SEO

Meta Descriptions are Still Important!

Zac Heinrichs

In December 2017, Google doubled the length of search snippets from ~160 to ~320 characters. This meant that we could now write more thorough copy in our Meta Descriptions and have that show up in search results. That lasted for 5 whole months before in May 2018, Google’s Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) confirmed, via Twitter:

“Our search snippets are now shorter on average than in recent weeks, though slightly longer than before a change we made last December. There is no fixed length for snippets. Length varies based on what our systems deem to be most useful.” (Emphasis added.)

There is no fixed Meta Description length for SEO
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There is no fixed length for snippets.

 

And it’s true, according to RankRanger, the average snippet length in search results has dropped almost 70 characters from a month ago, down to 163.

RankRanger trends in average snippet length for search results

 

What’s the difference between a search snippet and a Meta Description?

First, the Meta Description is an HTML tag on a web page that provides a brief description of that page.

A SERP snippet, or search snippet, is the flavor text below the organic blue links in search results that are sometimes taken from a page’s Meta Description.

What does Google’s new snippet length mean for SEO?

“Meta Descriptions are still important!”, is what I mutter to myself over and over as I rock back and forth, huddled under my desk.

Seriously though, they are still pretty darn important, despite being frustratingly arbitrary. Despite Google’s best attempts to slowly take this out of the hands of SEOs, if you don’t pay attention to your Meta Descriptions you can still end up with SERP snippets like:

Bad meta descriptions - examples

Looking at the recent data presented by Moz’s Dr. Pete, the majority of SERP snippets are between 145 -165 so, it would be really easy to say, “Just go back to the way things were, write Meta Descriptions to 155 characters.”

But that’s not what I’m going to say.

As far as I can tell, none of the old rules apply anymore. Google may or may not use your Meta Description in the snippet and may or may not write their own snippet. So what should you do?

Well, first you should finish reading this and then read Dr. Pete’s post on How to Write Meta Descriptions in a Constantly Changing World (link below), where he lays out some really good options.

And, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do:

I’m going to write meaningful and useful Meta Descriptions.

I am not going to hard stop at 155 characters, neither will I write to fill up 320 characters.

I’m going to write my Meta Description for what it is supposed to be: a concise summary of a page’s content that provides useful information to a searcher.

I will use any relevant, targeted keywords or phrases.

I will write in a way that will encourage clicks through to my pages.

And the length of those Meta Descriptions will probably be between 150-300 characters.

Because honestly, if the target keeps moving, I’m going to aim wherever I darn well please.

Further Reading:

https://www.portent.com/blog/seo/new-character-length-google-serp-snippets-meta-descriptions.htm
https://twitter.com/dannysullivan/status/996065145443893249
https://moz.com/blog/how-to-write-meta-descriptions-in-a-changing-world

Zac Heinrichs

Zac Heinrichs

SEO Team Lead
SEO Team Lead

Zac has been working in search engine marketing since 2008, building out holistic search strategies for a wide variety of clients and industries. His experience in SEO, PPC, and Social Media, along with his attention to detail and extensive experience in customer service, have proven to be significant assets for helping clients improve their search presence in a constantly evolving industry. As SEO Team Lead, he handles the overall workflow and coordination of the SEO team and strives to deliver superior work and value to his clients and the industry as a whole.

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Comments

  1. Fully agree with your closing comments! Will be doing the same, whilst Google will carry on doing what it wants too. I have been finding different search snippets for the same page when searching using different terms.

    1. Thanks for reading Chris!
      Instead of chasing our tails with every Google twist and turn, I feel like SEOs will be able to sleep better at night knowing that we are putting forth high-quality meta descriptions.
      Best of luck to you and your SERP snippets!

  2. Google knows better what to show in the rich snippet of your page. In the most cases, the search engine rewrites your meta description. Besides, Google might consider the keywords in your meta description as spam.
    Nonetheless, if it’s necessary to specify the meta description, it’s better to do it since there is no reason for worries. The only thing one should realize is that it’s better not to manipulate with the keywords in your meta description.

    1. Hi Alex,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my post.
      I agree with you on your point that it is better to write a Meta Description than not, in most cases.
      However, I am not convinced that “Google knows better”, as is evidenced by some of their amazing rewrites featured earlier in the post. Also, I don’t think that “Google might consider the keywords in your meta description as spam” because 1) if you are writing a legitimate description of your page you would, of course, be using the ‘targeted’ keywords and phrases that the page is about and b) meta descriptions aren’t a direct ranking factor and thus cannot be used to manipulate rankings.
      If you happen to run any tests on writing meta descriptions v not, I would be interested to see them.
      Cheers!

  3. Very Nice Article.Its really nice to learn new stuff about SEO. I keep myself update and informed with new things happening in the SEO world.Thank You!!
    Keep Posting!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Sofie! SEO is an ever-changing industry, and it’s important to stay up to date; I’m happy you enjoyed it 🙂

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