It’s unofficial: Google has doubled the default length of search result snippets to 320 characters. No announcement. No explanation. It’s just happening. So how does this longer snippet affect the ideal content for your meta description tags?
If you’ve been doing your SEO right lately, you have been taking special care of these hidden on-page properties. This includes careful use of HTML tags like page title, meta description, and canonical links. These tags are all part of making sure your page shows up properly when the search engines come crawling.
Keywords Count in Snippet Content
These are important whenever a search query comes along that matches whatever is on a particular page. If the answer to a specific keyword query is on the page, but the title and meta description don’t mention the keyword, the search result snippet won’t look relevant if it uses them ‘as is.’
So the search result might not get clicked. Then the searcher won’t find your answer, product, or service. And the search engine will note that your page didn’t rate a clickthrough for that query. So the next time that query comes around, your page will appear further down in the search results page. That’s not a pretty scenario, no matter how you look at it.
According to Google’s webmaster support pages, the snippet and title info is created on the fly from everything indexed on the page. Google will try to surface the most appropriate content based on the keyword query used in the search terms. They make it clear that search relevance is the most powerful factor in determining what the snippet contains.
“Google will sometimes [emphasis added] use the meta description of a page in search results snippets, if we think it gives users a more accurate description than would be possible purely from the on-page content. Accurate meta descriptions can help improve your clickthrough…”
Is More Meta Description A Good Thing?
Adding more information to meta descriptions might be useful in some cases. But it can be counterproductive if you end up putting in too much information. If users find their answer in the snippet, they won’t have any reason to click through to the page. That might make Google look good, but it might not help you. If your business model is based on website traffic conversions, you need the clickthrough.
So if your meta descriptions are already keyword-optimized and crafted like a clickthrough call to action, you might want to leave them alone. You can’t control whether Google will use your meta description for the snippet. But you can make sure the description creates interest in the keyword focus of the contents on the page.
What’s Google’s Angle In This Snippet Length Change
Google only sells advertising on Google pages, like search results pages. Every time a web user clicks through on an organic search result instead of a pay per click ad, Google has satisfied a user but lost a potential sale. The more info the snippet can show, the greater the chance the user will stay longer on the search results page. That gives Google more time to load more targeted PPC ads.
It’s only a theory at this point, but it looks like Google is helping itself as much as it is helping the search user. It helps explain the recent emphasis on providing rich snippets based on structured content from pages in the search results. If snippets all get ‘rich’ enough, there might be no need for anybody to click through to anything. Then we can just change the name of the internet to Google and be done with it. But until then…
Make the Meta Description Clear and Compelling
A meta description is always hidden in the HTML. Readers don’t see it on the page unless they go looking for it in the source code. So it’s easy to underestimate its importance in connecting your web page with your intended reader. But, along with the headline value of your page title, it can be crucial to your success in generating organic search traffic.
The thing is, if you make the meta description highly descriptive, accurate, and well-written, Google is more likely to use it ‘as is’ for the snippet that readers do see in their search results. Again, we can take our guidance straight from the Google webmaster page:
“… high-quality descriptions can be displayed in Google’s search results, and can go a long way to improving the quality and quantity of your search traffic.”
If it’s really well-written, it can also be re-used as an introductory section on the actual web page. In this way, the concise, clear, compelling message will help motivate readers to go deeper into the page content. And that, after all, is exactly why you brought them there.
SEO Expertise to Help Craft Snippet Content
The extra snippet character count means you can put more meat on your descriptions when you need to. But most of all, you should try to use the extra room to sharpen the hook that will draw your audience in from the search pages to your pages. Of course, if the meta descriptions are already as good as they can be, there’s no need to change them just to use up additional space. You can compare snippet length and message value in this example from my search results.
This new development in Google’s search results page style is an excellent reason to review snippet standards in your own website. Look for titles with headline impact, and descriptions with page-turner prose. With the help of an expert in all things SEO, you can make sure your page descriptions and other key meta tags are up to the job of converting searchers into satisfied customers.