The New Character Length for Google SERP Snippets & Meta Descriptions

Zac Heinrichs Jan 16 2018

Just in case you hadn’t heard yet, On December 1, 2017, Google (read: Danny Sullivan) officially confirmed that the maximum length of a snippet in their search results has increased to about 320 characters.

Surprise at Google changing meta description and featured snippet length

I know, right?!

How long should my Meta Description be?

Google is now saying that the maximum length for a snippet in search results is 320 characters including spaces & snippet features, like the Published Date. I more often recommend a length of 300 characters for a Meta Description.

However, other data providers like RankRanger have noted that the new descriptions have yet to exceed 300 characters in the wild and are currently averaging out to only about 230 characters.

Do I need to rewrite all my Meta Descriptions for 320 characters?

In a word: No. But while you don’t need to rewrite all your Meta Descriptions this instant, you might want to consider it.
For instance, I’m starting the shift in length with any new pages that Portent or our clients produce. From there, we’ll be working down the list of existing pages starting with high-value pages first.

Most of these longer snippets are being dynamically generated by Google and are highly dependent on the search query. What this means is that it might not matter what you write for the Meta Description if Google thinks they can craft a better one. Thanks Google!

New Call-to-action

Ultimately we decided to go out and do some light spot checking of our own to see what’s happening out in the wild.

We found out a few interesting things using a super scientific, data-intensive study of two different SERPs, that’s TWENTY blue links people!

Of Snippets:

  • 55% of snippets exceed 160 characters.
  • More than half of all snippets are now longer than the old character limit!
  • 30% of snippets exceed 300 characters.
  • One snippet had two instances of internal truncation. (It looked like the dynamic generator couldn’t make up its mind.)
Screenshot of Internal Truncation in Search Engine Meta Description
  • 10% of snippets exceed the supposed limit of 320 characters!
Screenshot of Excessive Meta Description

326 characters before truncation!

Of Meta Descriptions:

  • Only 35% of SERP snippets matched the Meta Description for the page! (Which means Google is already re-writing two thirds of the Meta Descriptions.)
  • Of the re-written Snippets, 46% were from Descriptions that were longer than 160 characters. (Which means that even if your Description is shorter than the old 160 character limit, more than half of them are being rewritten.)
  • Only 1 Meta Description was longer than 300 characters in a targeted attempt to utilize the extra space (I see you Moz) and even THAT ONE was rewritten in the Snippet!
Screenshot of Moz Meta Description
Screenshot of Moz Snippet

Ultimately, if we want Google to use our expertly written Meta Descriptions, we need to change the way that we write them by using the increased real estate to better answer user questions and encourage click-through. But, even our best efforts may go unrewarded.

How to use Portent’s SERP Preview Tool

If you’re already familiar with our SERP Preview Tool, it’s been updated!

Be sure to clear your cache for this page or do a hard refresh when you get there.

Fun story: I didn’t clear my cache the first time I used the SERP Preview Tool after we updated the character length. Portent’s developer hit me with this gem: http://shouldiblamecaching.com/

For more on Google SERP Snippets getting longer, and the variability that you’re likely to see in the wild, read these:

Search Engine Land: Google officially increases length of snippets in search results

Search Engine Journal: Google’s Search Snippets are Longer, But Don’t Go Changing Anything

Moz: What Do Google’s New, Longer Snippets Mean for SEO?

2 Comments

  1. Asif

    Asif

    A great article indeed!

    But I am still seeing in many search results that meta descriptions are of fewer characters, and in some of them which can exceed 300 characters, that isn’t actually meta description, that is a paragraph on that page.

    • Zac Heinrichs

      Zac Heinrichs

      Thanks for the read Asif!

      You’re right, the length of Google SERP Snippets is all over the place!

      What you’re seeing is Google dynamically generating a Snippet, using existing text on the page, if they can answer your specific search query better than the existing Meta Description.
      That is where we are going to have to adjust how we write our Meta Descriptions if we want them to show up and then be OK with the fact that it could be re-written for the search results anyway. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Comments are closed.