All the way back in December of 2017, Google officially changed the way it displays your meta descriptions on its search engine results pages (SERPs), bumping up the character limit from approximately 160 characters to about 320. But as of May 2018 – fewer than six months later – they seem to have reverted back to the 150- to 170-character standard. Why such a drastic change in such a short period of time?
Wait…What is a Meta Description?
If you’ve used any search engine, you’ve seen meta descriptions. They display under a webpage’s title in search results. They look like this on most search engines (we took this one from Google for reference):
While meta descriptions used to play an important role in search rankings, nowadays the primary function of a meta description is to give an explanation of what is on a webpage before the user actually clicks to get there. Searchers don’t necessarily get the information that they need from the page title (the link they click on in the SERP), so that’s where meta descriptions come in: they paint a clearer picture of what the content on a page is all about.
Writing an engaging meta description is also important because it can get included when posting articles to other social media platforms. Take a look at the meta description for Kate’s first blog, for example, and then how Twitter used it when Matt shared a link:
While the ability to use 300 characters seems like it would let you create more more descriptive and engaging previews; Google seems to think that extended length is only necessary in certain cases. (Which cases exactly is up to Google.)
So Where Do We Go from Here?
If you updated your meta descriptions to the longer length since December, there are some decisions to make. Should you spend the time to revert back to the shorter versions? Let them stand and get cut off on the SERP? There are a couple of different opinions from leaders in the SEO field.
Dr. Peter J. Meyers at Moz reviews the data and seems to recommend a “Don’t Panic” approach. Consider rewriting very long descriptions on your most important pages and then let Google handle the rest. Then, moving forward, write within the old 150(ish)-character standard.
Yoast recommends rewriting your meta description to bring the most important information toward the beginning so nothing relevant gets cut off.
Ultimately, we don’t have a full picture of the changes Google has made (and will continue to make) as they attempt to improve their product. Marketers will have keep up with the rules as Google rewrites them.
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