately revise the meta description for important pages, such as the home page, landing pages, and cornerstone articles. Then, revise pages that are less important, especially evergreen articles
For example, do a Google search for “SEO,” and you will probably see that all the results on the first page have longer descriptions. Then do Google searches for keywords relating to your industry and see whether the search results on the first page have shorter or longer descriptions.
Now, what do you think? Is it more likely to rank on the first page of Google with a longer or shorter meta description?
A Web Page with a Longer Meta Description Has an Appearance of Authority
Why does the first page of Google search results list more web pages with longer descriptions than shorter descriptions?
We don’t know – we just observe that it is the case.
- Maybe the best websites are quick to revise their pages, and their pages would be on the first page of Google no matter the description’s length.
- Maybe longer descriptions have more keywords.
- Maybe longer meta descriptions showcase more information and have a better hook, resulting in a higher click-through rate, which results in higher search rankings.
However, it also seems to me that longer meta descriptions imply more authority, which results in a higher click-through rate, resulting in a higher ranking in search results.
Just think about it. Which web page is better?
- One that is up-to-date and modern with a longer meta description, by an organization quick to react to changes in Google?
- One that is not up-to-date and slow to react to changes in Google?
Maybe you have found yourself scanning down a page of search results, stopping to read the results with longer descriptions, because you sense those pages must be the “best.” Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that longer meta descriptions, at a minimum, give the appearance of authority.
With all this in mind, it seems that businesses should revise all the pages they want to rank high in Google search results.
Google raising the meta description length to 320 characters and lowering it back down to around 160 characters still gives you an opportunity to get your message out over search engines.
The most significant search engine in the world is giving away space to advertise your business, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of it? And if you don’t, will you still appear to be an authority, if you don’t have an up-to-date and more engaging description?
So, what should you do since Google changed the meta description length? Immediately revise the meta description for important pages, such as the home page, landing pages, and cornerstone articles. Then, revise evergreen articles and pages you want to rank in Google.
If you would like help adjusting your SEO strategy to Google’s changes, please contact us for a free consultation at your earliest convenience.