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Last week, I noticed that Meta Descriptions had become much shorter for some queries. Initially, I suspected that the update was for branded searches. Although later that same day I checked back in on Google’s SERPs, and figured it was a test because the same queries I checked earlier were now back to the ~1860 px limit…
Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Roundtable cited my tweet in the Daily Search Forum Recap: May 7, 2018 so others were aware too.
I had previously written about the impact of a longer Meta Description on CTR for SEMrush, although if this change is rolled out then this will no longer be an opportunity for SEOs. And the Meta Description I wrote for the article no longer works:
The ‘alt text’ I’ve used for the above image is ‘Long Meta Description Fail’😆.
I rely on SERPsim.com to ensure my Meta Descriptions are set to the correct px limit, to avoid the dreaded truncation. Their tool was quick to update to the new limit (now 930px).
To take a more scientific approach to analysing Meta Description length across the web, trending SERP features on Rank Ranger works extremely well.
According to the data, there’s been a sizeable drop in length based on a ‘character’ calculation.
One other useful piece of information I came across was by Glenn Gabe from G-Squared Interactive who tweeted this:
Right, some are still longer. Seems like they are adjusting based on query, which makes a lot of sense. If it needs more, then you'll get more. I just tested a bunch of queries.
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) May 12, 2018
This was given a ‘like’ from John Mueller of Google, so I assume he also agrees with this way of thinking.
What is the key takeaway here?
Although this is a massive change in Meta Description px limit, it’s still too early to call what the takeaway is.
Keep an eye on the Rank Ranger stats, and if the vast majority of snippets are sitting at the previous limit, then it might be worthwhile adjusting your on-page strategy to suit.
Will add a postscript to this article as new information is released.
The outcome of all of this has been somewhat underwhelming. There has been no concession on Google’s part with respect to an “ideal” length, although I think the SEO industry is starting to come to terms with this.
Dr. Pete from Moz wrote a study today titled writing Meta Descriptions in a constantly changing world, which is helpful for understanding exactly what has happened, and he suggests taking a 150/150 approach (150 chars being the ‘lead’, 150 chars as ‘details’ and ‘context’). This strategy being formulated through the ‘Inverted Pyramid‘ which is commonly used in Journalism.
This is certainly a way to to meet the new specifications, and have a fall back for any additional updates (which are most likely inevitable).
Filtering through a very large number of Danny Sullivan’s tweets, this is probably the best personal recommendation (clearly states this was pre-Google) that I was able to find:
So I wrote and talked about SEO for years, to often unsophisticated people. My advice on meta description was then "hey, just take the first paragraph of your page and put it there, if you're not sure." Easy to do; often helpful. No worrying about counts….
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) May 14, 2018
So why not combine both into a process that isn’t too time consuming, and still achieves the same goal?
Here’s what I’m thinking:
1. Before writing a Meta Description, the on-page content is the most important part to get right (surely I won’t have anyone disagree with this, although I won’t hold my breath). Make the first 150 characters (a short sentence or two) fit the limit. Here’s an example for this article:
Last week, I noticed that Meta Descriptions had become much shorter for some queries. Initially, I suspected that the update was for branded searches.
2. Now that the first 150 characters of the page fits Google’s specifications, let’s just copy/paste that text in to the <meta name=”description” content=”text” /> field.
3. This is where we are essentially going above and beyond. We now have the opportunity to add approximately 150 characters to allow Google to include as filler text if they decide to display a longer snippet. This could go either at the start or the end of what we’ve already added (depending on context). Here’s what I’ve added for the article:
Many were surprised that Google would change their length specification this soon after the December 2017 update. Here’s what the outcome for SEOs is.
I’m no Journalist, so I’m not sure I’ve nailed the Inverted Pyramid, although you get the point.
This was relatively easy to write, and the process is somewhat future-proof.
Would love to hear what you think of this approach, and whether you have any suggestions for improvement!