While meta page descriptions are not considered search engine ranking factors, they do indirectly affect search engine optimization (SEO). A while back, we shared a post on how meta descriptions impact SEO, and how to write copy for them that attract click-throughs.

As a reminder, meta page descriptions are an element of “on page SEO,” but are not visible on the page itself. They are coded into the page and signal to search engines and search users what the page is about. This copy becomes visible as snippets of text below each page title on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Here’s how they contribute to search engine rankings: A well-crafted page description on a SERP can attract a user’s click-through to the page it describes. However, a poorly-written description will likely cause that page to miss out on the opportunity. Search engines “learn” that the page that got the click is more useful for that particular search query, and the page becomes more favored in rankings. (Of course, there are other qualities that help determine rankings, but we’re isolating the impact of page descriptions for this post.)

Longer Google Snippets for More Descriptive Descriptions

In December 2017, Google announced it was lengthening snippets on their search results pages to up to 320 characters. At first, Google reps advised to not worry about changing meta descriptions on your site following this update, as this change had more to do with how Google dynamically generates snippets based on individual search queries.

On the other side of the coin, even though tight spaces have made us more clever with our copywriting, SEOs have long lamented how small a space 160 characters is to make a case for a page. So for those key pages where you can say more than you’ve previously been able to, why not update with an improved description?

Keep in mind that 320 characters is a LOT of room, and you absolutely do not have to fill it all.

Write a Good Description, and Accept that Google Will Write Others for You.

There’s no silver-bullet to ensure what you’ve written is chosen for Google’s snippet, aside from writing a clear description with relevant keywords. If Google likes your description, and finds it matches the query, they’ll use it in full on the results page. However, Google may also decide that on-page content is better suited to the search query than what you’ve designated, and the search results will display up to 320 characters from on-page content instead. That’s where the “dynamically generated snippets” referenced above come from. 

Longer Snippets in the Wild

When we caught wind of the lengthened snippets, we updated the description for our home page as a test. Google now displays all 263 characters of this new copy:

This is how BlackTruck's home page meta description displays on Google's snippet for a branded search.

As a note, we recognize we’re guilty of focusing a lot of time and attention on what Google’s doing, but with good reason: They carry the lion’s share of search users. BlackTruck’s organic traffic in 2017 overwhelmingly came from from Google (97.90%), followed by Bing (1.56%) and Yahoo (0.43%).  

Other engines will of course display lengthened copy a bit differently, so if your site gets a decent percentage of visitors from those other engines, consider how the descriptions might be truncated on results pages for those users. For example, Yahoo and Bing both display just 164 characters of this copy.

Further Reading

There’s more to this topic than can be covered in a short blog post, so we’ve curated some additional resources for your perusal:

From BlackTruck’s Redirect Podcast:

From search industry sources:

  • Search Engine Land – Google Officially Increases Length of Snippets in Search Results
  • Search Engine Land – Google: Fundamentals of Writing Meta Descriptions Don’t Change with Longer Search Snippets
  • Search Engine Roundtable – Google Now Recommends Longer Meta Descriptions For New Longer Snippets
  • Moz – How Long Should Your Meta Description Be?