I believe these changes are worth updating your website. Of course, Google will automatically perform this for you, but if you can get the snippet with your meta description and control that data, it’ll be beneficial in conveying what you want in the best way possible in SERPs. Increased clicks, leads, and conversions if done properly.
(For more Google blog article you may want to check this one: All about Googles rank brain)
The character limits on Snippets and meta descriptions have been increased, which is a major shift for Google and SEOs alike. In this edition of Whiteboard Friday, learn about what’s new, when it altered, and what it all means for SEO.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another Whiteboard Friday. This week we’ll be talking about Google’s big change to snippet length.
The display length of the snippet for any given result in the search results that Google provides is defined by this. This is available on both mobile and desktop platforms. It has an influence on the meta description, which is how many snippets are produced. They’re pulled from the web page’s meta description tag, “Hey, we have officially increased the length, the recommended length, and the display length of what we will show in the text snippet of standard organic results.”
So I’m illustrating that for you here. I did a search for “net neutrality bill,” something that’s on the minds of a lot of Americans right now. You can see here that this article from The Hill, which is a recent article — it was two days ago — has a much longer text snippet than what we would normally expect to find. In fact, I went ahead and counted this one and then showed it here.
So basically, at the old 165-character limit, which is what you would have seen prior to the middle of December on most every search result, occasionally Google would have a longer one for very specific kinds of search results, but more than 90%, according to data from SISTRIX, which put out a great report and I’ll link to it here, more than 90% of search snippets were 165 characters or less prior to the middle of November. Then Google added basically a few more lines.
So now, on mobile and desktop, instead of an average of two or three lines, we’re talking three, four, five, sometimes even six lines of text. So this snippet here is 266 characters that Google is displaying. The next result, from Save the Internet, is 273 characters. Again, this might be because of Google sort of realized, “Hey, we almost got all of this in here. Let’s just carry it through to the end rather than showing the ellipsis.” But you can see that 165 characters would cut off right here. This one actually does a good job of displaying things.
So imagine a searcher is querying for something in your field and they’re just looking for a basic understanding of what it is. So they’ve never heard of net neutrality. They’re not sure what it is. So they can read here, “Net neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any . . .” And that’s where it would cut off. Or that’s where it would have cut off in November.
Now, if I got a snippet like that, I need to visit the site. I’ve got to click through in order to learn more. That doesn’t tell me enough to give me the data to go through. Now, Google has tackled this before with things, like a featured snippet, that sits at the top of the search results, that is a more expansive short answer. But in this case, I can get the rest of it because now, as of mid-November, Google has lengthened this. So now I can get, “Any content, applications, or websites you want to use. Net neutrality is the way that the Internet has always worked.”
Now, you might quibble and say this is not a full, thorough understanding of what net neutrality is, and I agree. But for a lot of searchers, this is good enough. They don’t need to click anymore. This extension from 165 to 275 or 273, in this case, has really done the trick.
So this can have a bunch of changes to SEO too. So the change that happened here is that Google updated basically two things. One, they updated the snippet length, and two, they updated their guidelines around it.
So Google’s had historic guidelines that said, well, you want to keep your meta description tag between about 160 and 180 characters. I think that was the number. They’ve updated that to where they say there’s no official meta description recommended length. But on Twitter, Danny Sullivan said that he would probably not make that greater than 320 characters. In fact, we and other data providers, that collect a lot of search results, didn’t find many that extended beyond 300. So I think that’s a reasonable thing.
When did this happen? It was starting at about mid-November. November 22nd is when SISTRIX’s dataset starts to notice the increase, and it was over 50%. Now it’s sitting at about 51% of search results that have these longer snippets in at least 1 of the top 10 as of December 2nd.
Here’s the amazing thing, though — 51% of search results have at least one. Many of those, because they’re still pulling old meta descriptions or meta descriptions that SEO has optimized for the 165-character limit, are still very short. So if you’re the person in your search results, especially it’s holiday time right now, lots of e-commerce action, if you’re the person to go update your important pages right now, you might be able to get more real estate in the search results than any of your competitors in the SERPs because they’re not updating theirs.
How will this affect SEO?
So how is this going to really change SEO? Well, three things:
A. It changes how marketers should write and optimize the meta description.
We’re going to be writing a little bit different because we have more space. We’re going to be trying to entice people to click, but we’re going to be very conscientious that we want to try and answer a lot of this in the search result itself, because if we can, there’s a good chance that Google will rank us higher, even if we actually sort of sacrificing clicks by helping the searcher get the answer they need in the search result.
B. It may impact click-through rate.
We’ll be looking at Jumpshot data over the next few months and year ahead. We think that there are two likely ways they could do it. Probably negatively, meaning fewer clicks on less complex queries. But conversely, possible it will get more clicks on some more complex queries because people are more enticed by the longer description. Fingers crossed, that’s kind of what you want to do as a marketer.
C. It may lead to a lower click-through rate further down in the search results.
If you think about the fact that this is taking up the real estate that was taken up by three results with two, as of a month ago, well, maybe people won’t scroll as far down. Maybe the ones that are higher up will, in fact, draw more of the clicks, and thus being further down on page one will have less value than it used to.
What should SEOs do?
What are things that you should do right now? Number one, make a priority list — you should probably already have this — of your most important landing pages by search traffic, the ones that receive the most search traffic on your website, organic search. Then I would go and reoptimize those meta descriptions for the length limits.
Now, you can judge as you will. My advice would be to go to the SERPs that are sending you the most traffic, that you’re ranking for the most. Go check out the limits. They’re probably between about 250 and 300, and you can optimize somewhere in there.
The second thing I’d check is if you have internal procedures or your CMS has rules about how long a meta description tag may be. Most likely, you’ll need to change them from the old limit of 160 to 180 to the new 230 to 320 range. This is what the chart looks like right now. It doesn’t appear that there are many smaller than 230, and nothing appears to be particularly lengthy than 320. So somewhere around there is where you’ll want to reside.
Good luck with your new meta descriptions and with your new snippet optimization.
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