The one thing bugging me about SEO at the moment is search snippets.
While there can be no debate that search snippets are an important part of SEO what is up for debate is the length of them now that Google has moved the goalposts in this area.
So why is it that many website owners appear to have been slow to catch on to the new character limit introduced towards the end of 2017?
Everyone in SEO knows that having search snippets set right can provide an easy way to gain an advantage over your competitors in the search results.
While meta descriptions, no matter what length they are, won’t have an impact on rankings they are still crucial to getting people to click on the result.
Looking at the example below for SEO companies in Chester, most have either lengthened their meta descriptions or Google may be dynamically producing them (we’ll come to that later) with just the one exception in these results:
I then looked up SEO companies in Manchester and I got these results:
All the results on this page have the old shortened version of their meta descriptions. It isn’t clear if the website owners intend to display these shorter descriptions or if they are simply not aware of the recent changes.
Either way there is some confusion over whether or not we should manually lengthen meta descriptions so that we can occupy more real estate in the search results or if we should just leave things as they are.
The current views on search snippet lengths are conflicting
On the one hand we have the basic rule of advertising which is the more space you get in front of people the better it is for visibility and that would include search results. On the other we have Google’s advice.
What Does Google Have To Say?
Danny Sullivan’s advice is that website owners should not attempt to lengthen meta descriptions.
Yes. It’s not your imagination. Our snippets on Google have gotten slightly longer. And agree with @rustybrick — don’t go expanding your meta description tags. It’s more a dynamic process. https://t.co/O1UTyFeNfA
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 1, 2017
But if it is a dynamic process and Google can set the length of search snippets dynamically, surely this would then eliminate the need to edit meta page titles and descriptions altogether. There wouldn’t be any point in trying – would there?
The evidence from our small sample of search results suggests otherwise and leads to the conclusion that if you don’t lengthen the meta descriptions yourself, your snippet ends up occupying less of the page than your competitors who may well be enjoying more click throughs than your result.
My personal view is that meta descriptions should be lengthened and not be left as they are. The reason for this conclusion is that having worked on several of the more popular platforms including WordPress, the meta description limits have been extended to suit the new 320-character limit from the previous 165 characters.
If there was to be no manual control over meta descriptions, then it would negate the purpose of WordPress plugins such as Yoast and so far this hasn’t been the case.
Does a longer meta description result in more click throughs?
Another concern if you have shorter snippets in the search results is the risk of losing clicks to your competitors. For this we need to find something that supports the theory that longer snippets result in higher click through rates.
Fortunately there has been some research that proves this is the case on a small scale in this interesting article on SEM Rush. The experiment concludes that longer snippets result in a 36% improvement in click through rates.
Can google set your meta descriptions automatically?
Another interesting article on the subject of meta descriptions on the Moz highlights another experiment to find out if it is worth setting meta description tags at all if Google has the ability to change them. The results are that 55% of queries from a large sample use the original meta description without any major changes.
The main takeaway from weighing up the current evidence is that it is probably wise to at least start to experiment with making meta descriptions 300 characters long and see if it is indeed worth lengthening them or to at least include more intro copy to your pages just in case.
Leaving short meta description tags can and does run the risk of snippets being shorter than rival sites in some cases, although how much of your snippet gets shown may depend on the level of competition in each location.