In the past few weeks there has been great discussion surrounding the length of Google’s meta descriptions. A meta description is simply the couple of sentences that feature in a search result. In this blog, we’ll explore what the recent changes mean and how they will impact on your website’s SEO. 

 

What has Google done with the page meta descriptions?

Google have confirmed that they have started to roll out the ability to input longer meta descriptions.

Previously, the meta description displayed 165 characters or less. This meant that you would have to fit the best description of the page within this character limit, or Google might simply cut off the page. The new character limit is thought to be between 230 – 320 characters, with slight variances in different test results that marketers have been carrying out.

 

What is a meta description?

meta tag description length SERP.png

Typically, when you type something (a search query) into Google the resulting page you see includes a list of different websites that Google deems to be as relevant for that specific search query. This is called the Search Engine Result Page – SERP for short. The SERP can look completely differently depending on what you have searched for, although, for example if you search for a product then you may see Google Shopping appear, amongst lots of other “snippets” that Google deems to be relevant.

When a website appears, there are three components: the Title, the URL and the Description. The Description is simply a short description of the page, pulled from either the meta tag in the coding, or the content on your page, whichever Google deems to be more relevant.

 

How will this affect your website?

Firstly, work through your CMS to ensure that each of your pages can accommodate the new, longer meta descriptions. For some websites, for example those that use the Yoast SEO plugin, this may require waiting for a new update to the plugin. Although this plugin already allows longer meta descriptions to be written, if you are abiding by its colour-coding system then you may receive a red light warning until an update is provided.

Then, use Google Analytics, or your preferred traffic analysis tool to make a list of the priority pages on your website. These should be the pages that gain the most traffic, or show up highest in the search engine results. Repeat for all your remaining pages.

Re-optimise all your pages for the new character length of between 230 and 320 characters.

 

How will this affect your SEO?

Meta tag description length example.png

Whilst the meta descriptions don't directly impact your search engine optimisation, with a longer character limit available, the way that we write meta descriptions is likely to now change. It has always been important to ensure that the description that shows up in the SERPs is an accurate short description of the specific page. However, with the opportunity for searchers to now read further about the page, it is more important than ever to ensure that this content answers the question that has been asked.  

One result of this could be that we see lower click-through rates (CTR). Searchers can spend more time reading to ensure that they are being sent to the most relevant page for what they are looking for.

It has also been suggested that we may see lower click-through rates on less complex search terms, such as short-tail keywords, but higher click-throughs on more complex, longer-tail keywords. This is because the information that you put into the description for shorter-tail keywords may not be as relevant for the searcher’s query. This means that it incredibly important that you consider your keyword strategy, and ensure that you’re include supporting keyword-related content, as opposed to only focusing on short-tail keywords.

We may also see lower click-through rates for websites that show up lower down the SERPs, as the search result page will, understandably, become much longer and therefore the searcher will be required to do more scrolling.

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding with this, as well as Google’s other SERP updates. However, it is the job of us and other search marketers to ensure that each website is fully optimised and up to date with Google’s alterations.

 

If you have any questions on this, or any of Google’s updates to the search engine results pages, then feel free to get in touch. We will be more than happy to discuss what impact it may have on your website and your business.

Written by Emma Puzylo December of 2017